It seemed like a basic premise.
The internet, in all its vile infinity, was offering you something small, calm and pure. Nothing went truly wrong in Homestar Runner. There was no profanity, no sex, no cruelty or shock. It didn’t seek to break boundaries, which was boundary breaking in and of itself. When you’re young, it’s appealing to grow up. Without supervision, we were curiously choosing something appropriate and calm, uncommercial, and without popups. No giant button asked ARE YOU 18+ (21+ IN SOME STATES) on a giant, dancing banner. You clicked to Homestar Runner and you watched simple, funny stuff you could show a sibling.
It was good.
Homestar Runner was what your parents hoped the internet was: smart, colorful, kind and fun. It was a vision of humor that didn’t have losers, where the bad guy was still a good guy, the good guy a doofus, and clever mischief reigned supreme.
The games were thorough and noteworthy. Earlier internet adapters will note the popularity of bright, edgy, clickbait aggregators. I remember, for example, a web series called “Happy Tree Friends” which was about woodland creatures dying/massacring each other horrifically. Once the shock wore off, it was, ultimately, less funny than Strongbad Email.
That’s because Homestar Runner didn’t have coolness to bank on. It didn’t employ empty shock. It was, simply, the best in its field.
And what a world it was.
Homestar Runner was ambitious and encompassing, rewarding the obsessive and the new in equal proportion. The show spiraled out into a mythos; small jokes spiraled out into full routines. The Cheat, a minor character resembling a mischievous Pikachu had a one-time joke about a G.I. Joe parody that turned into a full-cartoon series on the site, with spin-offs and recognizable voices within that universe. A joking reference to a Teen Girl Squad from a Strongbad Email bred the same. Cameos and recurring jokes that stitched together over years could be found, seasonal cartoons could be relied upon, and, as a whole, the site just had your back.
It was a site created with love and ambition. The games on the site were thoroughly addictive and fun, on par with the best (or worst) of flash-based games of its generation. The sketches and skits numerous and actually funny. Unlike your friends web-series, you wanted to watch this.
And it let you leave.
That can’t be overstated. If the site had come in a different time, they’d have been rich and terrible. They’d be valued at billions. The brand, as terrible people say, was through the roof. Twitter would be rife with StrongBad parody Twitters, and there would be hundreds of the predictable permutations, (Black Strongbad As Written By A White Guy Strongbad! Overly Sensitive Relationship Strongbad! Every-Other Tweet Is A Spam Link Strongbad!)
But they missed the window. Perhaps they’d have never taken it. And we are all better for it.
Homestar Runner never ran advertising, something shocking in the silicon-valley bubble of valuations. The site never took our money, and when we stopped watching, it was out of a loving fatigue. And it let us. It never sent thirsty emails like Ello, never rebooted, never pestered us with a Kickstarter, and, importantly, never truly changed to catch up with the internet around it. The site let us go gracefully, a rarity in the entertainment world.
But you can return.
Like your childhood home, it doesn’t make sense to live in it. The time has passed for us all. But you can visit it and smile. You can reminisce and have your memories reproduced exactly, warmly, as good and funny as you remember. You can click back, check around, every now and then and be grateful for the role it played.
Take a moment and go. Leave behind think-pieces for a moment. Forget the intellectual, the edgy and the nude. Spend a minute – maybe ten, maybe thirty – and circle back slowly to the warm, fun, bright and smart humor of Homestar Runner.
See where it takes you.