Sunday, March 20, 2016

Vinyl Recap. Season 1. Episode 6: "Cyclone"

It's only rock 'n' roll but Richie sometimes doesn't like it.  

What Worked, Vinyl, Episode 6: 
  • The use of the Buddy Holly song (and Holly doppelgänger) "Rave On" in the opening and closing scenes.  Very effective and it highlights one of the strengths of the series: the imaginative threading of songs expertly edited into dramatic sequences.
  • Mixed-gender full-front nudity.  The show isn't bush league when it comes to equality in nude scenes.  
  • Zak's smackdown (verbal and physical) of Richie at his daughter's bat mitzvah.  It may have been the best scene so far in the series.  And Ray Romano has some serious acting chops.  He elevates almost every scene he's in.  
  • Andrea Zito's first staff meeting.  Once again, scenes that show the inner workings of the music industry work best in "Vinyl." Her comments about some of the company's challenges -- "The logo looks like a toilet bowl" -- seemed exactly like dialogue that you'd expect to hear in a record label meeting presided over by a new senior executive.  It was a squirm-worthy meeting made all the worse by Richie's annoying presence (as bosses are prone to be).
  • Zak listening to the bat mitzvah singer crooning Bowie's "Life on Mars." Whatever his mental state (in this case -- depressed), his ear is still tuned to great music.  Here's the big question of the night: was the singer a young Billy Joel?  It's Long Island.  It's the early 70s? He's a piano player.  Do the math people.
  • Ernst.  Seriously degenerate dude with no moral compass.  But was he a figment of Richie's drug-addled imagination the whole episode?
  • The car crash in Coney Island.  Beautifully staged.  

What Didn't Work, Vinyl Episode 6:
  • Richie.  Hyper-active acting by Bobby Cannavale plus writing with zero nuance equals a lead character who is hard to watch much less love.  I've said this before: enough with the coke scenes.  It's killing the series.
  • Sex in the company bathroom. Yes, I get it was meant to show how low Richie can sink (by doing "it" over the bathroom sink, I guess) but the scene veered into cringe-worthy territory.  Viewers understand that he's out of control.  We don't need to be smashed on the head every ten minutes with this message.
  • Devon's scene with Ingrid.  Boring.
Overall Grade for Vinyl Episode 5: (C)  Tonight's episode had some powerful and hallucinogenic scenes like the  Coney Island car crash.  And the music was brilliantly woven into the entire hour.  However, the over-the-top Cannavale ranting and snorting detracted from the strengths of the episodes.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

Vinyl Recap. Season 1. Episode 5: "He's in Racist Fire"

Richie and Devon Finestra: Not-so-happy together.  

What Worked, Vinyl, Episode 5: 
  • Clark's demotion to the mailroom. A bit over-the-top but let's face it....he was spotlighting some pretty crappy acts.  At least he's still in the game.
  • The showdown between punk rocker Kip Stevens and Richie Finestra in the conference room.  This is where the show shines -- when it focuses on the nitty gritty of musicians versus the all-knowing, all-powerful record labels.  Stevens mouthed off to Richie and we thought he was going to take it.  But he came back hard at him: "Shut your big f-ing mouth." 
  • Devon dancing with Hannibal in his hotel room while Richie and Cece watch.  Tense, uncomfortable, almost unwatchable -- but so interesting.  Was she going to head to the bedroom with him? Was Richie going to hit him? Was Richie going to sleep with Cece? Would Richie let Hannibal sleep with Devon to get the record contract?  Would Devon do that?  (Hannibal signs with Jackie Jervis later that evening and Jervis snorts Richie's coke.)

What Didn't Work, Vinyl Episode 5:
  • Julie's scenes with Jamie.  His sexist rant is already old and thin  -- and the show is only in the fifth episode of season one.  
  • Jamie.  Her character doesn't really work so far.  Is she supposed to be the hot girl in the office?  The young record executive with good ears? The rebel kid from a rich family? Compare her character to Peggy's character in "Mad Men" and you'll get my drift.  (Peggy was a clearly defined character with a fascinating character arc that hooked us every season.)
  • Richie's scenes with PR maven Andrea Zito.  The setup was disjointed and not easy to follow.  And the scenes were too melodramatic.  
  • Richie's alibi scene in his office with his dad.  Once again, too melodramatic.
  • The Nasty Bits recording session.  Their music just isn't that good to make this scene even remotely interesting.  
Overall Grade for Vinyl Episode 5: (B-)  The series is turning into slick melodrama, which isn't necessarily a good thing.  It's watchable and even compelling, but it's not especially memorable.  Bobby Cannavale's performance comes across as too much of everything.  He needs to be more coiled and restrained.  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Vinyl Recap: Season 1. Episode 4: The Racket

Hannibal delivers a "Sly" performance
What Worked, Vinyl, Episode 4: 
  • American Century executives squabbling in the limo while returning from the funeral of Buck.  Realistic dialogue that shows the love-hate relationship amongst the men while revealing some of the harsh realities of the music business.
  • Val's (Ray Romano) anger-filled  breakfast with mutton-chopped Val.  Once again, Romano steals every scene he's in.
  • The use of music (natch).  Especially noteworthy in this episode: "Superfly" and Joplin's "Cry Baby."
  • Lester Grimes becoming the manager for The Nasty Bits.  That transition really worked.  And Lester's contract negotiation with Richie was sharp, tense, and  felt like it was written by someone with direct music industry experience. 
  • Detectives showing up at Richie's office to question him about the murder.  Those scenes are becoming increasingly anxiety-provoking.
  • Devon Finestra at the divorce lawyer's office.  Perfectly played scene and the lawyer was beautifully written and was played as a cynical, tough-as-nails defender of women who ultimately wouldn't take Devon's case.  

What Didn't Work, Vinyl Episode 4:
  • The opening scene in the marriage counselor's office with Richie hitting the pillow.
  • The overstocking of Donny Osmond records.  It could have been a good bit but it was never explained adequately. 
Overall Grade for Vinyl Episode 4: (A-)  This series is starting to take off.  It's providing a fascinating glimpse into the 70s music scene featuring compelling characters, great music and tense situations.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Vinyl Recap. Season 1. Episode 3: Whispered Secrets

The wife's dilemma: The agony of Richie Finestra's wife Devon
(as played winningly be Olivia Wilde, above) helped elevate  episode 3.  

What Worked, Vinyl, Episode 3: 
  • Opening credits.  Gets better each time I see it.  
  • The opening tribute dinner scene honoring record executive Maury Gold.  The below-the-belt cracks by comedian Jackie Jervis set the tone: funny, deadly, clever and dangerous.  It made me both laugh and squirm (this series needs more of the former).  
  • Richie Finestra's meeting with his staff where they rate the acts on the label.  Sharp, crisp, rat-a-tat dialogue.  An incisive, cynical view of the record industry leavened by some good wise-cracking (thank you Ray Romano!)
  • The argument between Richie and his wife Devon.  Once again, well written with sharp, pointed dialogue.  The battle didn't go over-the-top or last too long.  But it told viewers a lot we needed to know about their relationship and the pain of being his wife.
  • Joe Corso's "Angela Davis" reference to the rockin' Afro sported by Richie's African-American assistant.  I was probably one of the only viewers who caught it.  
  • The Andy Warhol "Do you want to sell it (the portrait of Devon)" scene.  I haven't been a fan of the few Warhol scenes in the series (the character comes across more like something in a "SNL" skit featuring Dana Carvey) but this one was tense and dramatic.
  • Joe Corso putting the squeeze on Richie to get his lover a recording contract.  Yep...that's probably how it works.  

What Didn't Work, Vinyl Episode 3:
  • Richie always rubbing his nose and sniffling.  Yep...we get it.  He uses coke.  Now please move on.
  • Julie's rant about The Nasty Bits and his sexist comments about secretary Jamie Vine.  Too one-note and too harsh.  The character needs more dimension.
  • Alice Cooper scenes.  It was clever how Alice strung along Clark but overall the bit went on too long and was too convoluted.  
Overall Grade for Vinyl Episode 3: (A-)  This was by far the best episode of the series.  Almost all scenes were interesting and well written.  Most of the acting was more nuanced and restrained.  Let's see if episode 4 can continue this trend.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Vinyl Recap. Season 1. Episode 2: Yesterday Once More

Swinging Vine: June Temple as Jamie Vine, grabs the spotlight in episode two.
What Worked, Vinyl, Episode 2: 
  • The way the music was threaded through almost every scene.  And kudos to the sound editor.  Each song was dramatically introduced.  
  • Ray Romano.  He continues to shine in this series with lines delivered both seriously and with needed levity (to what is a very dark series).
  • The Watergate hearings playing on Richie's tv in his office. Nice subtle touch that really announces that this series takes place in the early 70s when the political climate was dark and twisted.  
  • Jamie Vine asks Richie for a job on the A&R staff.  Good back and forth between the two of them.  
  • Julius Silver's criticism of the punk rock band.  He may be a schmuck but he's got a good ear. 

What Didn't Work, Vinyl Episode 2:
  • Cliches.  Coke-snorting record executive.  A record executive screwing a beautiful woman in grungy rock club bathroom.  Crazy behavior in the record company's office.  Very little in this series surprises me.  
  • Bobby Cannavale.  Wildly uneven performance.  Some scenes bordered on campy like when he broke down in tears after the detective visited him.  He went way over the top in his coke-fueled scene when he turned down the buy-out offer from the Germans.  The scene in the movie theater was stupid that was meant to set up him going kung fu on his senior executives (another stupid scene).
  • The Andy Warhol scenes.  Never felt real.  
  • Ray Romano's family scenes (especially with his wife).  Ugly Jewish stereotype.
Overall Grade for Vinyl Episode 2: (C)  This series often feels half baked.  It lacks originality and wit. And it continues to be dark.  What it has is energy.  I wouldn't be surprised if the audience begins to wither.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

Vinyl Recap. Season One. Episode One (Pilot)

HBO's go-to star:  Bobby Cannavale as Richie Finnestra
What Worked, Vinyl, Episode 1: 

  • The way the show was bookended by the great rendition of the song "Personality."  Really set the tone.
  • Ray Romano as Walter Yetnikoff...uh....Zak Yankovich.  He brought some nice comic relief to a two-hour show that was very dark (although he overdid it a few times).  Best line:  "I'm a Jew.  When Germans say they're going to be diligent, we go to the attic and write a diary."
  • Great period details from the graffiti-splattered subways to a middle-age woman reading "Fear of Flying." 
  • Andrew Dice Clay's "Do I look like an asshole?" rap.  Echoed Joe Pesci's "Do I look like a funny guy" rap from "Goodfellas."
  • The scene where Richie Finnestra sells his stake in the company for $150,000....but he can't get Jimmy Little out of his contract.
  • The beating of Jimmy Little.  The kick in the neck was brutal -- he'll never sing again.
  • Jamie Vine "discovering" punk rocker Kip Stevens.  That felt real.  

What Didn't Work, Vinyl Episode 1:

  • Overproduction.  It's like director Martin Scorsese had too much money (and time) for this two-hour pilot.  Did the introductory scene with radio station owner Buck Rogers (played by Andrew Dice Clay playing Andrew Dice Clay) really have to take place in a sex club with those carefully contrived shots?  Same with Finnestra's long, drawn-out birthday party at his house.
  • The yelling.  Too many over-the-top scenes of people yelling especially when Richie Finnestra dresses down his A&R staff and Zepplin's manager also yells at Richie's staff (they are pin cushions).  
  • (SPOILER ALERT HERE) The murder of Buck Rogers by Richie's fixer.  The prelude to the head-smashing was loud and drawn out.  And the reason for the second round of head-smashing was perplexing.  And why would Richie agree to cover up murder?  This was the worst written scene in the pilot.  
  • The collapse of the rock club at the conclusion of the pilot.  Huh?  Why did that happen.  (Also: see overproduction)
Overall Grade for Vinyl Episode 1: (B-)  Loud, long and messy.  But there's no denying there's a great story in "Vinyl" that just might be told in the coming weeks.  I'm not totally sold on Bobby Cannavale -- he looks a lot beefier than he did as the sleek, cool-as-ice gangster in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" and that's not a good thing.  Perhaps when the episodes are an hour long, "Vinyl" will be tighter and more compelling.  As one might expect, the music rocks.