While Rockville, CA is a pretty good name for a web series, Club Rockville is kind of a lame name for a music venue, especially a music venue crammed with hip kids in their early 20s. But that’s one of only a few missteps in The OC creator Josh Schwartz’s original web series for TheWB.com, a light and watchable music/sitcom/drama hybrid debuting today.
The formula as laid out in the first six episodes is pretty simple:
Warner Bros. label artist plays while attractive young people nurse crushes on those slightly out of their league. (Correction: Only one artist, Lights, is on the WB label; all bands were chosen by renowned music supervisor Alex Patsavas.) Given that at any point, there’s only about two minutes of real plot time, there’s not much else to it: character development is limited and the biggest twist in the first six episodes is the revelation that the hot waitress’s boyfriend has broken up with her (an event which had a lot of foreshadowing).
But this isn’t meant to be Gemini Division — in the opening credits, the name of the band playing is placed before the name of the episode, which tells you everything you need to know. The show’s sole raison d’etre is the mix of witty banter and hot indie tunes, which are filmed live (no playback) and underscore each episode. I got to visit the shoot back in November, and the energy of the musical performances, even at 11 a.m. on a Monday, was exactly like seeing a band play live (except for all the cameras, of course).
It helps of course that the venue in question is the historic Los Angeles indie club The Echo, which doesn’t typically get bands on the level that Rockville does: featured artists include The Kaiser Chiefs, The Kooks and Travis, with lesser known folk like Duke Spirit and Nico Stai filling in the gaps. As a cross-promotion concept it’s brilliant — promote lesser known artists, introduce younger audiences to more established bands, and never worry about your soundtrack. The fact that the music doesn’t necessarily match tonally with the on-screen action doesn’t really matter, because all the drama takes place inside a club, a place where hearts often get broken while hard rock plays.
There’s an alarming amount of the second episode devoted to arguing over the best alternative for the word “cool” (“major” versus “outrageous”), but if you can get past that, the writing is actually pretty good. Despite his established TV writing credentials, Schwartz doesn’t have much trouble conforming to the web series format, and each episode works well both individually and as part of a whole — though it’s not like there are a lot of plot twists to keep straight.
Acting-wise, Deb (Alexandra Chando) is definitely working the quirky-girl-with-glasses cliche but she does it pretty well, and Chambers (Ryan Hansen, who played Dick Casablancas on Veronica Mars, and is thus the most recognizable member of the cast) is actually kind of great, pushing himself to douchey extremes but also allowing some interesting vulnerability to shine through.
What will ultimately lead to Rockville‘s success is this: When I was a teenager, I wasn’t interested in watching TV about teenagers. I was much more interested in watching shows about those slightly older than me — the people who I and my peers were about to become. Because the best media, the stuff that really gets under your skin, is the media that allows you the briefest sense of wish fulfillment. And if I were today an adolescent music fan, all I would be dreaming about would be going to cool clubs, listening to great music, and finally getting the chance to talk to the hot bassist of my dreams.