There’s nothing new about seeing a TV show, revelling in the excess of drugs, sex and violence, that follows a male character navigating the treacherous waters of his (usually historical) environment to intense and often wild effect. The focal point of Vinyl is the record industry of New York in the 1970’s. The character bearing the name of ‘conflicted male lead’ is Richie Finestra, a record executive whose label American Century is falling under some particular rough times in the midst of a shift in the musical climate as new movements are beginning to infiltrate the listening public.
The wild 2 hour pilot plays like a ‘take it or leave it’ piece, premising the show as a quintessentially HBO TV show in its excessive assertion of adult content, whilst also venturing into a melodrama thats every bit the mirror of the legendary tales the era has spawned. It’s not sold anyone, but Vinyl is not the kind of show to nuance its characterisation with the patience and subtlety of shows like Mad Men. Nor does it posses the sophistication of the Boardwalk Empire mould. Martin Scorsese directs the pilot in trademark fashion, beginning at the end and proceeding to flesh out a full circle. We’re given the world of Vinyl, a hyperreality of the recording industry, which has to be take with some element of truth with Mick Jagger serving as Executive producer for the series. It’s disgusting, but in equal measure enthralling; Bobby Cannavale is Excellent as Finestra, approaching the role with exactly the kind of investment and exuberance that has been required of any character of this mould. Only time will tell if he belongs in such company as the Tony Soprano’s and Don Drapers of television, the kind of performance with the ability to peel back the layers of their character with true conviction.
With Finestra the shows staple, Vinyl thus far has circulated around the conflict of a genuine care for music with the ugliness of an industry thats frustratingly short sighted and morally ambiguous. Olivia Wilde, on one hand underused, plays Fenestra’s increasingly alienated stay at home wife. A former artist, her character captures a distress between the dream world of rock and roll and the harsh reality that lies beyond it. Held almost as captive in a mansion her husband rarely visits, it forms a nice arc that looks to become increasingly crucial as the story moves forward.
There’s also fictionalised versions of familiar faces, from Andy Warhol to Alice Cooper, the disingenuousness of them serving as a reminder not to take the whole thing to seriously. Without falling into a dangerous trap of parody, Vinyl manages to mine its originality from a very personalised insight into an industry so shrouded in myth. It is, in essence another story that adds such myth, but this should be a selling point for any fans of its subject matter rather than a detraction. As the first season of the show approaches its midpoint, the future looks both bright and intriguing.