Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, murder, Ray Romano, DEBRA? (No, no Debra.) HBO’s new drama “Vinyl” premiered Feb. 14 and takes a look into the 1970s music scene in New York City. Music executive Richard Finestra, portrayed by Bobby Cannavale, must decide how to manage American Century, his struggling label. The show leads viewers through the dirty, underground of the music industry, from dive bars and dance halls to board rooms and business meetings, all the while being introduced to a host of characters and their plethora of personal baggage.
The show was spearheaded by rock legend Mick Jagger and director Martin Scorsese, but the creation of “Vinyl” is also credited to Terence Winter (writer, “Wolf of Wall Street”) and Rich Cohen. Jagger had pitched the idea to Scorsese about two decades ago, the original concept being a movie about two friends navigating the music industry from the times of early rhythm and blues to modern hip-hop.
On paper, the show is great. The cast is anchored by Emmy winner Cannavale (“Boardwalk Empire”), Juno Temple, Romano, Olivia Wilde and a fresh face, James Jagger. No, it’s not a coincidence: James is Mick Jagger’s eldest son and shows immense promise as the frontman of the Nasty Bits, a young band hoping to sign to Richie Finestra’s label. James, a former musician himself, is convincing as Kip Stevens, the cocky and rebellious leading man, and his on and off relationship with Jamie Vine (Juno Temple), secretary and A&R hopeful, is something to be watched going forward. The casting was perfect and I believe that each actor has held their own within the plot. The writing and overall feel of “Vinyl” is authentic. I can see how it would be imperative for Mick Jagger to remain loyal to his industry, telling a tale the way it would really happen. The show succeeded in doing this, the most interesting parts being the music video like clips of performances cut into the telling of the story. Needless to say, from Nina Simone and Otis Redding to The Kinks, the musical choices are stellar and faithful to the time period. The music and the way it is presented helps, but does not distract from my concern that the show is falling into the stereotypical portrayals of the American music scene in the 70s. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll can only entertain for so long.
“Vinyl,” which is now four episodes in at the time of writing, had a rough start. Its two-hour premiere was slow and exactly what you would expect from a rock ‘n’ roll drama. We start the show on Richie Finestra purchasing cocaine, which becomes a bigger problem when we discover Finestra’s history. There was nothing particularly surprising about the plot or the decisions that the actors made. However, slowly, the show is starting to find its place. While it is consistently able to capture the essence of the time period, I believe it is currently lacking in substance, which could be remedied later in the season. I look forward to seeing where to story goes as HBO has a reputation for picking up shows that immerse and entertain and viewers. “Vinyl” is certainly immersive, but it might take a little more exposition before it starts to amaze its audience.