Season One, Episode One — “Pilot”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Vinyl bursts forth, sweaty with cocaine, from the dirty, druggy New York of the 1970s. This isn’t a city that evolved over time so much as went on one hell of a decades-long bender before checking itself into rehab. Vinyl takes us inside the entropy of a music industry on the cusp of change, in a town unshackled by responsibility, when one could still enjoy the rugby tackles of pre-HR office mediation and the paisley temper-tantrums of a business call.
We see it all through Richie Fenestra (yes, that’s Italian for “window”), a jolting, unreliable narrator whose brain is a bit boiled by years of drug and alcohol abuse. This lack of credibility will prove essential to the show, enabling the creators to hop, skip and jump over facts and fictions of the 1970’s New York rock scene. The slight tweaks on historical accuracies are less bothersome when viewed through the eyes of a guy who can’t remember his employees names, let alone whether or not the Mercer Arts Center collapsed during a New York Dolls show (the answer is no).
Vinyl touches on the darker points of rock-n-roll, such as the mafia’s involvement and the preponderance of a handful of whitish guys ripping off talented African Americans. Richie is a fairly sympathetic character for now, but as he emerges from the rubble and lurches forth like Frankenstein’s monster, Scorsese and Winter have us wondering what he has used to cobble himself together. Will he be able to rebuild his label into something resembling a working machine? His “golden ear, silver tongue, and pair of brass balls” have a hell of a lot of work ahead of them.
WHAT WORKED: The cinematography was stunning, from the NYC scenes that appeared to fly straight out of gritty street photography, to the blown-out stage-lit segues, into some killer soul tracks. In brilliant Scorsese style, there are several heavily contrasting elements at play, but none seem to outshine the other.
The show’s perpetual name-dropping is far more sensible than contrived. I found myself initially wincing when artist or agent names were rapid-fired at us. However, to cultivate any sort of subtlety around this industry would be disingenuous; beating us over the head with who they’ve managed to fit in the show is perfectly natural.
Jamie Vine (played by Juno Temple) is out to get shit done. She is going to sleep, snort and drink her way to the top not because it’s necessary in this male-dominated business, but because she gets a little bored along the way.
WHAT DIDN’T: Cannavale’s crazily over-acted and immediate reactions to gumming and snorting coke in the opening sequence made me roll my eyes a bit. This, combined with James Jagger’s pouty pre-heroin “I don’t give a fuck about anything” routine all felt a bit heavy-handed in the “here’s some drugs; our show’s edgy, innit” department.
Olivia Wilde. I know it’s early on, and her character has a full-time job of convincing herself that she’s happy, but nothing about her was inspiring or interesting this week.
The God D… most ridiculous caricature of Robert Plant ever brought to screen.
“Now shut your mouth before I break my dick off in your ass.” – Buck Rogers.
“What, you think they play those things just because they’re good?” – Zak, referring to doing oscillating lines off of spinning records.
“You heard of the wolf in sheep’s clothing? He goes to the same tailor.” – Richie, on Zak.
BEST MOMENT: Buck’s living room Lazarus performance. What’s a stopped heart every now and then between cokeheads? He popped back with a vengeance, however momentary, to provide a catalyst for Fenestra’s transformation.
EPISODE’S MVP: Ato Essandoh as Lester Grimes. Currently, he’s serving primarily as a barometer through which to measure Richie’s shoddy morals. Lester offers us glimpses of the soullessness at the heart of the music industry, from the point of the victim (at least for now). I hope their paths cross much more intimately soon.
BETWEEN THE LINES:
– Despite the half-dozen things going on in the opening segment, my focus was locked in on how Fenestra’s jacket matched his car’s leather interior almost exactly. Oh, the Seventies!
– The German/Jew jokes running throughout the show were well played and completely palatable. A mere 30 years after the war, there was still a lot of tension to sit on, and what better way to release it than getting a little slap-happy in the board room?
– If the intended effect of Scorsese’s portrayal of getting blitzed and listening to live music was to make me yearn for youth’s privilege of self-destruction, then mission accomplished.
9 out of 10
Next: ‘Yesterday Once More’, soon.