For as much as their awful wigs and even worse facial hair terrifies me every week, I’m starting to think I’d prefer to follow the careers of all the characters that aren’t Richie Finestra in Vinyl. I’m four episodes into this series, and I’ve already checked out on the main storylines involving the drug-addled head of American Century Records, his frustrated wife, and his involvement in the head crushing of a crazed radio impresario. That’s supposed to be the exciting stuff. Instead, I just want to hang in the limo with the promotions guy, the sales guru, and the A&R head as they pass around insults like a fat spliff.
In other words, respect must be paid to the acting of Ray Romano, P.J. Byrne, J.C. McKenzie, and especially Max Casella. These aren’t the showy roles that are going to wind up in the trailers for each episode, or will score these gents Emmy nominations. Like their roles, these are the dirt dogs that are grinding it out and making the most of their screen time, while the prima donnas prance around and chew on the scenery. Their embittered humor and hangdog defeatism is what keeps me from snapping my laptop over my knee every week.
1. "(Alright Lady) Let’s Have A Baby"
The appearance of Hannibal, a hybrid of Sly Stone and Bootsy Collins, and his retinue in this episode was a much-needed bolt of electricity for Vinyl. And it seemed to bring out a sexiness in Bobby Cannavale that I suspect the producers hired him for. Then they went and put Hannibal on stage and gave him a wretched song to sing. It’s supposed to ooze sensuality and heat but is saddled with the corniest lyrics imaginable. That this limp tune was written by former Gap Band singer Charlie Wilson only adds a twinge of sadness to it.
As he stands in his office, getting drenched by the sprinkler system, Richie lets loose a frustrated "f-bomb" that is as laughable as Darth Vader’s "Nooooooooooo" in Revenge Of The Sith. To make matters worse, the show then melds it into another, big, lip-synced number by a poor actor pretending to be Janis Joplin. Just in case you forgot that the underlying principle of this show is the greatness of rock ‘n’ roll.
3. Devon’s big moment
Yes, the parallel between Devon smashing her kitchen up with a frying pan and Richie beating up a couch with a tennis racket is tidy. But it also feels lazy and histrionic. If Devon can pry herself from the slimy grip of Andy Warhol, surely she can walk away from a crumbling marriage without all the dramatics.
4. Richie Senior
Or whatever the character of Richie’s dad is called. The big moment to close out the episode was the meeting of father and son in a smoky jazz club. The elder Finestra is blowing some sweet horn to a gaggle of drunken nobodies and, once off stage, he and his son start butting heads. Whew… and for a few weeks there, I was worried the writers had forgotten to saddle Richie with daddy issues. Dodged that bullet!
5. A&R rep vs. A&R rep
What’s with the throwaway scene between Clarke and his "rival" in the A&R department that was weighed down with poorly conceived undertones concerning racial inequality in the music industry? I think it was trying to portray Clarke as manipulative, but was just kooky and uncomfortable.
6. Robert Goulet
I don’t know who that mustachioed creep is that they brought out this week to sleaze his way through a performance as venerable entertainer Robert Goulet, but everything about him, from the booming voice, to the syrupy ode to Boxing Day that he records at one point, is surely going to haunt my dreams for the next few days.
7. Loopin’ Lester Grimes
It’s definitely a challenge for an actor to try to emote and speak in the pained tones of someone who had his esophagus stomped on by gangsters. Poor Ato Essandoh apparently wasn’t up to the challenge as, during a big scene where his character Lester Grimes spells out the ways that the major labels will fuck a band sideways to the Nasty Bits, his dialogue sounded like it was being piped in from another soundstage across town.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor toPaste. You can find more of his writing here;.