The first sign that something was amiss at Rockville, the fictional Echo Park nightclub setting of TheWB.com’s new Web series, “Rockville, CA,” was all the dancing at a taping last week. No veteran of L.A.'s knives-out indie-rock scene would be caught pumping a fist or swaying in appreciation of the natty power pop of Phantom Planet.
And the nebbishly sexy young music-industry strivers who populate the show wouldn’t be enjoying drinks from Rockville’s bar. Real twentysomething record-label employees would nip from flasks to save money.
The optimistically stylized world of “Rockville, CA,” the debut Web series from Josh Schwartz, is true to his zeitgeisty work on television, including “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl.” Schwartz’s shows blur the line between mocking and celebrating the romantic lives of teenage chiseled jaws and expensively kohl’ed doe eyes, all soundtracked with the rock blogosphere’s choicest cuts of the day.
But the Internet-based “Rockville” is more than a new format for Schwartz. It’s his first attempt to capture something of a cash-strapped counterculture while reaffirming the excitement of being young, urban, media-savvy and lovelorn to an audience currently experiencing such in their real lives.
“That age is such a time of little money and great dreams,” Schwartz said. “You care so much about music and it’s so fun, and this is an attempt to reflect that life. The club is a home for these kids, and when the show’s over, they don’t want to go home.”
“Rockville, CA,” midway through taping its first season with an eye toward an early 2009 debut, takes place largely at a fictionalized version of the Echo and Echoplex, the popular Eastside club complex that doubles as the show’s set. The four-minute webisodes follow a coterie of comely postgrads at various levels of influence and aspiration in the record business as they make out and break up to the strains of local indie-poppers like Earlimart and Nico Stai and chic out-of-towners like White Lies and the Kooks.
The focus of “Rockville, CA” is as much on capturing the spirit of the live performances -- curated by Schwartz’s longtime music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas -- as anything happening in the apartment bedrooms of its characters. All the bands are recorded live, making the show a de facto competitor to music-video sites such as Pitchfork.tv and Videogum.
“If you have to do a playback or lip-sync, it’ll really put the fake on,” said Phantom Planet frontman Alex Greenwald on Thursday just before the band’s “Rockville, CA” taping at the Echoplex. “This show will look much more real.”
Patsavas, owner of Chop Shop Music Supervision and a longtime friend of Spaceland Productions founder Mitchell Frank, tried to hew closely to the Echo’s natural habitat in selecting acts that sound and look the part.
“Like any good club, there’s a loud local component,” Patsavas said. “Josh and I talked at length about how the club should feel, and I grew up going to clubs like this, so for me this show was a bit like returning home.”
For those adjacent to “Rockville, CA’s” real-life counterpart, it remains to be seen how the show captures the cadences of life in a multiethnic, multi-income neighborhood that, five years ago, might have made “Gossip Girl’s” Serena van der Woodsen pack pepper spray in her Chanel purse. Schwartz calls “Rockville, CA,” “the anti-Hills” but admits that the show is more about those with wristbands than those living outside the doors.
Such a micro-targeted focus is typical for the nascent crop of Web-based episodic drama. Director Joe Swanberg’s racy Chicago-centric “Young American Bodies” and the Brooklyn-skewering YouTube hit “The Burg” replay the concerns and imagery of young, Web-fluent audiences right back to them.
“Rockville, CA” doesn’t venture far from that narrative, though even the most scene-centric indie rockers might bristle at an Echo Park composed entirely of people exactly like themselves.
“I expect people who live in Echo Park to be skeptical,” Schwartz said. “You have to be skeptical to live in Echo Park.”
Still, the show does capture a certain swath of L.A. youth culture. Even as record labels fall victim to a sour economy and a cash-averse Internet culture, passion for new, undiscovered music seems a bull market. In bad times, the exploits of the moneyed or cultured are often the most popular escapism, and arty Echo Parkers are hardly immune.
For Schwartz, a series about jobs in the music business might be his most vivid fantasy yet, because it feels so close -- yet so fantastic -- to the actual lives of its audience.
“People sometimes don’t know that they want to see their lives reflected back to them,” Schwartz said. “But then they’re drawn to it.”
Brown is a Times staff writer.