Scorsese, Winter, and Jagger’s new series “Vinyl’ is classic HBO programming at its most genric

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This past Sunday, Hbo’s new series Vinyl premiered to only about 764,000 viewers; a shockingly low number compared to other series premiers this past season: The Leftovers and True Detective 1. With household names such as Scorsese and Winter, a celebrity Executive Producer like Jagger, and the full monetary support of HBO, how could a series like this under-perform? How does power, sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, with an auteur storyteller not equal a compelling and addicting hit? The answer is simply “we have been here before,” and no amount of celebrity and quality, artistic production can make an old, generic story feel fresh.

It is hard laying down a review like this on this series 2, because I don’t find myself criticizing the technical craftsmanship of its creators. Terrence Winter is an incredible, detailed storyteller, and this paired with Scorsese’s style and eye has resulted in a visually engrossing world populated by multi-faceted characters. Scorsese then treats audience members to an array of colors and sets that transports you in the venues, offices, and musical waves of the 1970’s 3.

Similar to the final season of Boardwalk Empire , 4 Winter uses this pilot to tell two stories – present and past – about our protagonist Richie Finestra, portrayed by high intensity Bobby Cannavale. As our “unreliable” narrator Richie guides us into his world of corporate greed, celebrity ego, life long dreams, and that innate, magical ear it takes to make a hit record. In the present Richie and his partners, Zak Yankovich (Ray Ramono) and Skip Fontaine (J.C. Mackenie), are attempting to sell their dying record label to a German conglomerate while dealing with an unhappy Led Zeppelin. Richie then finds himself reminiscing over his first client, a black blues singer/ guitarist named Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh), as he flashes back to the sounds of to classic Rhythm and Blues. Winter has not only created a multi-faceted front-man for the series, but has given him two intersecting narratives which he seamlessly transition between.

Bobby Cannavale, who was a bit too over the top for me in his role as Gyp Rosetti on season 3 of Boardwalk Empire 5, uses his physicality as a representative theme for the series. His character, Richie, is torn between the man music (the industry) has turned him into and the raw feelings and emotions that listening to music stir inside him. The contrast between the smooth label executive and the wild fan of music sings through Cannavale’s performance and he definitely adds a unique signature to the series.

Yet with so much going for it, how is Vinyl not a major success? Had it premiered five years ago this series would have been a hit, and arguably a must watch HBO series for America (both for critics and audiences)6. However, with all this new scripted programming7,  constant access to countless titles for streaming, and an over all progressive shift in the “quality television” landscape Vinyl in 2016 will likely continue to struggle with viewership. The average person, in my opinion, is not going to sit down on a Sunday night and watch a two -hour (no commercial) premier of a series. Often times, even critics will grimace in the face of having to do so. At the end of the day, Vinyl just doesn’t shine bright enough through all the other programming (period or other wise) being made. *cough* The Knick *cough*8

There are so many series about conflicted and corrupt powerful white men 9. Terrence Winter has even made two series centered around that: The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. Many viewers and especially critics are bored of seeing old, corrupt white men being misogynists and rich assholes, which, although beautifully and craftily done, is a lot of what Vinyl is. Juno Temple’s character Jamie Vine, the young dreamer of the series, would be an ideal character to center the series around; watching an outgoing, talented, and driven young woman climb to top of record label. This is exactly what made Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt a massive breath of fresh air. I can only hope that, like Halt & Catch Fire season 210, Terrence Winter will find a way to give a lot more narrative to Devon Finestra (Olivia Wilde), Richie’s wife with a Warhol connection, and the intrepid Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) as she potentially discovers a new genre of rock n’ roll. He literally wrote himself a potential Betty Draper and Peggy Olson 11.

So if The Leftovers represents HBO’s series for critical acclaim, Vinyl seems more like a shout out to the networks mid 2000’s content and fans 12. A series that will generically be entertaining, well made, and nuanced but, suffers from a lack of progressive content, topical and fresh for the times. And if anything, Vinyl most certainly signifies that HBO is playing into the content race that Netflix started.

I can’t say Vinyl is not worth your time, because I am going to continue watching the series… However, don’t suckered into thinking this is or will be a must watch series of 2016. Like most of America and their connection to HBO just sit tight for April 24 and the return of Game of Thrones 13.

 

 

 

  1. yes even that piece of shit second season
  2. it sucks cause the fan in me enjoys these series, but the critic in me respects but does not
  3. even goes farther and explores the music of the 50/ 60’s and potentially early hip hop
  4. SPOILERS final season is about Nucky’s childhood and past being revealed as the present leads to his demise
  5. you will see a lot actors from that show on Vinyl
  6. when boardwalk premiered in the wake of Made Men
  7. in 2015 there were about 350 new scripted series
  8. I have a strong affinity and love for this series: http://www.buzzfeed.com/luciddream114/the-knick-sounds-of-surgery-spoilers-wiud and http://www.buzzfeed.com/luciddream114/the-knick-is-groundbreaking-looking-at-the-cur-wiud
  9. not that I dislike shows with that subject matter
  10. season 1 was very male centered and was not super well received, so season 2 they switched focus to the female characters woot!
  11. obviously no one can replace either of those beloved and fascinating characters
  12. for those people my age, the series that you parent would buy box sets of DVDs when you were in middle school/ early high school
  13. honorable mention to Silicon Valley and Veep, premiering the same night

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