February 15, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Vinyl”


VINYL:  Sunday 9PM on HBO – DVR Alert

Even with an ever-increasing amount of new and emerging competition, for now at least there’s still nothing in television quite like an all-in, no-expense-spared HBO event, and the network’s rock & roll spectacle VINYL certainly qualifies.  It reunites Martin Scorsese with writer/executive producer Terence Winter, with whom he collaborated on Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street, and adds no less than Mick Jagger to the mix.  (Scorsese and Jagger originally conceived of Vinyl as a feature film quite a few years ago, and its tortuous route through development explains why the show’s creation is credited to Scorsese, Jagger and writer Rich Cohen as a team with Winter as a separate entity, while the pilot story is credited to the four of them and the pilot script to Winter and fellow EP George Mastras.)

For all those cooks with a hand in the stew, Vinyl is recognizably a Scorsese workLike Boardwalk and Wolf and so many of the filmmaker’s other projects, it’s a study in (male) personal excess and self-destruction, and its rock & roll beat has been a staple of his style all the way back to Mean Streets.  In fact, like Mean Streets (whose title is referenced, presumably with a wink, in a line of the pilot’s dialogue), it’s set in 1973 pre-gentrification New York, lovingly recreated by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, production designer Bob Shaw, costume designer Adam Scher and the hair and make-up team (much awesome facial hair and many pastel suits with wide lapels).  We’re introduced to our antihero Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), owner of the American Century record label, in mid-binge as he buys what is clearly just his most recent load of coke in the Village, tossing aside a homicide detective’s business card.

Richie is as shrewd as Boardwalk Empire‘s Nucky Thompson and as given to excess as Wolf‘s Jordan Belfort, but within a few minutes of our meeting him, we’re introduced into the one thing that sets him apart from those figures:  his reverence for great music, as he leaves his luxury car to push his way into a crowded club to hear a band.  Over the course of the 2-hour pilot, flashbacks detail how Richie lost his way, forsaking musical ideals (in the person of blues singer Lester Grimes, played by Ato Essandoh) for money and power.  As the pilot begins, he’s on the verge of literally selling out, having brokered a multi-million dollar buyout of his label to PolyGram, a deal he keeps on the tracks even after a disastrous failure to sign Led Zeppelin (when he tries to screw the band on its royalties).  By the pilot’s end, though, after a nearly biblical experience where he survives being buried alive in the collapse of that downtown club, he appears to be on the road to some kind of redemption, his ideals restored.

If that’s indeed where Vinyl is going, it will be different from the more fatalistic Boardwalk and cynical Wolf.  It may also mean that the tone of the series will be somewhat distinct from the pilot, which mostly follows Richie on his journey down, culminating in a wild confrontation with coke-fueled radio station owner Buck Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay, terrific) that recalls the classic Alfred Molina sequence in Boogie Nights.  A lot of this material is similar to other music industry stories, from the payola administered by Richie’s buddy Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) to the weaselly executives (PJ Byrne, Max Casella, Jack Quaid), to the ambitious A&R assistant Jamie Vine (a breakout Juno Temple) who’s sure she’s found the next big band–in this case, a punk group led by the unlikely-named Kip Stevens (James Jagger, Mick’s son).

We’ve seen so many record company stories over the years that the major struggle for Vinyl will be to keep the story fresh amid familiar elements, especially once Scorsese (and the budget he commands) has left the day-to-day scene.  It will certainly help that the assembled cast is excellent.  Cannavale was a strong villain on one of the Boardwalk seasons, and he’s got the opportunity here to create someone richer and broader in scope.  So far Olivia Wilde, as Richie’s wife, hasn’t had much to play other than being “the wife,” and Romano (wonderful in Men Of A Certain Age) is underused, but there’s plenty of time to give them more to do.

It goes without saying that with Scorsese at the helm, the pilot is expertly put together, with a a non-stop background of carefully curated songs ranting from blues to pop to hard rock to punk, and hurtling editing by David Tedeschi.  It will of course be a challenge to the show’s future directors to deliver at that level, probably with less resources at their disposal.

We’ll see over the next few episodes where Vinyl is going, whether it intends to be a 1970s version of Empire or something more weighty.  Like any album, the first single may have a great beat, but it’s only one song.

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."