Reckless Criticism: Vinyl S1

Welcome to “Reckless Criticism,” something we at the No Filter Network like to use as a means to straddle the line between critic and fan.  As an individual with absolutely no journalism or critic experience, I recognize the fact that my credentials will not put me in the same stratosphere as the Roger Eberts, the Andy Greenwalds or the Alan Sepinwalls of the world.  But don’t you worry (childddddd) I will make up for these shortcomings with frenetic fandom, humor and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of TV watching insight (trust me I’ve seen it all).  So, buckle up, it’s gon’ be a bumpy ride…

Where to start?  (Spoilers) First and foremost, the season 1 finale: Alibi was most likely the best episode out of this inaugural 10 episode season.  We leave off with our merry band of misfits as the Nasty Bits slayed their opening for the New York Dolls (finally), only to be abruptly dragged off stage by the fuzz who were tipped off to their reckless use of obscenity by none other than Richie Finestra himself (because any publicity is good publicity right?)

Meanwhile, the journey to that moment was anything but smooth for Jamie Vine, as her strained relationship with Nasty Bits front man Kip Stevens finally reached a boiling point following their sudden menage a trois with ax man Tony Del Greco at the end of the penultimate episode.  In a fit of rage, Kip induces himself into a heroin stupor, the likes of which he is only able to overcome 5 minutes before heading on stage to perform by way of cocaine injection.  It seems as though Jamie’s professional, and perhaps romantic, connection to the Nasty Bits is over, but her job at American Century is secure for now.

However, Richie and Zak Yankovich’s relationship is anything but.  Following their elevator fisticuffs once Zak uncovered the truth behind the botched Vegas deal, he fashions himself a sit down with mafia boss Corrado Galasso to detail his plan of ousting Richie from the Company completely (The Godfather line had me ROFL btw).  Prollllly not the best of ideas for Zak, as Galasso swiftly notifies Richie of the betrayal and then puts Zak in his place by threatening to kill him for his insubordination.  At the end of the episode, amongst the post New York Dolls show celebrations at the American Century HQ, we catch a fantastic shot of Richie staring at Zak through a mist of champagne and spray paint as the two make eye contact and Zak slowly drifts away… More than enough of a precursor to predict their eventual fallout in the seasons to come….

So, it was a very solid finale indeed, and the Vinyl brass did a very valiant job at tying up the loose and frustrating ends of the show.  Before we get to some  criticism, this show requires some well deserved praise.

Credit to Vinyl, most prominently, for creating a fantastic fucking world to dive into every single Sunday.  Because after all, isn’t that what TV is supposed to be about?  A period of distraction to consume our imagination, and the music world of 1970s New York City is fantastic for accomplishing that.  Forget the on stage performances (although the camera work for those are outstanding as well), what really stood out to me this season were the underground dance parties that Clark Morelle and Marvin took us to.  How fucking cool was that?

It’s amazing to think about the transformation NYC has made since that decade, and also to consider how much of a shit show it was.  Straight up adrenaline, booze and drugs 24/7…. MAYHEM & SAVAGERY.  What a time to be alive!

But it’s also been an exemplary effort by the show to illuminate the industry paradigm as well.  To me, the show was running at its best when it was concerned solely with “the music,” so to speak.  Whether it was the on stage theatrics, the underground dance dungeons or the offices.

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Nostalgia played a heavy role here.  Watching Alice Cooper at the cusp of his solo venture was exhilarating.

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Just as it was catching a peek at David Bowie outside of his Ziggy Stardust character…

But the office scenes in particular are where Vinyl hit its stride.  Not only did they offer the greatest insight into the wheeling and dealing transactions of the 70s music industry, they were also delightfully whimsical and provided the best dialogue.  More emphasis on “the music” would serve this show well.

Credence must also be paid to some phenomenal performances.  As always, Bobby Cannavale brought the heat, and spit the real.  Although his character was inherently flawed from a plot driving stand point (more on that later), Cannavale showed a range of emotions, deviousness and genuine sincerity.  Acting like this, and some character tweaking, will win him an eventual Emmy.

Not to be forgotten is Ray Romano for doing a fantastic job portraying a pedantic and self deprecating individual (traits he is familiar with) in a prestige drama for the very first time (side note: Apparently during casting Martin Scorsese had no freaking idea who he was, and said it helped him during his audition so he wasn’t typecast).

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On an ancillary level, Jack Quaid did an exemplary job portraying a smug, yet easy to get behind, low level A&R (and eventual mail room) employee with ambition.  James Jagger’s accent for Kip was annoying AF, but otherwise he was very convincing as a 70s British rocker with a drug addiction (he has the pedigree after all).

These are compelling reasons to watch Vinyl;  Fantastic performances in an intriguing world, created by Terence Winter and Scorsese.

Unfortunately beyond that, there isn’t mush to write home about…

As good as some of the performances were, there could have been more of them if not for the unfortunate under utilization of the female characters.  Olivia Wilde was pigeonholed into a histrionic and self loathing wife of an anti-hero whose screen time was unjustifiably short (she didn’t have a SINGLE scene in the finale).  She was brilliantly cast for her role, they must do better.

Juno Temple as Jamie Vine was a pleasant, albeit brief, surprise.  Her character is ambitious, and she effectively portrayed that.  However the show slogged her in a love triangle that didn’t allow her to flourish.

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Annie Parrise as Andrea Zito seemed like an intriguing character as a strong female executive when she was introduced.  Sadly, she was tamped down when her romantic history with Richie was revealed, and her lines were limited.  The female characters as constituted are strong, and they need be used in ways that amplify their talent, not water it down.

Perhaps the best way to accomplish that task would be to ease up on Richie’s internal battle to exorcise his demons for lust.  I can assure you that the anti-hero whose penchant for cyclic self destruction and rebuild is an overplayed tune at this point in television.  Some more ingenuity is desperately needed here.  I have hopes for season 2, as Richie finally seems to be able to flex his musical whit… The show needs much more of that: Less emphasis on his own struggles, more on the internal conflicts of others.

To further the plight of Richie’s character, his relationship with his longtime friend Zak has thus far been a major dud as a plot driver.  For one, it has introduced the least admirable plot line for the show: mafia involvement (although the finale did well to tie up that loose end).  Their relationship has also been ineffective because their fallout as friends is simply not believable.  From the very first episode, their relationship was strained as the American Century sale was scrapped.  Over 11 hours of television, there was merely a single conversation between the two that wasn’t tense in scale (the place ride to Vegas, which was one of the best dialogues).  The underdevelopment of their friendship makes their dramatic fallout as friends insignificant, and even worse, melodramatic.  

Despite these issues, Vinyl has immense promise as a headliner for HBO.  The aforementioned issues are all easily fixable, with the right direction.  Although the show is under new leadership due to the abrupt and surprising exit of show runner Terry Winter, HBO has every incentive to push this baby for all its worth (as the No Filter Network has previously discussed). Perhaps new direction is exactly what this show needs to smooth out all of these edges.

But if that doesn’t work, the world of Vinyl is still goddamn entertaining, and I’ll keep losing myself in it every Sunday night regardless.  

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