July 17, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll”


SEX&DRUGS&ROCK&ROLL:  Thursday 10PM on FX – If Nothing Else Is On…

Denis Leary doesn’t have a world of range, and in his new comedy SEX&DRUGS&ROCK&ROLL, the aging never-quite-star he plays called Johnny Rock isn’t very different from Tommy Gavin, the fireman he played on Rescue Me.  (Leary created both shows, on Rescue Me working with Peter Tolan.)  Both are sardonic, driven New Yorkers in whom self-mockery duels with self-aggrandizement, both have a long history of giving into their bad habits, and both believe passionately in their professions, no matter how much they grouse about them.  Sex is a comedy, and so the stakes are more apt to be embarrassment than life or death, which both makes things more easygoing and reduces the urgency of the proceedings.

Sex‘s pilot, written by Leary and directed by Michael Blieden, piles on the set-up contrivances, which start in the opening sequence, where Johnny sees hot young Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies) across a crowded bar and decides to take a shot at her, much to the amusement of his drummer Bam Bam (Bobby Kelly) and back-up singer/girlfriend Ava (Elaine Hendrix).  They expect him to make a fool of himself, but they have no idea:  Gigi is the 25-year old daughter Johnny never knew he had.  She grew up in Ohio, and when she decided to move to New York and become a singer, her mother conveniently gifted her with $200,000, a sum to make Johnny’s avaricious instincts tingle.  The catch is that she’ll only record with Johnny’s old band The Heathens, which broke up a quarter-century earlier on the very day their first album was released, and whose lead guitarist Flash (John Corbett) loathes Johnny.  Desperate to get his hands on that money, Johnny talks the band into getting back together, sure Gigi is deluded about her talent and an easy mark–but guess what, it turns out she’s a born lead singer, which will presumably propel father and daughter into a continuing professional and personal relationship.  All of this is interspersed with interviews conducted with real-life musicians like Dave Grohl and Greg Dulli, who talk about how great The Heathens were, plus occasional supposed backstage footage from the band’s semi-glory days.

As in Rescue Me, much of the humor in Sex comes from the sarcastic banter among co-workers, something Leary writes and plays very well.  Similarly, the relationship between Johnny and Gigi already has echoes of the one between Tommy Gavin and his smart-mouthed oldest daughter.  The difference here is age.  Johnny is a wearier figure than Tommy, his years of excess worn on his face, and more ready to face his regrets.  Less promisingly, age comes into play as Leary has Johnny make the same kind of social media jokes that middle-aged comics are making everywhere about the younger generation, and poke fun at modern-day music stars.  (He does get in one good visual gag at Lady Gaga’s expense.)  Mostly, though, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll resembles Rescue Me redux, with very little of the spontaneity the title implies.  Leary is still fun to watch, and the show may develop the characters around him in the way Rescue Me built its ensemble, but at the outset, it all feels a bit recycled and forced.  A routine in the episode jabs at musicians who make their livings imitating acts like Bon Jovi, yet Sex feels unnervingly like the work of a Rescue Me cover band.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."