Ever wondered what goes on behind the tech, pop culture and other niche media publications you read and love? Say a publication that gives you the latest updates in the gaming, tech, entertainment and anime industries?
Oh, we’re not talking about us, although we can see why you would assume we’re referring to ourselves here at Geek Culture. Instead, the spotlight is on Uncanny Valley, an independently funded and produced mockumentary comedy series from Singapore that’s all about geeks, nerds, weebs and yeah – geek culture. No, not us this time, but the cultural community that so many readers like yourself are a part of.
Made for the Internet age, Uncanny Valley is set in the offices of WhatToGeek.com, a struggling pop-culture magazine attempting to make ends meet. Running WhatToGeek.com is James, the founder, Editor and CFO, a self-professed Gen X geek who adores 8-bit video games and remembers almost every episode of Star Trek: The Original Series series (also known in some niche circles as ‘Those Old Scientists’).
Working under him are; Dinesh, a misogynistic columnist who loves stirring the pot; Wesley, a hafu who’s into all things weeb, cosplay and anime; and Linus, a monotonous gamer who mostly speaks in sighs and grunts. Hoping to shake things up, James hires newcomer Regina, who is new to the editorial role after working in events, but makes the cut due to her passion and critical analysis of all things pop culture.
The series is led by Jon Cancio who plays James, Fahim Murshed who plays Dinesh, Bryan Peh as Wesley, Khai Sheen as Linus and Johanna Van as Regina. A familiar face in the local advertising space, Cancio is an improv coach and has appeared in numerous advertisements. Meanwhile, Murshed, Sheen and Van are active freelance actors in Singapore’s theatre scene. Folks might’ve seen Cancio in a few internet web series, such as Girl Band Called Girl Band on Click Network and Benzi Project by local singer Benjamin Kheng and comedian Hirzi Zulkiflie.
Each episode runs for approximately 20 minutes and centres on the office lives of the team at WhatToGeek.com – whether it’s pitching to an investor, filming an unboxing video or playing tabletop games as part of company bonding. No, not Dungeons and Dragons, because that’s stupid – at least according to Dinesh and Wesley.
The series pokes fun at the work culture in small publications or start-ups, such as co-working in a small space instead of having individualised office cubicles, as well as the absence of a HR manager. It also delves into geeky conversations and discussion topics like what’s better Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter? Or if you could be any Pokemon, what would you be? As geeks know, there’s no right or wrong answer (There is – Lord of the Rings for the movies, Harry Potter for the books).
In fact, the creator of Uncanny Valley, Ravin, said that the base idea of the series was on Geek Culture – yes, us. Ravin had a quick peek into the Geek Culture office back in 2017 (at Lavender), and saw our geek content creators in the office writing about topics they were passionate about. He even cited our office cat Chloe, and mentioned that the impression stayed with him for a while. Perhaps it’s the idea that geeky characters are often underexplored, and that internet culture (and its many subcultures) are not talked about at length, but when the time came for him to create his own sitcom, Ravin knew a workplace like Geek Culture was something he wanted to delve into.
“We cycled through a couple of ideas – a family sitcom, sitcoms about a couple, about friends, about people setting up a business. We went through all ideas, and to be honest, we settled on a family sitcom for a while until we chanced upon something like this,” said Ravin in a conversation with Geek Culture.
“It started off with just one or two characters – someone into conspiracy theories since there’s a lot of people like that on the Internet – and from there it grew. [Uncanny Valley] is a sitcom that explores characters that I would say have been underexplored. The internet is hugely popular and I think, in terms of sitcoms and dramas, it’s rarely talked about at length so I thought, sure, that was needed.”
Whilst Ravin wouldn’t consider himself a major geek, he has an affinity for retro games having grown up in the 90s playing games like Prince of Persia and Pinball on the PC. Ravin heavily recalls how his early childhood and early 2000s were filled with nothing else but retro gaming. Now, he plays MMORPG games once in a while, but nothing beats the feeling of nostalgia when he sets his hands on a computer and thinks back to his good old days.
Although the concept may be centred around a workplace, Ravin’s main intention to create a sitcom was because he found a lack of original content in Singapore. He also felt that there was a lack of opportunities for screenwriters and TV producers to showcase their talents, or even put their passion into practice – so he thought, why not do a series and see where that ends up? Ravin wanted to create a series that not only had the potential to be picked up for a full run, but something that could display his craft, hone it and gain experience. Simply said, Ravin was tired of corporate projects and wanted to do something creative.
Before creating Uncanny Valley, he produced the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary documentary for the Street Fighter official YouTube channel and took on a few corporate projects. It was in this process of making the documentary that he decided wanted to create something that would tell a story, something that would make people laugh, and get viewers emotional. And Uncanny Valley, a series that portrays internet culture as well as the people in it, including the obsessive geeks, over-intelligent nerds, quiet introverts, e-sports legends and fandom-obsessed folks, does just that.
Uncanny Valley delves deep into each character’s identity and how they participate in geekdom and internet culture through a workspace that focuses on solely creating content for its equally geek-obsessed audience. As a workplace comedy, you get to see the difference in behaviours in each character and how their dynamics play out. What do you get when you have a misogynist columnist and a brand new feminist writer put together to write a listicle on female superheroes? Watch it for yourself and find out.
A lot of the characters in Uncanny Valley are based on people Ravin knows in real life. Freelance actor Cancio, for example, is an absolute geek for board games and is part of the Star Trek and Star Wars fandoms. Seeing how Cancio is close to the Geek community, he sometimes pitches in ideas and lines to give Uncanny Valley a sense of familiarity and authenticity.
Ravin still remembers what it was like meeting Cancio for the first time and how he fully encapsulated the millennial geek that Ravin was looking for to play the role of WhatToGeek.com’s editor.
“Jon (Cancio) is almost exactly like the character he plays. Jon plays James who’s basically a geek who’s in his mid to late 30s, Jon is also in his mid to late 30s. The reason why I wrote in a character like James is basically because I wanted a character before the millennials, geeks back in the old days, you know, someone from Generation X who still remember the days of like cutting out magazine squares and sending it out to get your mangas and Jon actually did have that experience,” shared Ravin.
Cancio wasn’t the only one who took his role as a geek seriously. According to Ravin, the rest of the cast did their own intensive research into various internet characters be it by taking inspiration from friends in real life or through deep-diving through Reddit subs and reading comments left by passionate geeks.
Pre-production started in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and was sped up once Circuit Breaker hit Singapore. Shooting took place over 5 weeks from late November 2021. Filming the series was a pretty creative process where Ravin allowed the cast to sometimes add quirks and lines along the way. Sure, there were scripts, but Ravin wanted to capture authentic reactions and conversations between the cast members too.
Uncanny Valley is a series that geeks, especially those familiar with creating content for geek consumption, will enjoy. It is familiar, close to the community, and its mockumentary style is reminiscent of comedies like Modern Family and The Office – a format that has become increasingly popular. The quirky comedy series centres around geekdom and what it’s like to be part of it as a consumer too.
Season One of Uncanny Valley consists of 5 episodes and is out now on YouTube.