Smoothly set sail to the early days of web video with Yacht Rock
In 15 Minutes Or Less, The A.V. Club looks at the best in web series and short-form TV, recommending entry points that will take up no more than a quarter hour of your time. In this edition, we look back at a “classic” series from the recent past.
Founded in the early ’00s by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab, L.A.’s monthly short-film showcase Channel 101 has served as an early launch pad for a slew of comedic talent, including the members of The Lonely Island. But while Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone’s teen-soap parody The ’Bu was one of the most popular series among attendees of Channel 101 screenings, it never enjoyed the massive online reach of J.D. Ryznar and Hunter Stair’s Yacht Rock. Nor could The ’Bu lay claim to reviving interest in a whole musical movement: “Yacht rock” has become the commonly used term to describe the sounds of Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, and the other “smooth” musicians. (Notice host “Hollywood” Steve Huey is the only onscreen presence to refer to any of the characters as “yacht rockers.”) The series maintains a reverence for the songs whose myths it makes, grounding its humor in the tangled, only slightly exaggerated web of connections and rivalries within this world of dockside concerts and back-alley songwriting contests. Taking its cues from E! True Hollywood Story and Behind The Music, Yacht Rock gave new life to songs like “What A Fool Believes” (and found a new way of finding the funny in such tracks, beyond “This is so cheesy!”) by inflating the musicians who created them to legendary proportions.
Keywords: The raw power of really smooth music, fake mustaches, “Fuck you, Loggins!”
Where to start: The wind in Yacht Rock’s sails is blown by the relationship between Doobie Brothers frontman-cum-solo-artist McDonald (Ryznar) and hot-shot careerist Loggins (Stair). After teaming up to pen “What A Fool Believes” in the series’ first episode, McDonald and Loggins move on to help smooth-music maestro Koko Goldstein “Keep The Fire” against the mortal enemies of gentle grooves and wistful harmonies: Daryl Hall (Wade Randolph) and John Oates (Drew Hancock, who’s now a writer on Suburgatory). There are funnier episodes of the series, but this is the one where Ryznar and Stair learned to use the constraints of Channel 101’s five-minute format to their advantage, letting no chance for a joke or lyrical allusion go unused and creating a low-rent music-video vibe with quick edits and thrifty video effects. A scruffy chronicle of musicians whose sound was buffed within an inch of its life, Yacht Rock made the most of its shortcomings, and its early episodes lay the groundwork for dense, callback-heavy installments to come.
Where to watch: All 12 episodes (the final two produced several years after Channel 101 audience members “canceled” the series) are available at the Channel 101 website; Stair’s YouTube channel hosts a playlist of the entire series in episode order.