Southern) star in "Sorority Forever." (Credit: TheWB.com)
It;s a pop-culture staple to hate on sororities, and yesterday, the first episode of "Sorority Forever" premiered on TheWB.com (and also on MySpace thanks to a deal TheWB.com just announced). Now voyeuristic sorority dread has a home on the Web. Episodes will air every weekday until the finale on Halloween. Yes, spooky things are happening to the sexy sisters of Phi Chi Kappa, a "house" that keeps its members under constant video surveillance, subjects them to weigh-ins and sports an ominous red door in the basement.
But the pledges are, of course, psyched to be chosen for this so-called "alpha sorority" -- except for the pretty, sullen Julie, played by Jessica Rose of "lonelygirl15" fame. Julie is being pressured to join by her older sister, Natalie, and for some reason their mother is insisting too. "You have no choice," Natalie tells Julie in the opening scene. "Phi Chi Kappa will change your life."
As a production, "Sorority Girls" looks polished and technically disciplined. The first 10 episodes are all less than three minutes, and not a millisecond seems wasted.
With this show, produced by McG (better known for candy-colored movies such as "Charlie's Angels") and made by Big Fantastic, the team who made the hit-or-miss (mostly miss) "Prom Queen" and "Foreign Body," you can see the outlines of the Web series genre beginning to solidify. Story-wise "Sorority Forever" is made of the same basic upscale soap opera stuff as a TV show such as "Gossip Girl," along with the mystery that drives a show such as "Heroes." But the scenes are all bite-sized. So it's sort of like M&Ms to a TV show's Hershey Bar.
The show's big idea -- to take all the usual sorority stuff and give it a sinister underside -- is far from original, but it's sturdy. You'll be a member of Phi Chi "forever," Julie is told -- with a hint that "forever" might be longer than it sounds. The president, Bridget, is clearly a scary, scary control freak under her perfect smile, the hazing is slightly more cruel than necessary and everything about the sorority radiates hostility under the guise of sisterhood. The girls are humiliated if they're over a certain weight. ("Hit the gym -- nobody likes a fat girl," Bridget barks.) Bridget and her "assistant" spy on them. There's a fraternity nearby that also seems to know a lot about what's going on in the house... oh, and there's that red door in the basement -- menacing music plays when the camera goes near it.
As Julie, Rose conveys the same innocence and wary stillness she did with lonelygirl's Bree. The rest of the cast has a standard plasticky-actress look, all suspiciously skinny-armed yet large-breasted, with avid looks on their faces. Rose comes across as a purer grade of beef, and her Julie, we soon learn, even has actual educational goals and political awareness.
You're creeped out by the people you're supposed to be creeped out by, root for the people you're supposed to root for, worry about the people you're supposed to worry about. It's guilty-pleasure fun. I don't even mind that the mystery at the heart of Phi Chi Kappa seems fairly obvious by episode five. I wonder, however, about the one-episode-a-day formula. There are good things about being compact, but one M&M at a time doesn't quite take the edge off.