“Whatever happens tonight, I remain confused.”
Vinyl closes its first season by cutting back and forth between Richie and Zak across a crowded room. It’s meant to remind us that the two men share a few too many secrets, and that the burden of guilt on Richie’s shoulders is far from lifted. It’s also almost completely flat, just like the preceding sequence in which Richie tells his employees and musicians to go nuts and spray-paint the label’s offices. The chaos he unleashes mirrors what he experienced in the pilot at the New York Dolls concert, but here there’s no raw-nerved depiction of the connection between music and listener to land the hullabaloo.
Nor is the stuff those close-ups on Cannavale and Romano are trying to remind us of all that interesting. The mob plot has potential, and in moments like Zak’s shit-smeared shoe abandoned on the street it taps into a Goodfellas-esque vibe that’s as comedic as it is stylish. The whole thing is hampered, though, by lazy writing and dull characters. With Bo Dietl’s rough-cut motormouth Joe Corso offed, all that remains are cardboard cutouts of time-shifted Sopranos characters. Galasso, played with apelike menace by Armen Garo, is a collection of mob boss cliches as tired as the tedious bad boy routine the show insists Richie enact again and again. The writing, the humanity, basically everything but the acting just falls one step short of good enough.
Last week’s randy, riotous threesome story petered out into the exact same rote band angst story I had praised it for avoiding. The whole thing is drearily paint-by-numbers, fight to overdose to Jaime out on her ass and the Bits rocking the stage in about ten minutes flat. Like most of the episode, there’s no time for beats to land or for characters to reflect or do anything but snarl at one another. Part of the appeal of shows about an industry is watching talented people collaborate in spite of their differences, but Vinyl sometimes mashes the “furious shouting” pedal a little too hard for anything else to come through. Jamie’s season-long arc feels like a bit of a mess, too, as does the prospect of Kip occupying the screen alone. Far from engaging despite a certain raunchy charm, Jagger never made much of his thin role.
In the midst of all this mess, in which Devon features not at all, there are glimmers of hilarity and fun. The conclusion of Clark and Jorge’s weird little subplot about the birth of dance music, even if it started off rocky and tone-deaf, is pure delight. Skip, Scott, and Zak bemoan their poor decision to dump Indigo in light of the band’s recent late-blooming success, a conversation so rushed that Scott has to spit his donut into his coffee to avoid choking when Clark, leaning through the mailroom window like Mr. Rogers looking in on the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, butts in with the news that he never sent the letter dropping Indigo. It’s a laugh-out-loud moment, and when seconds later Clark’s mention of Jorge prompts the execs to ask who the hell he’s talking about and Jorge to open the mailroom’s other window and smugly declares, “I’m Jorge,” I cackled. That’s the oddball shit Vinyl should focus on, because moments like the execs fighting in the back of their town car or getting completely steamrolled during a loan interview (“Did you have to stamp it?”) are some of the only things that have stayed with me. I’d rather see Scott spit half-chewed donuts than watch a watered-down version of Mad Men with shitty musical numbers substituting for actual transitions.
Vinyl‘s first season was hardly an even one. From a bizarre pilot in which character actor Bo Dietl beat Andrew “Dice” Clay to death with a radio award to hacky slogs like Richie palling around with his Teutonic ghost amigo, Vinyl is all over the place and always just shy of greatness. If it wants to survive and make something of itself, especially without veteran showrunner and Boardwalk Empire maestro Terrence Winter at its helm, it needs to get freaky right quick. There’s a core of weirdness and tenderness buried behind dumbass references like Richie finding himself privy, Gump-like, to the genesis of CBGB. Listen to him talk about how music saved his life, about his belief that the fuckups and weirdos of the world deserve an anthem, that they need an anthem, and you’ll see the glorious freakshow Vinyl could be.