Modest Mouse. The Killers. Death Cab for Cutie. Aside from all being commercially successful indie rock acts, the three bands, along with a handful of others, share something else in common. They all owe much of their success to a single gig at the same venue: The Bait Shop in Newport Beach, California, the fictional seaside club frequented by the kids of Fox’s hit teen drama The O.C.
Had The Bait Shop been a real venue, its owners would have been OC Creator/Executive Producer Josh Schwartz and Music Supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, both of whom are now on Gossip Girl duty. Two years later, the duo have again decided to wield their tastemaking power in the form of Rockville, CA, a scripted web series from TheWB.com that follows the lives of the music fans who make Club Rockville a second home.
While Patsavas’ other projects, including Gray’s Anatomy and Mad Men, use their noted soundtracks to augment the story, Rockville, CA uses the story’s setting to justify the music. And that’s the point. Rockville, CA was designed to be a showcase for bands whose only exposure had come from small clubs and college radio stations. But can a series with 5-minute episodes effectively show off new music while maintaining a compelling plot?
The first episode of the series is tremendously well done. We are introduced to Hunter (Andrew West, who you may know from The CW’s Privileged), a music nerd who frequents the club. Hunter is an oddly attractive, nebbishy smart ass who you will immediately root for, the kind of character Josh Schwartz seems to have an affection for (see: Seth Coen, Dan Humphrey).
Early in the episode he meets Deb (Alexandra Chando, who your grandmother may know from As the World Turns), an equally quick-witted, bespectacled record label talent scout who is majorly adorable and uses the word “major” as her catchall adjective. She doesn’t drink, but happily puffs a joint in episode six, a little incongruity that somehow suits her. The two become friendly, communicating almost exclusively through smart, sarcastic quips. They will inevitably fall in love and it will be hot.
The premiere also introduces us to the club’s (relatively) old owner Shawne (Bonnie Burroughs) and Syd (Matt Cohen), a reticent bassist adored by Deb. The last 30 seconds or so are occupied by a performance from the episode’s guest musician, indie rocker Nico Stai. And right before the credits roll, focus turns from the stage to the audience where Hunter and Deb share a fleeting, cross-room glance.
Subsequent episodes bring new members of the ensemble cast, like Chambers, a.k.a. “The Douche” (Ryan Hansen , who portrayed a similar character on The CW’s Veronica Mars), who claims to own part of the club and whose nickname speaks volumes, as well as Callie (Jelly Howie), the “hot, hot, hot new bartender who’s hot.”
The structure of every episode is about the same – glimpses into the lives of the clubgoers, interjected with bits of the bands’ performances. And every episode is entertaining, delivering witty, rapidfire dialogue, pretty people, and a fantasy world that we can somehow relate to – traits we’ve come to expect from Schwartz.
But the show is missing something also synonymous with Schwartz: multiple high-stakes plot lines, the narrative nicotine that keeps his audience coming back for more. In the first six episodes the only meaningful arc that strings installments together is the impending relationship between Hunter and Deb. Otherwise, each episode is merely a fun vignette that could almost exist independently of a series. Those two better get together and then start cheating on each other right quick.
With only 2 or 3 minutes of solid plot development time in each installment, it’s possible that the foundation is just being laid and something more interesting is to be expected in the coming weeks. Judging by the show’s trailer, I think it’s fair to give them that benefit of the doubt.
At the very least, Rockville, CA is an enjoyable way to spend 5 minutes each week. At the most, Rockville, CA could realize its potential, become one of the better series on the net, and enjoy a significant audience of OC fans who miss hanging out at The Bait Shop. Either way, if you dig the kinds of acts booked at Rockville, you may discover something new.
Each episode features one band, both up-and-comers as well as more established acts like Kaiser Chiefs and Phantom Planet. Downloads and full performances from guest performers will be made available at Rockville’s website and MySpace page.
The first four episodes premiere today on TheWB.com. After that, the remaining 16 will be released two at a time every Tuesday.