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The Neistat Brothers -- TV Review

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You might say the Neistat Brothers are to film what Dr. Seuss is to literature: charming, witty, low-key, even lower-tech, disarmingly honest and deceptively simple.

Ten years ago, as Casey and Van explain in the first episode of this eight-part series, they used their income tax refunds to buy an iMac computer, one of the first devices to make video editing accessible to amateurs. Since then, they've produced 200 short films, mostly using equipment that looks like stuff fished out of the bargain bin at Best Buy.

What their films lack in sophistication, though, they make up for in humor and honesty, infused with an utterly genuine warmth and lack of pretense.

In the opener, they say the most influential book on film in their library is a multivolume set of ideas by famed director Jean-Luc Godard. Not that the Neistat brothers seem to ever be short of ideas. Their films run the gamut from the demolition of an interior wall to expand their studio space to a competition to build a rudimentary but nonetheless effective remote-control boat.

There is so little artifice here that, from time to time, the brothers even throw open the curtain to give us a peek at their unsophisticated techniques, many of which rely heavily on the use of duct tape.

In the second of the two back-to-back episodes in the show's premiere, the brothers say the series is about their lives but is not a reality show. That message is best illustrated in the previous episode, when Van makes an unannounced visit to the restaurant where his biological father works. Van, then 32, hasn't seen his biological father since he was only three.

Freeze the frame. It doesn't take much imagination to think how a reality show would milk and manufacture every emotion the scene could provide, complete with breathless narration and background music dominated by violins.

The Neistats, however, shoot the reunion from the parking lot outside the restaurant, initially using only the audio of the brief conversation inside. Van coaxes his father into the parking lot, where the two are shot from long range, his father's face blurred.

Van wants to know where his name comes from. His father says it was his idea and Van thanks him for coming up with a name he likes. Then he asks about his father's ancestry. "Scotch-Irish," his father replies. And, with that, his father returns to work. Reality? More like surreality, actually.

Early on, Casey suggests an analogy between their work and the fable of Jack and the Beanstalk. For their initial investment, they didn't get so much something of value as the opportunity to discover things of value. Their experiences, recounted with delight and enthusiasm, should provide endless inspiration to other aspiring videographers.

Airdate: midnight - 1 a.m., Friday, June 4 (HBO)
Production: Neistat Scott and Associates in association with HBO
Executive producers: Christine Vachon, Tom Scott
Producers/directors/writers/editors: Casey Neistat, Van Neistat
Music: Jordan Gallan