Created under a classic “writers room” style committee of young, aspiring Hollywood creatives, and filmed in front of a live studio audience at the ACME Comedy Theater, On The Rocks is an unusual webseries, with interesting origins.
Written by “The Grinders” – a crowdsourced creative team of 10 young writers formed online “One Email at a time” by Executive Producer Sam Miller – On The Rocks is the result of almost eight months of weekly meetups in which the diverse team (none of whom had met before in person) hammered out a 24 episode season over waffles and ice-cream at a local Denny’s. With the pilot episode firmly in the can (and on YouTube, embedded below) the team have taken the show to Kickstarter, where it’s raised $14,000 in just two days.
With a cast and crew 20 people strong and boasting professional experience in over 40 major Hollywood productions, the teams decision to go “traditional” and create a multicam, live studio comedy may have been a natural one, but I’m not confident that it was necessarily a good one.
From the meat of the Kickstarter campaign to the very content of the show’s first episode itself, On The Rocks is already throwing up several warning signs that erode my confidence in the show as a quality webseries contender. That is to say, I don’t think that being “the web’s 1st traditional sitcom” is a goal these independent young writers are doing themselves any favours by chasing.
Why? Look no further than our review of The Men’s Room for a recent example of what happens when you try to do TV on the web. It’s an unavoidable clash of styles that simply don’t fit. Watch episode 1 of On The Rocks below, and you’ll begin to see what I mean. I wouldn’t call it unenjoyable, but when viewed as a webseries, it’s deeply flawed.
Beginning with the obvious, On The Rocks is a a “workplace comedy set in the marketing department of a liquor distributor” that has been written and filmed as six TV length, 22 minute episodes which will then be broken down into a 24 episode long webseries. As we’ve mentioned time and time again here at Comedy TV is Dead, this is a huge mistake to make when planning out a web series, as it always leads to uneven and poorly balanced episodes, often with no central narrative pull and unsatisfying beginnings and conclusions to each. If you want 24, 3-4 minute episodes, then write 24, 3-4 minute episodes. Never cut a single pilot down into parts.
A structural flaw like this is damning in its own right, but unfortunately On The Rocks also suffers in many other respects as well, all seemingly the result of its old fashioned “Hollywood knows best” aspirations.
- The show is written by too many people. As novel as a crowdsourced writers room is… It’s completely the wrong tool for this particular job. What truly sets webseries apart from network television and film, are the unique and personal stories they each deliver. All of the best online shows out there are popular (critically and with fans) because they offer viewers a fresh perspective via the unfiltered vision of a single creative personality, or very small and tightly knit team.
- As a result of too much input from too many different writers, On The Rocks has no sense of self, truth or personality. It’s a workplace sitcom featuring two-dimensional husks that only seem to exist to set-up and knock-down eachothers flat and predictable one-liners. I’m sure as the series develops the characters will expand and grow, but only just enough to sustain a trite “will they, won’t they?” or “who’s sleeping with who?” stock of subplots.
- Compare what’s on offer here to the beautifully characterised “High Maintenance“, the thought provoking satire dished out by Romany Malco in “Tijuana Jackson” or even Amy York Rubin’s cringe inducing social encounters in “Little Horribles” and On The Rocks’ lack of character becomes all too apparent.
- A live studio setup forces a “laugh track” (real or not) on its viewer and robs the series of any interesting cinematography. Strong cinematography is ironically one of the greatest strengths that low budget webseries have repeatedly shown over million dollar TV comedy productions.
Don’t believe me? Look at groundbreaking shows like “I Miss Drugs“, “My Cousin Dakota” and “Squaresville” – just three examples of webseries that use sophisticated camerawork, framing and editing to help tell their stories (and deliver their jokes). Now compare the visuals in the beautifully shot “Hipsterhood“, Wrecked or “High Road” to multi-million dollar sitcoms like “The Big Bang Theory”, “Two and a Half Men” and “How I Met Your Mother” and you’ll begin to see my point (and wonder where all that money actually goes).
- Lastly, on the issue of money – even if you’re shooting at 1% of the cost of the cheapest television series you can imagine (which The Grinders claim they are), you’re running up an unnecessary bill trying to accomplish a certain television look and style that personally, I don’t think web audiences want. Looking at the pie-chart below, which breaks down the estimated cost of each episode of On The Rocks – you can see that without the expensive sound stage, live audience and multi-camera setup, the total per $5000 episode would only be in the ballpark of $1500. Going big like this is costing On The Rocks a disproportionately higher sum of cash, just to deliver an all around inferior product.
On The Rocks isn’t awful. I like it’s origins and I like that it’s attempting something different. I may not think it’s a great idea, and I do have reservations about the execution, but On The Rocks’ is not without merit. After all, there are some benefits to shooting a show “live” like this. Performances pick up a certain bounce as the performers feed off of the audience reactions, and the multiple camera setup and long takes can lead to some great improv. With only one episode available to the general YouTube audience, it’s far, far too early to definitively judge the quality of On The Rocks’ planned 24 episode run. My hopes aren’t high for the series, but I will be keeping my eye on its progress.
Despite my reservations, On The Rocks is on track to receive full funding by its November 23rd deadline. With 3 backers solely responsible for the campaigns explosive $10,000 debut, the rest of the journey to $20k might not be as fast, but it’ll happen. You can read more about The Grinder’s first meetup and formation at The Snobby Robot. You can view their Kickstarter Campaign HERE.