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Showtime’s ‘Roadies’ Shines a Spotlight on the Invisible Crew
June 26, 2016  | By David Hinckley

Showtime’s new dramedy Roadies isn’t unlike a rock concert. If the sound feels right and you’re having a good time, you don’t worry whether each note is perfect.

Roadies, a 10-episode series that premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, follows the lives of the traveling road crew for the mythical Staton-House Band (SHB).

It quickly zeroes in on the band’s road manager, Bill (Luke Wilson), and the production manager, Shelli (Carla Gugino, top, with Wilson). They’re lifers with a mutual spark that neither acknowledges, and they provide the tent pole around which everyone else rotates.

The most important thing to know about Roadies is that it was created by veteran music writer Cameron Crowe, who clearly conceived it as a vehicle to dramatize a million cool little things he’s seen over the years while prowling backstage through the rock world.

For all the parts of this world that have been turned into movies or TV shows over the years – many of them unsuccessfully – the road crew has rarely gotten much attention.

That may be because a good road crew is invisible, or it may be that setting up the lighting and tuning the band’s guitars, all by itself, isn’t that much more cinematic than stocking cans of peas on a supermarket shelf.

Crowe doesn’t see it that way.

He finds steady drama in the crew’s attention to the band’s quirks, like the keyboard player insisting no one touch the keys before the show begins. Crowe also wastes no time introducing groupies, some of whom apparently don’t require an actual on-stage star.

Most important, he sees roadies as the ultimate true believers. They’re living out of suitcases for low pay because music is their passion. If they don’t have the skills to play it, this is how they get close to it and become part of it.

That’s the real core of Roadies and the gamble on which the show is apt to rise or fall. If we believe that these quirky, funny and sometimes maddening people are here because music makes them tick, there’s hardly any way not to like the show.

While almost all the roadies embody this devotion, the one who most directly articulates it in the first episode is Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots, above, right), a low-level worker bee.

When she scoots around backstage on a skateboard, it’s remarkably poetic, almost ballet-like. She’s also an aspiring filmmaker whose first amateur project turns out to be a rather unsubtle metaphor for roadie life.

Crowe, who wrote and directed the first episode, can’t resist heavily sprinkling the script with real-life rock references. Some are reverential. Others are setups for gags like a young roadie not knowing that Ronnie Van Zant was the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Grizzled veteran Phil (Ron White, left) talks about seeing every American Pink Floyd show. Luis Guzman plays a driver who worked three years with Bob Dylan and remembers Bob sitting in the front seat next to him, telling secrets that he will never reveal.

The show also opens with Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” suggesting that even as Crowe carefully references current artists like Taylor Swift, he’s not going to skimp on history.

Cable has hosted several raucous rock ‘n’ roll shows lately, including HBO’s just-cancelled Vinyl and FX’s Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.

While Roadies inevitably works some of the same territory, it’s a gentler, lighter show. It has elements of a rom-com, among other genres, and its plot is driven by one of those twists to which three-quarters of the entire working world will relate.

A Brit named Reg Whitehead (Rafe Spall) is brought in to make the SHB operation more financially efficient, meaning jobs are threatened and everyone feels squeezed.

Reg isn’t even from the music world, so when he’s asked what’s on his iPod, he says “the Mumford Sons” and everyone gets to chuckle at this hatchet-wielding bean counter who understands nothing about what he may be decimating.

While it’s not hard to see where the tension will arise, Crowe seems equally enchanted with the possibilities for humor. Nor is Whitehead portrayed simply as a buffoon or martinet, though he has moments of both.

Few of the developments in the early hours of Roadies will surprise the viewer, nor will the patter that at times plays like a sitcom fused into a raucous movie comedy.

But Gugino, Wilson, and the others play it like pros, and hey, a good rock show always includes something to which you can sing along.

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