The first thing you’ll hear in the premiere of YouTube Red’s new show Scare Pewdiepie is its host, Felix Kjellberg, screaming. Of course it is.
“This show takes what I already do, getting scared of horror games, but taking it to the next level,” Kjellberg, a.k.a. YouTube superstar Pewdiepie, explains. Think of it as an elaborate prank show, except all of the japes are based on the horror games Kjellberg has grown famous for playing.
Scare Pewdiepie’s schtick will be familiar to anyone who already watches or likes his channel. Every week there’ll be a new 20 minute episode based loosely on a popular video game. The seventh episode, which has been made available for free, is based on 2013's Outlast.
The show actually has a slight reality TV bent, thanks to the constant juggling of Kjellberg’s unfiltered responses and the show’s ploys to drum up fake drama behind the scenes. In the first episode, for example, Kjellberg meets the crew taping the show, including a production assistant called Nicki. Nicki is a big fan. A really big fan.
From the onset, she constantly tries to flirt with him, and it’s awkward as hell to watch. At one point, Kjellberg is trying to fill out medical paperwork, and Nicki starts touching him and even trying to read over his shoulder. It’s an invasion of privacy that turns out to be the last straw, and she gets fired. She ends up coming back later, turning into a Pewdiepie stalker who won’t take no for an answer. They have to get him a security detail, a restraining order, and everything.
It’s all pretty clearly staged, of course. Scare Pewdiepie isn’t very subtle about its layers of artifice, nor does it attempt to be. Kjellberg acts his way through it all anyway, sometimes even joking about the ridiculous situations the showrunners put him through.
YouTube may be the Internet’s television, but YouTube programming is often very different from the kind of fare we generally think of as “TV.” Scare Pewdiepie brings the two worlds together, and the result feels a little awkward.
Pewdiepie made his name on low-budget DIY productions. The videos that made him famous were personal, even intimate; just a guy in a room with a camera. Scare Pewdiepie certainly boasts higher production values than the average Pewdiepie video, and the show does know how to make the man scream. But it doesn’t feel like a Pewdiepie production; it has the glossy sheen of Hollywood.
Scare Pewdiepie is a production of YouTube Red, a premium service that costs $9.99 a month. That sheen may well be what YouTube Red wants people to pay for in the first place.
These days, Pewdiepie’s main YouTube channel has actually been moving away from the sorts of outsized horror screams that made him famous. It almost seems like the new show is trying to bank off the Pewdiepie of 2014, not the Pewdiepie of today.
It’s an open question whether his fans will care, whether they’ll recoil at his new, polished look and opt instead for the lower-budget Let’s Plays on his main channel. In the meantime, Scare Pewdiepie remains a pretty fun, pretty silly show. It’s cliched and sometimes cheesy, and not particularly surprising or novel in its use of tired horror tropes. But, as it turns out, watching a Swedish man yell at the top of his lungs as shit hits the fan is still pretty funny.