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Small Soldiers, Dotcom Hipsters, And Mystery Men

New streaming comedies from Yahoo!, Amazon, and Hulu

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The future of TV isn’t what it used to be. It’s 2013: We should be voice-commanding our shows on iHolograms and Smart Pizzas?. Instead, we’ve got promising new online series that are mostly structured like the programs we’ve watched since the old days, when viewers changed the channel by training woolly mammoths to press the buttons with their tusks.

Tiny Commando (Yahoo!) is the most suited to a generation raised on Funny or Die comedy clips. Co-created by Ed Helms (The Office), it stars Zachary Levi (Chuck) as a pint-size crime fighter, Gillian Jacobs (Community) as his sidekick, and Helms as Tiny’s nemesis Cesar Pequeño, who has a pinkie for an arm. Each episode is under four minutes, and the wit is almost as quick, with an amusing hamster-wrestling match and car chases staged with radio-controlled vehicles. Still, those toys might’ve played better in the homemade world of YouTube. Here, they’re shot like Hummers in a blockbuster film, which robs them of a certain charm. And when I watched, all the episodes were intercut with the same Energizer ad. This could change, but it made Tiny Commando seem like an extended commercial for Tiny’s toy cars and the batteries that run them.

Amazon’s Betas (debuting Nov. 22) feels more like a conventional sitcom, even though it’s aimed at Glassholes (people who only watch stuff on Google Glass — one of the many Urban Dictionary terms you’ll learn from this show). It follows four San Franciscans as they launch a start-up with a New Agey mogul (Ed Begley Jr.), and even the dumb jokes are smart: One guy names his cat Ray Katzweil, after the futurist Ray Kurzweil, a pun that made this particular nerd laugh. But if Betas keeps up with millennial cleverness, it’s also sometimes a little too on-the-nose. (See: the bi-curious Asian girl who actually says “obvi” out loud.)

The Wrong Mans (Hulu) might be the closest thing to must-see TV online. Already a hit in the U.K., it’s co-written by its stars, James Corden and Mathew Baynton, the Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of Hulu. Recently dumped and massively hungover, Sam (Baynton) witnesses a car crash while walking to work. When the driver’s cell phone rings, Sam picks up and a voice threatens to kill his wife if he doesn’t cough up cash. This sets up a Hitchcockian mystery that requires help from a sad mail clerk (Corden). Just as adept with suspense as slapstick humor, it’s both a piss-take of action dramas and a strong action drama in its own right. It’s sure to attract a cult following, and if the networks catch on, the future of TV won’t be that different from its past: We’ll have a British show that’s transformed into a Web comedy, only to be aired on TV again.

Tiny Commando: B
Betas: B-
The Wrong Mans: B+