“Vinyl” is a show that seemed destined for greatness, built upon a foundation of elements that should have all led to guaranteed success: Martin Scorsese returning to HBO as producer of the series (and director of the pilot), a collaboration with Mick Jagger as a legendary rocker with unique insight into the industry and time period, and a premise approaching the 1970s music industry in a manner similar to the way “Mad Men” tackled the advertising business in the 1960s. With the constantly shifting landscape of rock during this decade, it seems like a show that should have written itself. There should have been a plethora of material for the first season of “Vinyl,” but instead we end up with a repetitive character study centering on the endlessly flawed protagonist.
Most of the freshman season is spent dwelling on substance abuse problems that yo-yo from bad to worse, an accidental murder, and a derivative sub-plot about mob involvement. We’ve seen all of this before, often by Scorsese himself, and done in more compelling ways. While the saving grace of the series is the storylines about the actual music, they are often overshadowed by the predictable melodrama and a boring preoccupation with the protagonist’s flaws. I don’t often say this, but I actually think “Vinyl” would have worked better as a feature film, which was the original intention with this material. But then I probably would have complained that it shares too much similarity to The Wolf of Wall Street, which is also indulgently preoccupied with the excess of corrupt businessmen.
The businessman at the center of “Vinyl” is Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), partial owner and executive of failing record company, American Century. There are three other partners, though the only one we spend much time with is Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano), who’s nearly as big of a screw up as Richie. At the beginning of the pilot episode, they are in the process of selling their company to a group of German investors when Richie suddenly has second doubts. After becoming an accessory to murder, falling off the wagon, and subsequently having a building fall on him, Richie decides to take the failing company and reinvent it with a new record label.
Both Richie and Zak struggle with their family life, though the focus remains on Richie, while Zak’s ridiculously poor treatment from his family is brief depressing comedic relief. Richie is married to
Devon (Olivia Wilde), a photographer who has become the responsible one caring for their two children as Richie spirals further out of control. Their relationship often takes precedence over the storylines actually involving the music industry, and is likely the only thing to take up as much time as heavy drinking and chronic cocaine use.
When the music industry is finally delved into, there is a lack of traction in the first half of the season. Sure, they discuss business and make many (mostly unsuccessful) moves, but there isn’t actual progress made until they begin grooming a new band called The Nasty Bits. And even this becomes entangled in unnecessary relationship drama as the secretary (
) attempting to claim credit for discovering them begins an affair with the lead singer (James Jagger, because of who his father is). It is all fairly pedestrian and serves to convolute what few unique moments the series has to offer. Juno Temple
The ten episodes of season one, including Scorsese’s feature-length pilot episode, are all included in a four-disc Blu-ray set. The special features are dispersed among each of the discs, with “Inside the Episode” featurettes for nine of the episodes and commentary tracks for three of them. The final disc also includes a lengthier making-of featurette that is primarily focused with the aspects of the period recreation.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 5/10
Special Features: 7/10