Off the Charts? – Vinyl: Season 1(TV Review)

Ever since its announcement, Vinyl had received a significant amount of hype due to having an impressive cast and crew behind it. Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter (who has since left the team due to “creative differences”) as the executive producers, and a stellar cast with Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano and Juno Temple leading the way. Its concept is also a very strong one: a TV show about the seedy, murky side of the music industry, how it affects those around it, and all set in 1973 America. Plus, it had to do the job of reacquainting the old-timers with the music of that period, but also getting the new generation that weren’t invested in 70s pop culture grossly involved. A lot was riding on Vinyl, and what we got in the end is something of a mixed bag; more right than wrong mind you, but still somewhat mixed as a result.

One of the biggest problems the series suffers from the most is almost the exact same problem that troubled Scorsese’s troubled and divisive The Wolf of Wall Street. Like that film, we get a central antihero who’s trying to build up an empire, snorting his over-powdered, coke-riddled nose through it all and being a total dick to everyone, including his wife and friends. But much like Jordan Belfort, the character of Richie Finestra is basically a loud, obnoxious, overly emotional man who intends to revolutionize his company, but only ends up causing so much damage, not just for himself, but to those around him to the point where his restless, unhappy wife, Devon, and betrayed business partner/best friend, Jak, become detached from him. In fact, the side storylines where we witness the emotional agony and anguish of those caused by Richie’s self-destructive rampage were far more compelling and involving than witnessing Richie’s business making and snap decisions whilst smacked out of his mind on coke and alcohol.

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With films like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, they all focused on characters that are arrogant and detestable, yet you find some kind of intrigue and connection with them, and that was all down to both the writing and the performances. In the case of this, despite boasting a dynamite performance from Bobby Cannavale (perfectly balancing nuance with OTT zaniness), I couldn’t care less for the man, especially seeing as he suffers from three particular weaknesses: petty childishness, delusions of grandeur, and a fragile ego. This is a character we’re meant to be rooting for al the way through the series, but when you’re left wishing for him to be arrested by the gendarmes and savagely beaten up in custody until some proper sense has been hammered into him, that’s when you know something’s not right. Because the series spends so much time with Richie being self-destructive to the point of being repetitively formulaic, it all becomes a bit of a slog to get through, especially as we go through the clichéd gangster/murder investigation plot points.

However, this is perfectly counter-balanced by having some particularly strong elements. Firstly, there are strong moments peppered throughout, and the series was definitely strong by the halfway point, thanks to the double-whammy of episodes 6 (‘Cyclone’) and 7 (‘The King and I’) with those episodes in particular focusing heavily on deep character exploration, mainly with Richie, Devon and Zak. With Richie hitting rock bottom and discovering the reason as to why both he and Devon moved out to Connecticut like they did to both he and Zak travelling to Las Vegas in an attempt to persuade the ageing Elvis Presley to sign a deal with them.

The show’s attention to detail is absolutely flawless; it completely captures the mood, grit and atmosphere of the 1970s, down to the grimy NYC streets to the groovy and punk-y outfits and hairdos. The sets are incredibly retro and everyone looks as though they are ready to party, so kudos to the production team for nailing the 70s style and fashion. Plus, we are treated to having actors bringing famous musicians to life and inserting them into the story as much as possible. We are treated to the likes of Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Elvis, John Lennon, and so on, with some either getting a storyline of their own or just a glorified cameo altogether. That combined with the set and costume design helps to make the world of Vinyl feel real and authentic, like as if it was taking place in our actual history.

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The series is also helped by strong performances, and even though Cannavale is incredible, even if he’s playing an un-incredible character, the strongest players come from the supporting roles. Olivia Wilde in particular is simply fantastic as the suffering wife, bringing real pathos and genuine emotional weight to the role of Devon, and some of the emotionally wrought scenes demonstrate just how much of a raw screen-talent Wilde is. Just a shame then that she was completely absent in the finale with her character-arc completely up-in-the-air. What the Funkin’ Wagnall is up with that?! Having demonstrated that he can do seriously dramatic roles as well as comedy, Ray Romano excels in his role as long-suffering, one-time friend of Richie, Jak, with Romano bringing real pathos and tragedy to the character. The scene in episode 2 where he contemplates suicide in particular was heart-wrenching stuff. Also, Juno Temple is a pure riot as Jamie, convincingly playing an ambitious vixen that is willing to do whatever she can to reach the top. Like with Killer Joe and Magic Magic, this shows just what a pure rising talent Temple is.

Overall, despite reaching high, Vinyl is a show that just never manages to the reach the charts. Despite having great performances, strong middle episodes, superb attention-to-detail, and seeing rock icons brought to life, the show proved to be something of a slog, solely due to having an unlikeable central protagonist, whose spiral out-of-control we barely have any emotional investment in. Plus, despite his drug-fuelled shenanigans, having things work out too well for Richie in the finale felt super-contrived, and having Olivia Wilde’s Devon ignored altogether is unforgivable. Altogether, a flawed, yet solid show that never manages to live up to its enormous hype.

3.5/5

 

Dir: Martin Scorsese, Allen Coulter, Mark Romanek, S.J. Clarkson, Peter Sollett, Nicole Kassell, Jon S. Baird, Carl Franklin

Scr: Terence Winter, Rich Cohen, Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, George Mastras, Jonathan Tropper, Debora Cahn, Adam Rapp, Carl Capotorto, Erin Cressida Wilson, David Matthews, Riccardo DiLoreto, Michael Mitnick

Starring: Bobby Cannavale, Paul Ben-Victor, P.J. Byrne, Max Casella, Ato Essandoh, James Jagger, J.C. MacKenzie, Jack Quaid, Ray Romano, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde

DOP: Rodrigo Prieto, Reed Morano, David Franco

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Number of Episodes: 10

Episode Runtime: 53-60mins, 113mins (pilot)

 

Vinyl: Season 1 will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 6th.