After saying that it was coming back for a second season, HBO changed their minds and canceled ”Vinyl,” the series about a struggling fictional record label in the early 70s. Despite being produced by Martin Scorcese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter, and a strong cast that included Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde and Ray Romano, its attempt to show the music industry in all its coked-out glory was widely panned. So we decided to discuss this among our staff, and we began with the following question: How do you seriously make sex, drugs and rock n’ roll that uninteresting?
Robert Ross: First, you roll out every possibly bad and hackneyed cliche on each topic and roll up in a sandwich of ham acting.
THEN… you abandon anything close to reality, even when the facts are out there for all the world to collectively groan and say “are you fucking kidding me?”
Dave Lifton: Their lack of research was evident in one of the first scenes, where Richie went to see Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden. The person playing Peter Grant was maybe 5’10 and 185 pounds. And then Bonham was the guy rallying the others in the band to go on stage.
Ross: That sent me into a rage. Because history dictates ZEPPELIN WERE ON ATLANTIC. You can’t fudge this one.
Peter Grant, bless his soul was a foot taller and about 100 pounds heavier.
Or throwing “returned Slade albums” off the pier into the water. A Slade album that was never released in the United States.
Jeff Giles: I repeatedly fell asleep while trying to make it through the first episode, and never bothered to go back. Feeling pretty good about that right now.
Ross: “Watch HBO’s “Vinyl” – it cures insomnia.”
Keith Creighton: If only the show was as good as the soundtrack material they kept trickling out with relatively little fanfare — kinda like pee on an alley wall. The Iggy Pop, Neko Case and Charli XCX covers were a lot of fun, or in the case of Charli XCX covering Iggy, no fun.
I tried to get into the show but it was just so over the top. Perhaps now, I will DVR the Denis Leary’s ”Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” that starts this week (with the gorgeous girl with Moonrise Kingdom) since I sure as hell am not going to subscribe to Showtime to watch ”Roadies.”
Lifton: Tom Scharpling said that “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” was as if “someone gave Denis Leary $4 million and a copy of Mojo and said, ‘Here, do something with this.'”
Ross: Did he? Because I haven’t seen “Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll.”
I watched the first episode of “Roadies.” I didn’t hate it. It’s “Almost Famous” but from another angle. It has the Crowe stamp all over it.
“Vinyl”‘s fatal flaw was the shitty dialogue. It spoke to the audience as if we’re all idiots. And twice as insulting for anyone who ever worked in the music industry.
D.W. Dunphy: From the start, the most infuriating part was that Scorsese was involved — not because he’s infallible, and lord knows he is — because his music documentaries are uniformly excellent. You have to wonder what good he could have done with the money rather than making this.
Ross: Bobby Cannavale is a good actor. But the last two Scorcese vehicles he’s been involved in, he became a joke. That awful “Gyp” in “Boardwalk Empire” – where he uttered the now-inescapable, “I gotta gun – he’s gotta gun – you gotta gun – everybody’s gotta gun” made him look like a complete joke – a fading in and out Italian accent… And now the kung-fu posing of Richie Finestra every time he took a bump of Peruvian marching powder. He needs a break. Juno Temple has a lot of charisma and acting chops and she may have been the ONLY slightly-sympathetic character.
Lifton: I thought the blues singer’s story had a lot of potential in a “this could be Richie’s redemption” kind of way. But having him manage the punk band as a form of revenge was insipid.
David Medsker: They ran ads for that nonstop before we watch John Oliver on HBO Go. Every time I thought to myself, “Is there anything left to say about the music industry in the ’70s?” and promptly forgot everything I just saw.
Lifton: I, for one, was unaware that there was a lot of cocaine and mob involvement in the music business in the ’70s.
Brian Boone: What I liked about this show was the commitment to realism. I mean, it really felt like you were sitting there in a long and boring staff meeting in 1973.
When real rock stars came on, it felt like when Scooby Doo had a guest star and everybody was so impressed to meet a famous person, who, because it’s an actor or a cartoon, respectively, looked nothing like that person. “Wow, Alice Cooper! What are you doing here?”
I wanted to like this show so bad but it was so boring. My boss just recapped it for me every Monday anyway.
Ross: The long, boring staff meetings I’ve been to at the labels were a fuckload more entertaining that the ones that took two minutes on screen.
Watching that David Bowie sort-of character was uncomfortable. And hinting at the Jobraith storyline just made it all the more ludicrous.
Lifton: Are you trying to tell me that “Life on Mars?” wasn’t a staple of Long Island Bar Mitzvah bands in 1973?
Ross: That is exactly what I’m telling you.
We got down to Tull at my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in ’73. Which explains my hatred of them.
Creighton: I’m just sad that we’ll never get to the New Wave Hits of the 80’s episodes where we can see Bobby rock a Seagulls do and Steve Buscemi can show up to play that guy from Sparks.
Matthew Bolin: “Hey, we’re going to do an original series where we get really down and dirty into the 70s New York rock scene.”
“Great! What’s the focus?”
“We’re going deep into the personal stories of the Execs and A&R men, baby!!”
“Damn! We’re gonna be just printing money!”
Ross: The sheer directionlessness of the show is a huge part of what made it so aggravating. Did it want to tell the fabricated story of one man’s quest to revive the stagnant rock & roll industry by “discovering” punk and giving it a home? One of his minions discovers an underground urban scene…
No. They just took all the shit they could to throw at the wall and none of it stuck because they had no clear idea of what they wanted to do – and they left little room (or interest) for character growth. Olivia Wilde – as fantastic as she is to look at – was a character I could have given less than a fuck about. Why was she there? She was barely Richie’s wife… It was so poorly written… so poorly handled.
Lifton: “Directionless” is a perfect description. Wilde’s character was the epitome of their need to show everything: The Warhol girl who traded in her urbane glamour for upper-middle-class suburban anonymity. But for long stretches, all she did was react to Richie’s coke habit.
Michael Parr: You all successfully scared me away from this program early on.
Scott Malchus: I only watched the first two episodes. When the building collapsed, I thought it was a part of Richie’s drug frenzy. When he walked away practically unscathed, that’s when I walked away, too. Plus, it never felt gritty enough for me, which is shameless on the part of Scorsese. All he had o do is rewatch “Taxi Driver” to get a taste of NY in the 70s. I LOVE Scorsese, but this felt like he was phoning it in.
Lifton: The many scenes in that first episode that were callbacks to “Goodfellas” in that first episode was a giveaway that he couldn’t be bothered.
Ross: Between the over-hype leading up to the first episode and that first episode, they were dead before they even got their coats off. It was a fucking mess from episode 1 and even in those rare, unguarded moments where they might make a turn that could be interesting (like with the Quaid kid resuscitating some funk albums that hadn’t sold), they didn’t expand on it. You got glimpses but no real follow through.
“The Quaid kid”. I cared so little that I don’t know any of the character’s names.
Oh and believability? All that coke snorted and no one OD’d? That car crash in “Coney Island” – they’d ALL be dead. Not just that creepy German guy.
Lifton: I think his name was Clark, and he had one of the most laughable story lines: That a rich Ivy League kid gets busted down to the mailroom, wins over his Puerto Rican co-workers with a couple of joints, then goes on to discover disco.
Ross: And Juno Temple’s character’s backstory. Her mother – played by the always amazing Lena Olin – she sounded like she escaped the Gestapo but we got nothing else from it. Except that she and her mother had a tempestuous relationship. We got nothing. Couldn’t feel for any of these characters.
Creighton: So I pose the question to the panel — in a future unaired episode, Bobby kicks down the door of Popdose’s office in Hell’s Kitchen to rant over a shitty we review we wrote about his band in our, at the time, print edition. Who plays you in the episode and how does it end?
Lifton: I am played by Josh Malina, and it ends with me and Richie bonding over some newly discovered Otis Redding outtakes.
Creighton: I am played by Carrot Top and I spend most of the episode with a nose bleed, caused not by cocaine, but by seasonal allergies.
Ross: Joseph X. Flaherty plays me (in Count Floyd garb) and as soon as he lunges in, I duck – he hits his head and we grab him and collectively throw him out the 9th floor window where he lands on his brown Plymouth Fury below in a blood and glass covered heap while we resume watching “Bowling For Dollars”.
Dunphy: I am played by Grimmace as he trolls McDonald’s servers for extra fries.
Wait…gotta make this work into the story. Oh yeah…
Frampton’s “Show Me the Way” is playing on the loudspeakers.
Ann Logue: I haven’t seen the show, so I can’t comment on the cancellation. I can answer the staff meeting question, though, I am played by Kate Winslet, and I tell him to go to hell. He is shocked into silence because he assumed that we middle-aged white ladies would be pushovers. He leaves, sheepishly.
Bolin: In an ironic twist, I am played by Daniel Baldwin.
Medsker: I’m played by Chris Noth (I’ve actually been mistaken for him before), and I pick up Bobby by his ears until he says he’s sorry.