Hollywood has become so obsessed with greenlighting movie sequels over the last few years that none of them — not even the most unnecessary ones — are surprising anymore. Neighbors 2? Sure. Alice Through the Looking Glass? Of course they’d make that. Now You See Me 2? Why wouldn’t they?
Just when it finally felt like we were getting to a saturation point, the sequel virus has mutated and jumped to the web: today, Lonelygirl15 has posted her first video to YouTube in over seven years.
If you’ve been on the internet for more than a decade, that name probably rings a bell. But in case you’re a bit foggy, here’s a quick recap.
Ten years ago today, way back in the prehistoric internet year of 2006, a YouTube user named Lonelygirl15 uploaded a video called “First Blog / Dorkiness Prevails.” The video was innocuous: just one minute and 35 seconds of a 16-year-old girl named “Bree” sitting near her bed, talking to a webcam, and making goofy faces.
The videos that immediately followed seemed benign enough. Bree’s vlogs were mostly about her home life and her boyfriend, with hints of her family’s “religion” driving a wedge between the two. Bree was eventually chosen for a “ceremony,” and then her parents went “missing,” and so she and her boyfriend went “on the run.”
You were either a believer or a skeptic
Hundreds of thousands of views started pouring in, and cries of “hoax” grew louder as the drama ratcheted up. Later that year, the Los Angeles Times and others reported that there was a connection to the Creative Artists Agency, and soon after it was revealed that the entire Lonelygirl15 story was, in fact, just a story.
That revelation wasn’t terribly surprising, but I remember the debate over Lonelygirl15 reaching truly insane levels. People argued in the comments of every video, as well as on proto-social sites like Digg. There were two camps, and no middle ground. You were a believer or a skeptic. At the same time that fans were furiously dissecting theories about what was happening to Bree — like why Bree had a bandage on her arm in this video, for example — others were trying to track down the SKUs of the products in her room to prove that everything was from Target, and therefore, staged.
Ultimately, that argument didn’t matter. The web show continued on for two full years, spanned multiple accounts, and was even broken up into “seasons.” Looking back, though, the craziest thing about Lonelygirl15 is how prescient it was. Video quality aside, Bree’s vlogs don’t look all that different from what you find on YouTube today — there are jump cuts that emphasize funny moments as well as randomly-placed photos and sound effects. (The creators of the series have admitted that they had actress Jessica Lee Rose study some of YouTube’s earliest vloggers in order to develop this style.)
What will the reincarnation be like?
As the show grew more popular, the stories also grew taller (Bree was no longer running from a religion, she was running from The Order, for example), taking fans on a journey that played on a lot of the same themes as current Young Adult blockbusters like The Hunger Games or Divergent.
The video that was posted today is clearly gunning for that same audience. Bree is back in front of the camera, but instead of sitting by her bed, she’s instructing a new class of candidates for the “ceremony.” The whole thing starts with someone writing code, and the shot of Bree is intentionally glitchy, as if some anonymous hacker unearthed her existence after all these years. Below the description is a link to a brand new Facebook page, implying that, this time around, the story will move off-platform.
That’s probably a good thing. Lonelygirl15 was compelling in 2006 because there was a dearth of carefully-produced web content. After all, people were still adjusting to typing in “youtube.com” instead of trolling Ebaumsworld (or any number of the other Adobe Flash-based websites that dominated the early web) to find their videos. But these days, companies like Netflix and YouTube are pumping millions of dollars into creating videos specifically for the internet, so it will be harder for something like Lonelygirl15 to stand out — no matter how much money sequels make.