Just over a week ago, news came down that Terence Winter was being removed from his positions as executive producer and showrunner of Vinyl. HBO would have you believe that this still means business as usual, even as they’ve also lost their head of drama. What it sounds like to me is a pure act of desperation. Outside of Game Of Thrones, the network doesn’t have any other big breakout series that aren’t half-hour comedies or nonfiction stories. With the clock running down on GoT, they need to shore up their future if they’re going to remain in the prestige business.
When it comes to this show, the only direction they can go is up. In spite of the big names attached to it, and the support of the network with a second season order, Vinyl hasn’t attracted a big audience. And it’s not difficult to see why. Unless you enjoy the little endorphin rush when you hear Lester Bangs’ name tossed about, or get a small charge out of the notion that we’re gonna witness the beginnings of CBGBs, there’s nothing here for the average viewer. It certainly doesn’t help that they’ve done a piss poor job of trying to sell this notion of rock music being the savior of society. The artists that they’ve trucked out for us include a smack-addled asshole with a ridiculous Cockney accent, a preening mama’s boy, and a lecherous funk star. Not exactly the island of misfit toys that Jagger and Scorsese likely envisioned.
Nor did the big victories in this episode feel earned or exciting. I’ve long since ceased caring about the fate of Indigo, or the two dudes pimping their records to the DJs of New York. And the big moment with the Nasty Bits was just plain stupid. For a show based in a rich cultural goldmine in one of the most amazing cities in the world…Vinyl is tone deaf, dumb, and blind. If they right the ship with their second run of episodes, it will be the most dramatic turnaround for any series ever. But until we get to that point, let’s shake our heads and roll our eyes together, as we go over the ridiculousness that happened in this season finale.
What exactly was the purpose of this? Is this supposed to indicate that Richie is all in on the concept of turning his label into a bastion of punk rock? Or, to reassure everyone there that, “Hey man… we’ve still got an edge.” Watching it, this felt like every dumb Christian youth group leader or dumb Jesus-loving band that tried to grasp onto a modern trend so as to better help proselytize to the flock. Cover up the walls and cubicles with spray painted obscenities and throw all the paper around you want. I ain’t buying that you give a shit about anything more than the bottom line.
If you didn’t know how this was all going to get played out, you need to watch more movies and TV shows. Of course the crowd was going to hate them at first, but then get won over by the power of their rocking. Of course we were going to see all the rock writers furiously scribbling in their notebooks about the genius they were witnessing. And of course it was all going to go awry at the end and be deemed legendary by someone. If that weren’t enough, in the magical universe of Vinyl, it was watching The Nasty Bits that inspired The Ramones, as we got several shots of them looking on in wonderment at the future of rock ‘n’ roll. If I didn’t like owning a TV so much, I would have thrown mine onto the freeway after sitting through that stupidity.
The world of Vinyl would also have us believe that that garish looking cover art would be considered cool, or interesting or forward thinking. It looked like a bargain basement collection of ‘50s rock music. You know, like the one that Maury Gold wanted to produce? Yeah just like that. I swear if this show just tried about 15% more with the little details like this, it would be an exponential improvement.
Lest we forget where we are and what time period we’re dealing with… or that the writers aren’t up on their music trivia, we had to have a moment with a Hilly Kristal stand-in talking about the future of his shitty dive bar. You can almost hear the elbow nudging and grunts of recognition from old rock ‘n’ rollers across the country as their heart gets a-racing at the mention of this venue. Right before their eyes start rolling back in their heads as they fantasize about being there from the beginning. Explain to me again how Lee Ranaldo got involved with this show as a creative consultant, and dumb stuff like this still made it in?
I’m sure you’ll tell me if I’m wrong on this front, because I’ve never been around anyone that has had their heroin-soaked system kickstarted by a shot of cocaine into the bloodstream. But there is like zero chance that someone would have that done to them and then immediately wake up and move on as if everything was back to normal. That just can’t be… right? Either way, the whole pseudo-overdose nonsense felt like a flimsy excuse to strip ol’ Jimmy Jagger down to his undies. For dramatic purposes, of course.
If you’ve read my pieces on the show over the past few weeks, you know that I’m not the biggest fan in the world of the character of Devon, but… I still thought it was rather suspect to have her completely missing from the season finale. For all her faults and Olivia Wilde’s inability to bring this fictional figure to life, she was an integral part of the previous nine weeks. Yet, after Richie’s confession and goosebumps walkaway… she vanished. And the sole female presence on the show turned out to be Jamie, who is apparently incapable of keeping her legs closed when a sexy rock star comes around.
There’s a longer essay to be had about Vinyl’s treatment of its female characters, but the gist of it is this: they’re doing a terrible job with the women on this show.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can find more of his writing here.