Will the Internet replace TV? Don't count on it. Even plugged-in twentysomethings might ripen to the point where they'll want to view their content while flopped out on the couch. But that doesn't mean the Web won't offer reasonable distractions - or try to remind us of our entertainment options if a writers' strike drags on.
Into this fray, with impeccable timing, come two new original, online-only series, both available on MySpace's new YouTube competitor, MySpaceTV.com. "Quarterlife," which also has its own page at quarterlife.com, is the repurposing of a re jected pilot by "thirtysomething" creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick. "Roommates" comes from Iron Sink Media, which has created prior Web series with names like "NoHoGirls," "WeHoGirls," and "VanNuysGuys."
What makes these shows Internet-worthy? They're cheaply produced compared to TV series - which likely means everyone got paid a little less - and constructed for short attention spans. "Quarterlife" episodes are eight minutes long and debut twice a week, while "Roommates" episodes post every weekday through Dec. 21 and last three minutes or so. Both have related social networking tools: message boards, ancillary MySpace pages, and countless MySpace "friends."
Otherwise, both shows confirm the standard principles of old-fashioned TV. As in, some of it is good, and some of it is bad.
By "good" here, I mean "well done," with smart dialogue, good acting, and high production values. "Quarterlife" has all of that, not surprising given its pedigree: Herskovitz and Zwick also created the network series "Once and Again" and "My So-Called Life."
Whether "Quarterlife" is actually worth watching is a different, open question. The characters, after all, have that maddening Herskovitz/Zwick tendency to mope while navel-gazing. And while there's something universally appealing about the way kids mope in high school - since high school is such a ready allegory for real life - it's harder to drum up sympathy for moody twentysomethings in search of themselves.
In "Quarterlife," the most annoying of the drifters is the main character, Dylan (Bitsie Tulloch). She's an aspiring writer with a low-level job at a fashion magazine, and she suffers from that age-appropriate disease known as blogorrhea. As the show begins, she is starting a video-log for the purpose of sharing her stream-of-consciousness with the world ("Why do we blog? We blog to . . . exist") and to detail her friends' intimate secrets. One of them drinks too much and sleeps around. One has a crush on his best friend's girlfriend. When they object to the exposure, Dylan claims she can't help herself. She's, like, a writer.
"I have to be honest, you know that," she says. "It's like a fetish or something."
So, yeah. It's hard to relate, as Dylan whines, flops around on her bed, and obsesses over other people's lives. Still, there's something compelling about the show, because it aims for what the best TV can do - make something literary out of everyday life.
"Roommates," on the other hand, is content to make a vapid twentysomething's life look as empty as it actually is. The faux-reality show centers on four college roommates, post-graduation, who have moved to a fancy Los Angeles house to get followed around by camera crews. They loll in the hot tub, watch old videos of themselves, and generally treat each other badly, all while basking in what they consider a grand experiment. "We're making Internet history," one of them squeals, apparently too young or TV-phobic to have heard of "The Real World" or "Big Brother."
The writers don't worry about sounding literary. They're aiming for realism, which means the characters keep saying, "Oh my Gohhhhhhhhd!" in identical high-pitched whines. In fact, there must be an endless supply of willowy actresses with long, light brown hair, because I found the four main characters completely interchangeable. I think the one named Peyton likes ice cream and the one named Sigourney has a car, but after watching every episode so far, I'm still not sure.
What I do know is that all of them really like their new Ford Focus. Because even a low-budget Internet series has to pay the bills, this one has gained sponsorship from Ford, and the resulting product placement is far more crass than anything I've seen on old-fashioned TV. Two episodes, which center around the test drive and purchase of said car, are essentially Focus commercials. The low point comes when Violet - at least, I think that was Violet, though it could have been Heather - runs up to the squat black sedan and coos, "Sexxxxyyyyy!"
There's faint hope that future episodes will make more use of four characters referred to as the "out-of-towners": still more college roommates who haven't moved to LA. They turn up in flashbacks and contribute to the project with video logs of their own, available on the show's MySpace home page. They're multiethnic and sassy, and seem to have actual jobs. One of them calls herself The Shaz.
That's one nice thing about those Internet bells and whistles: If the central content falls short, at least there are ample distractions. In the hours I spent on the "Roommates" and "Quarterlife" sites, the most entertaining thing I found was a point-by-point parody of the "Quarterlife" trailer, made by a pair of aspiring sketch comics in Los Angeles. Herskovitz and Zwick, choosing to view it as flattery, posted it on the show's site. Now, that's something an old-fashioned TV network probably wouldn't do.