Television, like almost anything else you can think of, is going through great changes these days. And as with many other changing things, the change is being driven by “the challenge of the Internet.” (Note: 269,000 Google hits for the phrase “challenge of the Internet.”)
Emerging media tend to be both over-hyped and underestimated. Although there are certainly masterworks in its future, the Web -- which has been heralded as the future of the medium that will one day formerly be called television -- is still nowhere close to reliably producing works of what might be called television quality. Sketch-style comedy works well in the short bursts that fit Internaut attention spans and producers’ limited budgets. But drama has been a bust, largely comprising genre exercises built on the old Roger Corman model of hot girls in danger.
Still, it is another place to work, and the search for the new killer model has begun to engage the attention of creators from the old media. Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, of “thirtysomething” fame, took a swing at it (and missed) with their online drama “Quarterlife,” which came with its own social networking site. And now Josh Schwartz, the much younger creator of “The O.C.” and the man who turned “Gossip Girl” from a series of young adult novels into a teen-soap phenomenon that is also safe for adults, offers “Rockville CA,” a pop-themed romantic comedy residing on WB.com, the online component of the TV network. New episodes, running four or five or six minutes, debut every Tuesday -- episodes 15 and 16 debuted this week, and there are four more to go.
You would think Schwartz would be the man for this job, but he doesn’t quite pull it off.
“Everyone who comes here is like family,” says Shaun (Bonnie Burroughs), the older (not old) woman who owns Rockville, a nightclub played by Echo Park’s own Echoplex, and once “knocked boots with the guy who played synthesizer” in Oingo Boingo. (That is one of the saddest pieces of fictional biography I have heard in some time.) Which is to say, it’s “Cheers” for kids, a place where everybody almost remembers your name.
Schwartz pioneered the current rock-TV symbiosis -- Death Cab for Cutie owes “The O.C.” a beer -- and has gone so far here in the name of authenticity to field a few rock journalists for his writing staff. Yet despite these hires; the niche-friendly references to Spaceland, Burning Man and American Apparel; the knowing nods that the phrase “before you can clap your hands say yeah” will elicit from those in the know; and the real rock bands onstage, it all feels inauthentic.
Whatever chemistry might develop among the characters -- and none has, so far -- is not helped by the brevity of the episodes: Everything has to be telescoped and telegraphed. What we get instead of character is biography, name-dropping and attitude -- not so different from “Gossip Girl,” really, but without the luxury of time for the actors to fill out their roles. I like “Gossip Girl” a lot, but I sometimes think it would all fall apart without the inchoate pain with which Leighton Meester infuses bad girl Blair.
Andrew J. West is Hunter, the “resident music geek” and a potential, still reluctant love interest for A&R; newbie Deb (Alexandra Chando). Deb, who is short and cute, resents waitress Callie (Jelly Howie) because she is tall and beautiful; she likes blank-faced bass player Syd (Matt Cohen), whom she alienates by pointing out that Ian Brown was a member not of Teenage Fanclub but of the Stone Roses. Hunter likes Callie because she’s “hot hot hot,” but it seems clear that he is being cast as Benedick to Deb’s Beatrice -- they hate each other immediately, which means they will like each other eventually, despite Hunter’s being a knot of negativity.
Perhaps the biggest problem here is that -- apart from Ryan Hansen’s wannabe rich-kid Chambers, whom they all think is an idiot -- nobody’s having a particularly good time. They are knowing and detached and ironic to a fault. And perhaps that’s how it is with kids these days. But it’s a waste of good music.