Rock Gets Rolled


It’s surprising that rock’n’roll music hasn’t shown up as a subject and setting for TV series until the last year, and something probably to be thankful for. But now it’s arrived in three shows.

Let’s first scrape the bottom of the barrel and look at the HBO series Vinyl, which recently ended its first and only season. The cable channel first renewed it for a second season even before the first season ended, and then – quite sensibly – canceled it after the season was over.

It came with some big names attached on the executive production end: Martin Scorsese (who ought to be ashamed) and Mick Jagger (whose son also plays a young rocker in the series and has zero charisma as both and actor and a musical quantity). It’s about a record label in New York City in the early 1970s.

Having arrived into that scene not long afterwards, I can attest to just how wrong Vinyl gets it. Plus its lead, the talented Bobby Cannavale as record company president Richie Finestra, doesn’t just chew the scenery but chomps down hard on it. Every time he snorts cocaine, it’s like he stuck a small nuclear weapon up his nostrils. To say the show is overdone is to state the case lightly.

And that problem just got worse with every successive episode. Its portrayals of real rock stars are horrid, the music made for the show is awful, and its plot is littered with absurdities. The only good thing I can say about it is that Ray Romano plays a record executive of that era quite true-to-life within a swirling pile of crap. A must to avoid unless you find perverse pleasure in failed TV, and on that count it’s a wonder to be sickened by as you hold your nose.

Following soon after it on Showtime came Roadies, which follows an arena rock band’s road crew as they travel from town to town. It was created by Cameron Crowe, who began his career as a music journalist, and made one of the best fictional rock movies – a short list to begin with – Almost Famous.

I’m a fan of Crowe’s other movies, which seem to not score very well with many critics. I attribute that at least in part to the fact that he’s a critic who could and has made movies – read envy – as there’s usually sweet and fun tone to most all his films (save Vanilla Sky) that echoes his favorite filmmaker (and one of mine), Billy Wilder.

That sweetness pervades Roadies and gives the show a likable charm. It’s up to four episodes as I write this, and even though Rainn Wilson’s turn as a music blogger that I was looking forward to in episode three turned out to be a mess, I’m hooked into it. Sure, some aspects of how a rock tour works and what it’s like backstage may not quite ring real. But after suffering though Vinyl, Roadies does provide – here’s that word again – some sweet relief.

Last but not least and ultimately the best of the lot is Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, co-created by and starring Denis Leary as a washed up rock star. A daughter he never knew he had arrives in New York City with the aim of getting him to reunite his old band from the 1980s to back her up as a singer, and have him write songs for her.

It’s a comedy that’s largely fun, and its music business setting is fairly real and free from agonizing groaners. Leary leads the cast with aplomb, with John Corbett doing a fine job as his ex-bandmate. The music’s pretty good too. It bowed last year on FX, and once I started watching it on smart TV a few weeks ago, it seduced me to gobble up the first season. The second is already airing, and I can’t wait for it to finally show up on my smart TV.

So the score is better with rock music TV series than better they’d left the subject alone. In fact, I bet we’ll see more like these soon.

Populist Picks

Movie: MI-5 – Anyone who has read my columns over the years knows just how much I loved the UK TV series by the same name. This is its movie, and it’s damned good. It’s a cracking good espionage and anti-terrorism thriller in which Peter Firth, who plays the head of the English spy agency’s counter-terrorism unit in the series, finally takes the lead and shines, as does Kit Harrington – Jon Snow on Game of Thrones – as a disaffected agent. So damn good I may likely watch it again very soon.

Book: Hello, He Lied by Lynda Obst – Want to know how Hollywood really works? Producer Lynda Obst leads the reader through the odd labyrinth of the film business in this wise and gently chuckling (though the horrors) memoir.

CD: Everybody’s in Show-Biz by The Kinks – This expanded edition of the 1973 album with both studio and live tracks is even more of a delight with its extras added. And helps make the case that The Kinks were a British Invasion band deserving somewhat higher stature than they’ve been accorded.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. He edits Email

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2016

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2016 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652