HBO continues it’s long running reputation of creating phenomenal programming that pushes the boundaries of what you expect to see on TV along with complex and rich characters. Boasting a strong cast, insanely talented producers including Mick Jagger, and the pilot being directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese; the series, Vinyl, plays more like a movie than a show.
Richie Finestra (HBO mainstay Bobby Cannavale) is the owner and CEO of his own record company. With the explosive music scene of 1973 New York City Richie is losing his grasp on coming artists. It doesn’t seem to be lack of caring or lack of skill, the scene is explosive and he’s trying to work too many angles with a less than stellar staff working for him. Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) and Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) are Richie’s right hand men who do whatever they have to in the interest of the bottom line, legal or often not. The one staff member that seems to know what’s going on is the secretary slowly turning talent scout, Jamie Vine, (Juno Temple). Walking the line of losing profits, orchestrating a major sale, his family life, his drug addled staff, and insane circumstances out of even Richie Finestra’s control the plot spirals and thickens with every scene.
The era behind Vinyl is why the show has so much promise. The early 70’s was an explosive time for Rock and Roll, Rock and Roll largely as it still exists today. Genres were merging, people were experimenting, sounds weren’t just being manipulated but invented. The show boasts an impressive catalog of this generation defining music that can also cross generational gaps. The show features an impressive amount of licensed songs fans are sure to recognize along with a slew of originals. Every single week as the show debuts Atlantic Records and Warner music will be putting out musical volumes in physical and digital forms to promote the show and give people a way to carry the music and spirit of the era with them. That’s just smart marketing. Also spending so much on licensed songs really grounds the fictional story in the real world. Name dropping is inevitable in a show such as this but if you mention Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin but don’t have a single sound of theirs, what’s the point?
A lot of the creativity of the 70’s was drug induced which Vinyl does not shy away from. alcohol and cocaine seem to be featured on screen as much as human actors. Those drugs and Richie’s “sober” crutch of Coca-Cola to uphold a promise to his wife, Devon (Olivia Wilde), are prominent in every single scene. The amount of cocaine on this show makes Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas seem tame. It gets to the point of gratuitous but maybe there really was that much cocaine flying around. On the subject of gratuity it can’t be an HBO show unless they go really far to let you know that they can do what they want on premium cable. The language, drug use, and nudity are all present and sometimes border on absurd. Just because you CAN film a massive orgy of sorts doesn’t mean you HAVE to. It really had no bearing on the scene or the story, just HBO saying they can do what they want. Doesn’t really hurt the show but didn’t help it either.
Bobby Cannavale is about as typical New York City as it gets. It served him well in Boardwalk Empire, and looks like it will serve him just as well in Vinyl. He has a commanding presence and a lot of depth as an actor. The scenes where he’s taking charge and verbally battering his employees are as powerful as the tense moments where he grapples with his personal demons. The Pilot makes Cannavale’s Richie Finestra feel like a three dimensional character with a whole lot of character arc to do over the course of the season, and series. Ato Essandoh also gets a powerful backstory that is a sign of the times, the racial tensions in the country, and is a big piece of Richie’s past. The actor is understated and perfect in his role. Juno Temple, who was never given a lead role looks like her character arc will present her with an opportunity to be an interesting character, a leading actor, and an important status of women’s roles in the industry at the time all while telling an entertaining story. Going off what Temple did in the pilot, we are all in for a treat. Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano, Max Casella, J.C. MacKenzie, P.J. Byrne, and Jack Quaid all compete for screen time in this hugely talented cast and all hold their own. A book could be written in terms of reviewing the pilot on every single actor but there really isn’t a weak one in the bunch.
Vinyl is a show made about an explosive time in the music industry. The show seeps quality and passion. Scorsese is a massive fan of Rock and Roll and having a director as talented as him set the stage for the series puts it on a rock solid foundation. The cast will carry this show forward as long as the writing stays as tight and interesting as it was in the Pilot. Vinyl is absolutely worth a watch. It’s a cinematic experience from the comfort of your home.