For most TV series, it usually takes a few seasons before they toss in a jump to another setting in hopes of catching viewers off-guard and drumming up some inspiration in the writers’ room. With Vinyl, it only took them seven episodes to truck Richie and Zak off to L.A. and Vegas in hopes of regaining their lustre. It’s a tired, tired trope. Almost as tiresome as the parade of familiar names and signposts that the writers weave into each storyline just so we know that, hey man, they get it. They’ve heard of Pops Staples and The Sweet Inspirations, dude, so just kick back and dig it, daddy-o.
The show also wasted no time in trucking out yet another signifier that served to remind you that, 10 minutes earlier, the characters in the show were talking about flying to Los Angeles. But in case you’re too distracted by the curvy ladies and that swinging lip-synched version of "Surf City," here’s a song to reassure you that a.) it’s still the ‘70s and b.) the main characters are actually in Southern California. I hope the royalties are helping Albert Hammond, Jr. pay his rent this month.
Just to prove that they’re paying attention and have read a little bit of rock history, the writers of this episode rained down an array of lookalikes and stand ins for some of the big names of the day. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Gram Parsons, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Mama Cass… heck, even Micky Dolenz was there in the background. All that was missing was Olivia Wilde wearing a blonde wig and standing out of focus in the background, and some twitchy nitwit to holler, "Outtasite, man… it’s Joni Mitchell!!"
It must be hard to cast a big TV show like this, let alone trying to shake the trees to find actors that look a bit like famous people. So far, Vinyl has been doing okay in that regard. But… c’mon… that dude looked nothing like Stephen Stills. The real singer/songwriter was and remains built like a linebacker. The TV version had the wardrobe and zonked personality down, but he looked like a runway model slumming it with his acting buddies. For a show that is trying so hard to prove its rock music bonafides, this was a little lazy.
All of us would sure like it if, before he died, The King got some of his mojo back. That would have been lovely. The reality is that what we got instead was Having Fun On Stage With Elvis and plenty of sweaty scarves. You really can’t change the past, but Vinyl really wishes you could. Hence Richie’s pitch to woo Elvis away from RCA with talk of working with The Band’s producer and making gutbucket rock music. That is before Col. Parker shows up and ruins all the fun. Booooooooooo!
Is there anyone watching this show that actually cares about the fate of this mealy-mouthed character? Are we meant to feel sorry for him—that he’s toiling away in the mailroom? Or excited that he managed to win over his co-workers by whipping out a fat blunt? I enjoyed watching him make an ass of himself to try to win over Alice Cooper. Now… I just wish he’d go away.
No… just… no.
Seriously, guys… no. Please. Think of the children.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor toPaste. You can find more of his writing here;.