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HBO's 'Vinyl' Adds a Scorsese Gangster Vibe to '70s Music Scene
February 11, 2016  | By Ed Bark  | 2 comments

Mobsters and Martin Scorsese go together like cake and ice cream, chips and dips, Donald Trump and egomania.

So the maestro behind Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Casino, Gangs of New York and Boardwalk Empire invests HBO’s Vinyl with a strong gangster vibe during the course of recreating New York City’s raucous, drug-and-booze-powered 1970s music scene. It’s an industry where hit records aren’t the only hits. And where payoffs, cover-ups, stealing and dirty dealing are business norms. It debuts at 9 p.m. ET Sunday.

Scorsese and principal co-executive producer Mick Jagger for the most part get away with all of this sound and fury, even though some of Vinyl’s excesses are more over the top than Liberace’s closet. He’s yet to be seen in the five episodes made available for review, including Sunday’s extended two-hour pilot. But a mockup of Robert Goulet makes the scene in Episode 4, recording a take-the-money-and-run Christmas album for Richie Finestra’s (Bobby Cannavale, top) cash-strapped American Century Records. Season 1 will have 10 episodes.

First seen sweating, drinking and on the prowl for a cocaine fix, Cannavale gives a consistently manic performance as the high-strung, profane founder of a company that’s been running out of cachet and bankable artists. But in terms of loathsome, self-indulgent decadence, he gives way to Andrew Dice Clay’s (left, with Cannavale) opening night guest role as super-crooked radio station magnate Frank “Buck” Rogers. Bloated and bearded, Dice Clay throws himself into this part with an animalistic vengeance that’s both wondrous and shocking to behold. Those on the receiving end of his dipped-in-dung tirades include poor Donny Osmond, who’s out of earshot and shown only on his latest album cover. Will Emmy voters dare reward the Diceman with a nomination? If he knows where they live, they’d better.

After showing Cannavale’s Richie in full-blown, back-off-the-wagon mode, Episode 1 flashes back five days to the planned sale of American Century to German investors. Viewers also get a big dose of early narration, with Richie citing his humble beginnings: “You think you work hard? Try scraping Chubby Checker’s vomit off the inside of a toilet stall.” Gotcha.

Richie’s lieutenants include Ray Romano as promotions head Zak Yankovich and Max Casella (from Doogie Howser, M.D. to Boardwalk Empire) as A&R (Artists & Repertoire) head Julius “Julie” Silver. Along with three other associates, this male quintet at times is too comical to be believable within a drama whose cutthroat ways and means might make one wonder why Richie would ever hire these stooges in the first place. Then again, Tony Soprano had his Bada Bing crew, all of whom had goofball tendencies.

Faring better on the stable-headed front is Juno Temple (right) as Jamie Vine, an office assistant who supplies sandwiches and drugs to both staffers and company clients. But she yearns to discover a band of her own, and finds one in the very rough-hewn Nasty Bits. The lead singer, brusque Kip Stevens, is effectively played by Mick’s son, James Jagger.

Vinyl goes cartwheeling over the top at times, never more so than in the fantastical close to Episode 1. This is where Richie has his epiphany about re-inventing American Century as a home for uncompromising music that cuts through the crap. Well, to a point. The label still can’t bring itself to cut loose the moneymaking Goulet.

There’s also the matter of a messy cover-up of a very violent act in which Richie takes part. Fox’s Empire got to this plot line first, with record company magnate Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) lying about his role in a capital crime he committed. Vinyl can’t help but seem warmed over in this respect. But Scorsese and lethal mayhem pretty much go hand in hand -- in this case, needlessly. Our “hero” already has more than enough trouble on his hands.

Vinyl’s other principal character is Richie’s wife, Devon (Olivia Wilde), whom he first met during her time as part of Andy Warhol’s entourage. The series regularly flashes back to those earlier days, with Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell) portrayed as quietly protective and even semi-sweet. Episode 3 has a beautifully affecting “current-day” scene between the two of them.

The series also weaves other real-life characters into the mix, most notably Alice Cooper (Dustin Ingram) in Episode 3. There are mockups as well, including Daniel J. Watts in an increasingly key role as a soul/funk band lead singer named Hannibal -- aka Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone.

Vinyl’s music is uniformly terrific, unless it’s Goulet’s intendedly ridiculous rendition of “Christmas You Go Too Fast.” Stand-alone performances often are used as bridges between scene changes. Although the artists aren’t identified, you’ll recognize the sounds and send-ups of Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and many others. Music from Vinyl will be released weekly after an 18-track Volume One is “dropped” two days before the Feb. 14th premiere.

It’s all very, very ambitious, with hits that keep on coming while storyline misses seem to be almost beside the point. Vinyl is thoroughly rousing at its core, a crazed, dope-filled, sometimes dopey trip that begins in 1973 and has nothing in common with the earlier, comparatively sedate decade brought to you by AMC’s Mad Men.

Musically speaking, “I want what’s next!” Richie rages at underlings shortly after his wife has told him over the phone, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Now where have we heard that before?


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I could use "Hillary Clinton and pantsuits" next time if you'd like. Not a fan of hers either. There, I said it. Imagine a mere TV critic having a political opinion. But I was a political reporter for years before reducing myself to this. Then and now I've always equated Donald Trump with egomania. I doubt he'd disagree too strongly with that assessment.
Feb 12, 2016   |  Reply
Really Bark...is it neccesary to make a un-needed and snarky comment about Donlad Trump in a TV show review? We get it...you guys are liberals and HATE Trump, Republicans & Conservatives. I come here for TV show reviews, NOT snarky, biased, left-wing 'political commentary'.
Why dont you make a comment like: "go together like...Barack Hussein Obama & arrogance" or "Bernie Sanders & socialism-communism".
Keep the political b.s. out of TV show reviews. Thank you.
Feb 11, 2016   |  Reply
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