NEW YORK – The new HBO show Vinyl is awful, but why?
We sent the Studio Exec FACT squad into the heart of the music business to find out what went wrong with the Martin Scorsese, Terrence Winter and Mick Jagger drama.
- Martin Scorsese, Terrence Winter and Mick Jagger are too in love with their subject. What should be the background to the drama – the music – is actually foregrounded. The drama of Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) and his wife Devon (Olivia Wilde) is so uninteresting that the show runners have no compunction in interrupting whatever is happening with a beautifully shot but essentially irrelevant music video. When the artists aren’t interested in their own characters, how can we expect the audience to give a shit?
- The building collapse that ended the way too long pilot might have happened in reality – read about the true story here – but if God was a screenwriter I would have fired him. It was a lazy grab at a visually interesting WTF! moment which beggared belief and gave the feeling that Terrence Winter had decided he didn’t have a kitchen sink to throw at the pilot, but he’d throw anything else he could lay his hands on.
- Famous people clutter the scene. Vinyl is set in the hay day of the seventies as punk begins to rear its dirty head on the horizon. The legendary groups such as Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull are about to give way to the New York Dolls and The Stranglers, The Sex Pistols and The Clash. The cultural shift takes place in episode two. But we also get to see The Velvet Underground in flashback. This is essentially the same arc as Mad Men, but whereas advertising features famous brands rather than people, the constant name dropping and cameos of rock gods and punk godfathers is distracting and kind of irritating. I’ve seen the documentary footage of Led Zeppelin’s famously incendiary manager yelling backstage and it was better than the glimpse we had.
- The Seventies. Sorry to mention Mad Men again, but that shows pristine production design was entirely in keeping with the shiny lines of its historical moment. In comparison Vinyl looks to CD or MP3. It’s too glossy. The women are millennial beauties; the musicians are talent show handsome. The punk band look like Coldplay cosplaying punk. In fact this whole venture feels like a very expensive, dramatically arid cosplay.
- Enough of the Don Draper shit already. US TV has been dominated now for years by protagonists who are all powerful men who do bad shit but we end up rooting for them regardless. From Tony Soprano and Walter White, to whoever Steve Buscemi was playing in Boardwalk Empire and Don Draper, so Richie is another such. His back story demands we take him seriously as the genuine article, but he is essentially another male power fantasy, surrounded by assholes – the Germans in the Polygram subplot has to go down as the easiest kowtowing to audience prejudice ever – who gets to be at the center of things. Like with Don Draper, we are supposed to respect the machinations and ‘creative genius’ of someone who is basically a business executive. He’s honest about ripping off the artists, but we’re supposed to like him. The musicians are seen as feckless dandies who need forming by the solid acumen of Richie. This is the Steve Jobs version of history and as much as I admire the promotion of Executives as ‘the unacknowledged legislators of mankind’, answer me this. If they were so all powerful, why did they put up with Ray Romano’s supremely irritating voice?