BOSTON — On Christmas Eve, chestnuts like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” will fill television screens everywhere. Here in Boston, a few hundred struggling artists will be huddling around their tubes for the premiere of a “reality sitcom” starring — well — them.
It’s called “Quiet Desperation” — or “Quiet D” for short. It started a couple of years ago on YouTube as webisodes shot in a third floor Allston apartment. Picture a raunchier “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for hipsters.
Rob Potylo, creator and star of “Quiet D,” brought me up the staircase into his small bedroom. He’s been living in it for seven years, he explained — enough time to launch a TV show.
“It’s a reality-type show where I do have my own name on it and I do show where I live and where I grew up and stuff,” Potylo said. “I should be grown up by now. I live in here, create in here, cry in here, sleep in here, smoke, um, tobacco in here…”
Potylo also films in his apartment. The room is tiny. There’s a mattress on the floor. Scraps of paper, covered in song lyrics, are taped to the walls.
Then there’s the living room.
On this day it has the air of an opium den. An entourage of friends — many of them musicians — play guitars and laugh on couches while the crew preps for the day’s shoot.
“Basically, this whole place acts like a real live set,” said Potylo. “A sort of real-life set and quote-unquote fictional-life set. But I think it’s the opposite life of ‘Jersey Shore.’ We have a lot of eclectic creative types still acting like kids but doing something every now and then.”
More than 200 under-the-radar creative types have appeared in Potylo’s reality-based webisodes, he said, and their antics have attracted something of a cult following. The 33-year-old rocker’s mission is to showcase his artist friends’ talent — he’s tired of losing Boston’s comics and musicians to New York and LA.
“Boston shouldn’t be a minor league town,” Potylo said emphatically. “The major press in Boston, unfortunately, they just give the front pages to Aerosmith, Tom Brady, Ben Affleck, fake Irish accent mafia movies, and seem to pass over what is literally debilitating genius talent. It’s ridiculous.”
Potylo speaks from his own experience. He’s a veteran musician and comic, known by many as Robby Roadsteamer. His moustached character even had a brief stint as a DJ on WBCN-FM. But living the life of an artist has been challenging for Potylo — and he’s not alone.
Potylo called his webisode series “Quiet Desperation” for a reason. According to Thoreau, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Potylo wants the participants in “Quiet D” to have more — in this life.
While the show is meant to represent Boston’s underground scene, the plot line follows Potylo’s own antics.
“You see me getting unemployed, getting in a warehouse, getting signed to a major label, breaking up the band, starting my own band, trying to do comedy,” Potylo explained. “It was all over the place.”
Now, Potylo is taking “Quiet D” from the Internet to old-school television. He got a contract with MYTV, an independent New England channel, for two episodes a month over the next nine months — starting Friday at 11 p.m. To make “Quiet D” TV-ready Potylo’s spent the last few months shooting continuity, padding the story line, and fleshing out characters.
He squeezed me into a bathroom the size of a closet to watch him shoot a scene with Warren Lynch, the assistant director, and Potylo’s love interest on the show, Amanda Ciriello (known in “Quiet D” as “Amanda Cupcakes”).
“You know, you’re still building this character from scratch,” Potylo explained to Ciriello, “so it’s whatever you want to present to the camera. If you want to be laid back chill-lady-type you can, if you want to be endearing, you can.”
Then the camera started rolling.
“Quiet D” has come a long way since it began. In the early days Potylo and his friend Joe Madaus handled everything — casting, lighting, shooting, editing. Now, the show boasts a fairly big staff and support from Metropolitan Pictures, a local production company.
Executive Producer Scott Matalon calls it “a labor of love” and likens it to a grassroots start-up company. He helped broker “Quiet D’s” deal with MYTV.
In the weeks leading up to the premiere, the expanded, ambitious crew has been searching for sponsors and promoting the show with commercials on the Internet and on TV.
The fact is, no one is getting paid for their work — including stand-up comedian Tom Dustin. Since the beginning, he’s played a sleazy lawyer on “Quiet D.” He’s essentially the guy everyone loves to hate.
“I know it has a nice little cult following,” Dustin said. “Every now and then me, ‘nobody me,’ gets recognized on the street — and never from my stand up!
“It’s always, ‘Hey, you’re the crappy lawyer on ‘Quiet Desperation!” ”
And that was when “Quiet D” was just on YouTube. Now, with the big TV premiere, Dustin admits he’s a little nervous about how things will go.
“I still don’t know how I feel about the final product of the show,” Dustin said, laughing. “I feel like I’m the only skeptic who’s like, ‘Oh I don’t know if people are going to watch this.’ ”
Of course, Potylo hopes people will watch his program. Regardless of how it’s received, Potylo is on cloud nine right now because “Quiet D” is exactly what he wanted to put on TV. He says he’s got nothing to lose.
“I’m not somebody who went to NYU and got a (Communications) degree,” Potylo said. “I’m somebody that, hell man, when that show is on the air, you know that next Monday morning all I’m going to do is get crap from my co-workers about it.”
Potylo’s day job is at a kid’s toy store warehouse right down the street.
That said, he admits that having “Quiet Desperation’s” premiere on Christmas Eve could be seen as a gift for the legions of the struggling artists who’ve donated their time to work on it –- himself included.
“I need it,” Potylo said with a sigh. “Last Christmas, I was in my room eating Pop Tarts, listening to Elliot Smith, and watching ‘The Notebook.'”
Besides that, he said he needs a new iPod.