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Many were thrilled when HBO's run-amok series Vinyl was denied a second season. The New Yorker stated "Vinyl, in other words, is the Hard Rock Café: chaos for tourists."
Despite what critics and music fans alike have said about what turned into a single-season-series, Vinyl wasn’t too awful to sit through. Granted, I’m incredibly biased. I grew up listening to the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. Martin Scorsese is one of my favorite directors. I live in New York, and am always enchanted by what the city has to offer.
However, there is something to be said about the history of music and New York that we are told through Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale). The series feels like The Wolf of Wall Street and Good Fellas, but in another era with another world to focus on. It’s drug laced. It’s fun. It’s somewhat nonsensical, but at the same time, it’s an interesting look at the music scene in the 70s that couldn’t be told any other way without debauchery.
The series opens with Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), struggling with the choice of selling his company, American Century Records, over to a German label to keep it alive. Over the course of the series, he faces the challenges of keeping his company alive and avoiding succumbing to drugs. He checks out music scenes, and tries to expand his audience by bringing in new talent. All the while, Finestra avoids the cops as an accessory to murder.
The cast includes Ray Romano as his business associate, Juno Temple as a Peggy Olson figure trying to make it big in the record business, Olivia Wilde as Finestra's wife and former Andy Warhol muse, and even James Jagger as the lead singer of Nasty Bits, Finestra's band of choice to get American Century Records back on track.
Writers Terence Winter and Scorsese make the dialogue very reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street. There’s no way something with the source material that Vinyl has could have justified a long movie. The minutia and crazy plot is almost addicting to share, despite the pilot episode’s slow pace. The scenes in the pilot where Finestra gives his voice-over about the business are great, and bring me back to Wolf. A continuation of the voice-over would have serves the series well, as the blunt commentary made me laugh. He does the best he can to keep the peace in the crazy industry.
Yes, the pilot did feel slow and like a few different scenes juxtaposed without any reason. There is very little flow, and nothing feels like it makes sense. I mean, a rock concert was so rambunctious that the walls literally crumbled around Finestra, and he is symbolically rebirthed from the rubble. Okay.
But if you hang on for just one more episode, you’ll be hooked more than you thought. I promise. The plot speeds up and the series becomes addicting.
The aesthetic is so extra. However, that was how the 1970s were. Lots of drugs, tinted glasses and bright colors. The overgrown hairstyles and details like car phones and funky medallions definitely transports the viewers into a completely different world.
Stylistically, the excess is signature for Scorsese. The camera angles pull you in, this way you can really see everything. I’m actually starting to question whether or not there were hairdressers used in the 70s. Did they all have salon strikes? We're haircuts too expensive to get regularly? Who knows.
Point is, Vinyl is fun to look at.
And the sound? No matter what is going on, there is music playing, even if faintly in the background. The rock genre perpetually stays with you, and now all I’ve been listening to is what is played on the show.
And can we please talk about Bobby Cannavale? He is 110% a Scorsese man. His Richie Finestra is pure at first, and gets sucked into the chaotic world of drugs, sex, and rock n roll. He has a victim of circumstance vibe about him, as the rock and roll life chose him. He’s actually a not a completely terrible, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is an antihero as the time goes on, which is why it’s hard to root for him and even harder to root against him. Caught between doing what’s right for him and what’s even better for the greater good is a theme common in many Scorsese pieces.
The series does an okay job at intertwining the fantastical story that could have been told better about the New York music scene. Names like Bruce Springsteen and Freddie Mercury came up in conversation. Andy Warhol is very good friends with Dev (Wilde), and then the team meets Elvis Presley out west. David Bowie becomes a potential client at one point, and only till the last episode do we realize we've met Freddie Mercury.
Early on audiences meet Robert Plant, and then towards the end meet John Lennon.
There was so much potential for where the series could have gone. There's no way the amount of source material necessary to tell the complete story could have been condensed into a film. I would have loved to see what else Richie's wife was up to, as her character was much more than just the menial Connecticut housewife. She had so much potential to grow and become a key player in the changing NY art scene.
Overall, here was so much untapped potential for a second season of Vinyl. The same characters in Manhattan at the newly named Alibi Records would have explored other music scenes. Disco was on the rise to becoming popular, along with hip-hop, punk...dance music is even mentioned in the final episode as an “untapped market.” Freddie Mercury is even introduced as a potential foreshadowing throughout the series. What about MTV? Even though the channel wasn't born until 1981 and I'm overshooting, that is a great story to be told as well.
There was a lot of setup for more of the series, and I’m disappointed Vinyl didn’t make it to a second season. The compelling story of the music history shaping itself in New York and beyond could have made for great television.
The New York Times reported the cancellation as unexpected, reporting the show struggled to gain traction as the series went on. “Obviously, this was not an easy decision,” HBO said in a statement. “We have enormous respect for the creative team and cast for their hard work and passion on this project.” However, do not let the lack of a second season to bar you from watching and enjoying the first season.
As a compelling story that had so much more potential, Vinyl sets the stage for what could have been an explosive second season. The history of music is filled with great details that could have found a home here. It embraces the New York music scene like never before, but with a stronger plot could have become the quintessential way television told these stories.