Against Rockville, CA

For reasons I can’t begin to justify or explain, I stayed up incredibly late last night to write a column — and I wound up watching all twenty episodes of the WB’s new web series Rockville, CA. Wow. That’s really embarrassing. I had intended to write a post detailing my thoughts and impressions of the series, which follows the Moonlighting romance of two tiresome dorks. I’m happy to report that Ryan Hansen, best known as Dick Casablancas on Veronica Mars, plays a character known as “The Douche.” Hansen also appears in the mildly disappointing Party Down, which also stars Freaks and Geeks alumna Lizzy Caplan — who has, by the way, become quite beautiful — and he was slated to appear in the short-lived Gossip Girl spin-off based on the early life of Lily van der Woodson. So clearly he’s doing well, which is excellent news.

My favorite character on Rockville, CA is definitely Jelly Howie’s Callie, a server from Ottawa who is really given short shrift on the show. One gets the impression that she’s a little dim relative to Hunter and Deb, the romantic leads, both of whom are begging to be murdered by mallet. And I don’t buy it. Callie is socially perceptive in a way that suggests keen intelligence, at least to me, and my guess is that her failure to “get” Hunter’s pop riffs is a mark of different interests — e.g., perhaps she’s an expert on modern English poetry or horror films or the sale and manufacture of atomic weapons.

The Deb character is in some respects the greatest disappointment, as she has potential. The figure of the smart and charismatic woman who is short of stunningly gorgeous but profoundly rad is a vitally important figure in our culture. I’d submit that this figure is the glue that holds our civilization together. The trouble is that the actor who portrays Deb, Alexandra Chando, doesn’t properly convey real wit and sparkiness. Hunter is less disappointing because, frankly, men of that ilk are invariably horrible, and Andrew J. West does a good job of getting that across, if only unintentionally. Syd, the male counterpart to Callie, is supposed to be a himbo boob. He’s a crudely drawn stereotype.

But boy, the Rockville, CA concept has tremendous potential. Divey live music venues collect all kinds of characters, and it’s easy to imagine a much sharper, smarter version of the show, ideally one with a little more diversity. This might strike you as a tiresome objection, but my sense is that the indie rock landscape of Los Angeles includes more than a few blipsters and Latinos — heirs of the Morrissey/New Wave enthusiasts — and Asians and Hapas. The lack of diversity is a strike against the show’s realism, but also against its aesthetic interestingness, which is all I care about, honestly. Realism is for the birds. Make it aesthetically interesting and I don’t care if alligators in diapers devour one of the protagonists and then poop diamonds.

Also, the bands can and should be deployed more effectively. Given financial constraints, 6-7 minute segments and modest production values make sense. I get the reasoning behind placing the live acts in the background. But choreographing the dialogue a little more tightly with the sets — at least once in a while — would be powerfully effective. (You know what was a great show? Soul Train.)

It occurs to me that there is a generational dimension that I might be missing. Hunter is young and very insecure, and that contributes to his twerpishness. Shouldn’t he have some redeeming qualities, though? As for Deb, she sneers at Callie — really, really sneers — yet she doesn’t come across as particularly winning or bright. Glasses aren’t enough.

Granted, writing this kind of thing is much, much harder than it looks. I am dead certain that there are vastly superior drafts of these scripts that were passed over or mangled beyond recognition. And as in The TV Set, I sense that Chando was not the first casting choice of the show’s creators.

Movie I’d like to see: a modern-day version of That Thing You Do! featuring a band of pan-ethnic indie rockers, half-working-class and half-RISD students. The lead singer quits the band to become an inner-city middle school teacher, and he’s replaced by an intense, manic, deranged woman from the wrong side of the tracks. She complicates the band in a good way. The band blows up. They sound a lot like The Affair, but crazier. Then it dissolves because the band members basically decides that they don’t really want to make money; rather, they want to fade into obscurity and make really difficult, demanding music that no sane person wants to hear. And it’s a happy ending!

P.S. I edited this post to remove an unintentionally mean-spirited remark.