This review covers the first six episodes of Vinyl, a HBO produced American drama following Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) and his failing record label American Century. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between Vinyl and AMC’s Mad Men that ran for seven seasons and was lavished with critical acclaim. Character arcs between the two are almost interchangeable; Vinyl’s Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) is an ambitious assistant looking to make it in a male dominated industry, something that Mad Man’s Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) did not only better, but first. This leads one to question, in a show whose premise comes from the minds of Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, why is it so formulaic?
On paper, Vinyl sounds fascinating. A drama depicting the sex, drugs and rock and roll present in the 1970s music industry, drawing on real anecdotes from those who lived through it. What we get however are musical vignettes featuring amateurish and underwhelming impersonators, specifically episode six’s terrible David Bowie sequence. But regardless of what Finestra says at least a dozen times an episode, Vinyl is not really about ‘the music’, but rather Finestra moving around New York scoring coke, ruining his marriage and trying to keep his record label afloat.
The pilot was a non-chronological mess. The ninety second opening credits sequence is painfully generic, a Frankenstein mixture of symbolism and file footage, which should be skipped at all costs. But the most significant issue is the archaic way Vinyl is released; one week, one episode. To actually care, and more importantly, remember what Finestra is doing, Vinyl needs to be watched over a couple of days, not a few months.
Yet, despite all its flaws, Vinyl is perfectly watchable. Highlights include any scene with the American Century supporting cast (J. C. MacKenzie, Max Casella, P. J. Byrne and Ray Romano) and the ‘Nasty Bits’ band subplot featuring Jagger’s son James Jagger. HBO have already commissioned a second season, and perhaps by then the show will have found its balance between the music and Finestra story.
This article was first printed in the May 2016 issue of ‘The Stag’, the magazine of the students of the University of Surrey.