When YouTube announced that they were starting a paid ad-free service, YouTube Red, They knew that they’d have to include something else as an enticement to get people hooked. For me, the thing that pulled the trigger that way was the inclusion of the entire Google Play music library as long as you remain subscribed to the service (it really helps me get my metal fix). But what YouTube was counting on especially to be the draw was a collection of higher budget YouTube series that would make them more competitive with traditional paid cable companies. The idea was that they’d form paid contracts with their current biggest personalities, and make much larger and more expensive programming that would entice people to pay for the subscription service YouTube
needs to survive the pains of adblock. Obviously, their most subscribed personality, PewDiePie, would be their most logical first choice.
PewDiePie, despite pulling in numbers, was also however a risky choice. Though popular, he is a controversial choice due to his usual video genre, the copyright grey-area known as “Let’s Plays,” and his reliance on clownish and perceptively naive over the top reactions. To most onlookers, this show seemed doomed from inception. There’s no way a high-budget show about PewDiePie going through haunted houses could possibly be a successful show.
I write all this to highlight the background and mindset I was in when going into this show (I figured, I’m paying for YouTube Red, might as well see how bad it is). Yet, as I watched starting from the first episode, I found myself surprisingly hooked. The show is not without it’s problems (the most notable of which is that YouTube thought that drawing in a crowd of fans as young as PewDiePie’s with a TV-MA rated program wouldn’t be at all prohibitive), but the way that the show makers scare PewDiePie makes it seem like the show makers were aware of these limitations, and subverted it by making Scare PewDiePie a show about making the show everyone thought they were going to make.
To give an example, I will refer to a mild spoiler for episode 6. After going through a haunted house gauntlet based on the “Five Nights and Freddy’s” video game franchise, the studio pulls PieDiePie past a hanging Arin Hansen (aka Egoraptor). They start by playing it off as a gag meant to scare him, but then switch into convincing PewDiePie that something went wrong with the stunt, and now Arin is actually choking. After the end of the stunt, PewDiePie mentions specifically how he can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.
And there lies the brilliance of the show. Something happens each episode that’s meant to convince PewDiePie that he’s accidently signed on to an unproven team looking to form a show they know nothing about making, and that just keeps going wrong. PewDiePie doesn’t become scared just from the haunted house gauntlet, but from the trauma that convinces him he can’t trust his safety in this unproven company’s hands. Even in the haunted houses, this causes him to be more convincingly unnerved by the actually kind of hokey effects like a midget playing a little ghost girl. It doesn’t matter how convinced PewDiePie is that he’s dealing with a ghost girl, because something else is still clearly capable of going catastrophically wrong, and legitimately threatening his life.
To somebody like me, who isn’t what you would call a fan of PewDiePie, there’s actually a surprising amount of cathartic scadenfreude that you get from this show by seeing PewDiePie be psychologically tortured in this fashion. It unnerves me that I enjoy it so much, actually. Especially since, as a person, PewDiePie actually seems quite decent, and hardly deserving of this kind of mental destruction. And yet, there it is, being more than a little entertaining. And so, in true horror fashion, it makes you aware of your own failings as a human being. Because of this, I consider Scare PewDiePie to be a success, which is something I did not see coming at all.
YouTube has announced that they’ve renewed Scare PewDiePie for a second season.* Given the deception that allowed the show to work, I’m not sure how they’re going to replicate that success that they had a second time, however. But, if this show has taught me anything, it’s that I can be surprised by the quality coming out of something just doomed to be a failure from the start. And the fact that it’s this creative team that did it, I’m cautiously optimistic. They definitely need to fix up some aspects of the show, and probably tune down the swearing so they’re not alienating PewDiePie’s core demographic, but I’m not sad that I got to experience this with my YouTube Red subscription. If YouTube Red keeps turning out surprising successes like this one, I can definitely recommend it.