The old joke about hipsters goes kind of like this: “How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?” To which the other hipster replied “*SIGH* I have that joke on vinyl.” Another potential reply: “What do you mean? You don’t know that one ALREADY?”
But I digress. “Rockville, CA” is a new web series created by television’s maven (mensch, really, his shows give my life meaning)-in-residence, Josh Schwartz. Cue whiny “Phantom Planet” music. He’s the creator and executive producer of “The O.C,” “Gossip Girl,” and “Chuck.” But of course you knew that already.
The format of Rockville is simple: it’s basically a four to six minute “joke,” set in a trendy bar/music club called “Rockville.” It’s modish, it’s edgy and it’s a type of postmodern watering hole for many.
Each episode showcases upcoming musical acts featuring bands like The White Lies, Passion Pit and Nico Star. Now, assuming you aren’t intimately familiar with the blogosphere, you probably don’t know who these bands are. But that’s kind of the purpose of the show. It’s an interesting concept: it intercuts a story with music.
The protagonist “Hunter” (Andrew J. West) seems to be interchangeable with Seth Cohen from “The O.C” or Dan Humphrey from “Gossip Girl.” Apparently Seth Cohen called and asked for Hunter to replace him when Mischa Barton got annoying on set.
A typical episode starts with Hunter waiting in line, sweet-talking a confoundingly literate bouncer (not that bouncers can’t read, but when was the last time you saw a bouncer read Richard Dawkins?) into letting him into the club past the line. Then a bookish girl named “Deb” (Alexandra Chando) storms past the bouncer, who of course lets her go, much to the chagrin of Hunter.
By this point, we’re about 2-3 minutes into the episode. Save 20-30 seconds for the musical performance, you have 45 seconds to wrap this up. I know what you’re thinking: “Feh! How can that be a legitimate television show?” But I don’t think it’s meant to be legitimate in a traditional sense. I sat down to talk (on the phone) with the stars of Rockville, Alexandra Chando and Andrew West, and both of them seemed to agree that Rockville might just be the future of the medium. Yes, the show is a Schwartzian hipster vehicle, but I think it’s as much that, as it is an elaborate experiment with new platforms. Traditional media conglomerates (especially the music industry-types) are notorious for being slow on the uptake.
Each episode of Rockville is short. It has to be. I don’t remember the last time I watched a television show on television. Chando said, “we certainly hope that Rockville paves the way for other web series and the [idea that] you could have original programming on the Internet.” And for the sake of the industry, I hope it does. An ever-evolving distribution model is a pre-requisite for success with the 18 to 25-year-old crowds. (Though the gingham print has historically been hard to miss, even from afar. Come on, Hollywood).
The actors disagreed with me when I implied that the show’s short format may severely shorten their creative leash, but both appeared to be taking it in their stride, noting that the show has an entirely different set of constraints relative to a brick-and-mortar TV series. (Chando is an Emmy-nominated daytime soap actress and West is featured in “Privileged” and “Greek”). The Internet calls for significantly different things: it needs to keep each episode more or less self-contained, but can still have a strong narrative arc (just over the course of 20 episodes). I was a skeptic, but now that 10 episodes are available online, I can finally see a storyline develop. Sure, it doesn’t recapture that “O.C.” goodness, but maybe it doesn’t have to.
The episodes can be found here: www.thewb.com/shows/Rockville-ca. They are a multi-pronged attempt to reach as many viewers as possible by including widgets, games, a Myspace and of course, links to the bands featured on the show. This isn’t by any means the first time networks have marketed an online show, but they seem to be getting it. West and Chando conceded that it might take a while for the show to gain traction, but this could very well be the post-Funny or Die iteration of video content that just might stick. It could fail too, like many others in the past, but this time, I think that’s bupkes.
Many thanks to Annie Chen, Laura Hart, and Susan Pedicini from Beck Media for putting together the interviews.