Season One, Episode Seven — “The King and I”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Oh, my. With all due respect to Shawn Klush (and indeed, respect is due), the episode in which an Elvis impersonator mined from the Poconos outperforms the rest of the cast marks a definite turning point in a show’s narrative arc. It’s not quite jumping the shark, as Vinyl is still stuck on the dock, struggling to strap on its water skis. It may, however, be thrusting its junk on stage to a particular audience, who watches only to vicariously relive their glory days.
WHAT WORKED: The number 18 worked for a while, for Richie and for the viewers. It was a fun little symbol to keep popping up in ways that were completely plausible and that could absolutely make someone like Richie do something stupid, like lose $90,000 by placing a completely daft bet. It worked, until… suddenly it didn’t. Having the numbers appear as condensation marks from Richie’s straw and Smirnoff bottles was just plain goofy (yes, you read that right – it didn’t even take an entire episode for our hero to be back in the bottle).
WHAT DIDN’T: Scraps and snapshots of other plots points keep turning up to remind us that, instead of taking the time and energy to formulate a complex and intriguing story line, the writers have opted to play some weird lottery to decide who gets to make a cameo in which episode and for how long. (Bonus points for substance not included.) Jamie enjoyed light participation in two scenes, which really only helped to illustrate how unnecessary her backstory is for her character development. If she was ever anything more than defiant towards her family — we did see her exhibit at least one shred of respect (or possibly fear) for her mother and aunt– we could take these relics of the past generation seriously. However, they truly do nothing for the show, as Jamie shines when she’s faced with her career struggles, not when petulantly opposing a pair of matriarchs. Vinyl is a study of First World problems. Throwing in a Holocaust survivor as a last-ditch effort to prove that some of the wealthy characters have indeed overcome struggles fails to add depth to the show.
Speaking of First World problems, Clark almost becomes a sympathetic character during his mailroom hazing, but manages to ascend back up to the ranks of trust fund wanker in his balcony dialogue with Jamie. Cheers for offering a heartfelt apology, Clark, but whining about how everything should go perfectly for you because your dad went to an Ivy League school and you’re white and wealthy isn’t winning you any support. Again, a great opportunity is missed by condensing a minor character’s foibles and flaws into occasional 30-second segments rather than creating enough space for natural growth.
“Act British, spend Yiddish.” – Zak’s advice on how to wine and dine potential clients whilst running lean.
Zak: (on escorting Richie to Los Angeles) “I’m coming with you.” Richie: “You hate L.A.” Zak: “I hate everywhere.” Zak isn’t going to let being a Debbie Downer keep him from chaperoning Richie.
“A pheasant just lands on your shotgun, doesn’t it?” – Zak’s incredulous assessment of how loose women seem to flock to Richie, unsolicited.
“I see a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion!” – Lou Meshejian.
“I hear recycling is big out here. Easier than making something new.” – Richie’s dig at Lou and the budding false frugality of SoCal culture.
“The King of rock-n-roll is singing about lettuce!” – Zak is heartbrokenly over Elvis.
BEST MOMENT: When Richie is in Elvis’ hotel room, we remember how he got to his position in the first place. When sober and focused, he can talk the best of them into joining his label. This was a sad and lovely scene, illustrating the possibilities of both Richie and a late-career Elvis, who we know are both a little too far gone to ever revisit their full potential. Elvis circles around the room like a caged domestic animal, nervous, sweaty and inherently sweet, but tethered to The Colonel’s leash. The room’s odd lighting, shining down from above and bathing The King in luminous beams underscored the themes of A.H. Maslow’s self-actualization over which Elvis and Richie bonded.
EPISODE’S MVP: Shawn Klush was a delightful Elvis. Portraying people who actually existed, especially the musicians, has not been Vinyl’s strong point, but I found myself fairly captivated by Klush’s flowing performance. The track suit, the medal collection, the yearning to tap into the spirit of the music all worked to create a wistful King, near his end.
BETWEEN THE LINES:
– Elvis muttering “one must be like water…” while stumbling back into his room is another nod to Enter the Dragon, in which Bruce Lee advises that one must “empty your mind, and be shapeless, formless like water.” All the sadder, seeing how clearly Elvis’ mind was controlled by the Colonel.
– The Colonel was a con artist to outrival Richie – having grown up in the Netherlands and faked his way through the South and ultimately Nashville, it would have been fun to see just a little more interaction between this shady character and Richie.
5 out of 10
Before: “Cyclone”, here.