When the lights go down in the Jewelbox Theater and the screen, unfilled for a moment, glows slightly in the new darkness, you reflexively anticipate a silent film or, maybe, something subtitled. The Rendezvous's tiny screening room is a little ragtag, vintage 1920s, its walls upholstered in panels of patterned silky fabric. The red velvet curtain framing the proscenium suggests moths.

The Jewelbox's cinematic offerings are usually classics, rarities, the cult, and the oddball—last month featured a documentary about a man who did a 13-month swim of the Columbia River, and works from Seattle's True Independent Film Festival ("inventive, risk-taking films"). The appearance onscreen last Tuesday of the logo of a major cable television network, accompanied by its instantly recognizable sound effect, was jarring. The crowd—apparent thought-leaders of a desired demographic, gathered via mysterious marketing means—was plied with complimentary drinks while viewing the premiere episode of a show debuting on the major cable network in a couple weeks.

The show—"A new comedy series that makes love to your ears" about "New Zealand's fourth most popular folk parody duo"—had a calibrated deadpan charm, fuzzy-focused/faux-low-budget camerawork. The lyrics of a post-breakup song ("I'm not crying/It's just raining on my face/I'm not crying/My eyes are just sweaty today") provoked the most laughter. It was easy to imagine people of the right age in the right industries sitting in darkened, authentic-indie theaters in major cities all across the land drinking their free drinks and laughing, too. With The Sopranos being hailed as the pinnacle of artistic achievement of our age, this is big business, which, perversely, wants only to be perceived otherwise.

Afterward, downstairs in the Grotto, DJs played electro house. A few thought-leaders danced energetically, while others eyed the vacant food table and its expectant stack of paper plates. Upon being offered a promotional T-shirt, one woman recoiled like it might bite. Someone suggested eating it. The lack of promised snacks was becoming a serious public-relations liability for the major cable network.

Invitations to the event had landed in the hands or electronic inboxes of invitees in exactly as viral a manner as the major cable network would've hoped. One person's friend was a neighbor of one of the DJs; another had somehow heard about it through the e-mail list of another, unassociated, but also cool, local venue; two more were in attendance via "a friend of a friend of a friend who's not even here." Assessments of the television pilot tended toward the canny and cold-blooded: "funny, but a little derivative," "decent," "quirky, but I don't know if it'll stick."

The arrival at last of samosas and kebabs caused a near-stampede, with the first two waves of platters decimated in less than a minute each. A couple guys nearby ignored the feeding frenzy, favoring free beer.

"It's either be exploited or exploit," said one.

"Yeah, I have to get up early," said the other. "So maybe just four more."

Rendezvous, 2322 Second Ave, 441-5823