Created by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger & Terence Winter
What a difference a week makes!
Shoulda woulda coulda is what fan’s of the losing World Series team say, and it perfectly describes the pilot episode of the new HBO drama. In fact, in truth, it was interminable. Truly. A two-hour marathon that was at least an hour too long, the “Vinyl” pilot should have been great. Great cast, great production team, great era from which to pull, and a 1973 New York City that’s right in Scorsese’s wheelhouse.
But, MAN, was it dull. Not because it was boring, per se…but because every single scene was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU’LL EVER SEE! Here’s an idea…if you are introducing us to a new ten-episode series, give us a story! It was sooo much gloss, and symbolism, and dream sequences…and worst of all…over-acting. The best parts were when we flashed back to Richie, our Protagonist’s, beginnings in the industry…and his relationship to the budding R&B star he would manage, Lester Grimes. Also, his real-time interactions with the A&R staff worked really well. In other words, story and dialogue!
The pilot was directed by Scorsese. I’ve since found out that his original intention for “Vinyl” was to make it a three-hour film. When HBO balked at that idea and turned it in to a ten-parter, he was allowed to direct the pilot. And, wouldn’t ya know…what makes the second episode so much more watchable is that it feels like an episode, not a movie with no ending. Oh, and that it was directed by HBO drama veteran and auteur, Allen Coulter. It’s still not great, but the references to rock stars of the past make sense now, as opposed to making you say “what the fuck was that?” Although it occasionally veers in to great when it goes back in to the A&R room, or brings us more of the Lester Bangs story.
As for the acting? Bobby Cannavale is on screen at least 90% of the time, and, I don’t know whose choice it was, but, MAN, is he over the top. And because the rest of the show sort of flails around stylistically, there is nothing to GROUND his hysterics. He’s just as manic when he’s sober as when he’s on a bender. It doesn’t work – and its a shame because he’s such a dynamic presence. It reminds me of Leo’s performance in “Wolf of Wall Street”…all sizzle and no steak. And, alas, he’s the only one who continues that Scorsese-directed hyperactivity even through the second episode.
However, there are some actors to watch for…most notably Ray Romano. A caricature in the pilot, he becomes the most emotionally grounded character by the second episode…perfectly encapsulating the “stuck” suburban Jewish patriarch. Olivia Wilde is another three dimensional presence. Her quiet despair upon realizing that her inner joy was intrinsically linked to her now faded youth, is a whirlwind of subtle expression. And I can’t wait to see what situations further episodes will bring for Ato Essandoh (Lester Grimes). And I’d be remiss not to mention the only acting standout in the pilot episode: Andrew Dice Clay. Holy crap, what a force!!
I have several problems with the historical inaccuracies of the story – specifically that a huge record company would suddenly be so enamored with punk rock in 1973. And the only wealthy record person who hated Jethro Tull, ELP and Yes enough to smash their records at that time would be the current president of the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. After all, let us look at the iconic records released in 1973:
- Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)
- Houses of the Holy (Led Zeppelin)
- Quadrophenia (The Who)
- Goat Heads Soup (The Rolling Stones)
- Wild, Innocent and the E Street Shuffle AND Greetings From Asbury Park (Bruce)
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)
- Brain Salad Surgery (ELP)
- There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (Paul Simon)
- Innervisions (Stevie Wonder)
- Brothers and Sisters (The Allman Brothers)
- Call Me (Al Green)
- Selling England By the Pound (Genesis)
- Lynyrd Skynyrd
- A Passion Play (Jethro Tull)
- Catch a Fire (Marley)
- Tres Hombres (ZZ Top)
- Countdown To Ecstasy (Steely Dan)
- Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Black Sabbath)
You get the idea. But sure…Iggy’s “Raw Power” came out that year, as did the NY Dolls first record…so by all means, it’s all about punk.
And I say that as a kid who was REALLY in to punk rock. But seriously, NO A&R department of ANY label was looking to sign punk rock bands for at least another three to five years.
And don’t EVEN get me started on the idea that anyone who was white and had a label “discovered” rap music before 1978…or, really, not until 1981, when the Clash introduced a white audience to the Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash for the fist time at the infamous Bond shows.
HOWEVER… I’m willing to go with it if it furthers character interaction and introspection. If it doesn’t, I call bullshit!
So, in conclusion, I utterly understand why many of you would have quit on the show after the pilot, but maybe give it one more chance. Under the capable hands of Coulter – and other terrific episodic television directors – this could be something special down the road. I, for one, am willing to give it the chance…