“You can’t always get what you want.”
Richie Finestra’s story is one we’ve seen before. In this age of antiheroes, the stories about people like Don Draper and Tony Soprano–and their worlds–have already hit many of the beats Vinyl does: the conflict between personal and professional, the intersection between class, race, and sex, the malaise that arises over time, et cetera. However, the pilot still manages to feel fresh and intriguing, utilizing Scorsese’s kinetic filmmaking to deliver a mini-movie in and of itself. Like the scenes the show depicts, the episode pulsates with energy throughout, musical interludes seemingly dropping every few minutes as music and television are fused.
Also fused are past and present, as the episode makes frequent use of flashbacks to show us how Richie got to where he is today. There are specifics we can go into in terms of what’s going on at the record label, but the overall thematic point is that everything is at a crossroads, at a period of cultural, personal, and societal transition. For instance, Richie’s told that musicians are “products” and that this is all “just business”, and a key conflict is thus being drawn here between commercialization and artistry. He’s trying to survive in this period of movement, but the two sides are essentially tearing him apart. “I need a change,” he tells his wife near the end of the episode after lamenting that the past might all have been for nothing. Then, he goes on a good ‘ol coke binge, and the episode circles back around to its opening scene: him at his lowest point, about to be buried under a collapsed building at a New York Dolls concert. The song, by the way, is “Personality Crisis”. How appropriate.
The pilot definitely feels scattered at times, but it doesn’t take too much away from the central focus of the episode; in addition, it’s impressive the way the 108 minute running time manages to keep you entertained throughout. Obviously, this is a very broad review, but this seems like the type of show–a la Boardwalk Empire–that might not completely click until the end of the season. But even if it isn’t the smoothest viewing experience in the world, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy the ride.
-Bobby Cannavale is a fantastic actor, and I’m glad he’s finally getting a meaty main role here (he also makes so much sense as a Scorsese-directed actor). The rest of the cast is great as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing them fleshed out a little more; in particular, I want to see more of Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano, Ato Essandoh, and James Jagger/Juno Temple. From what I see in the pilot, these can all be solid storylines on their own.
-That orgy scene is just Scorsese unable to slow down after The Wolf of Wall Street.
-I’m uncertain as to whether I’ll have time to cover this regularly. I guess we’ll see in the coming weeks.
Photo credits: HBO, Vinyl