HBO period piece is a massive-scale production that transports viewers to the ’70s
Sex, drugs, rock and roll — three tried and true components to telling a classic story of debauchery and downfall, and three things HBO’s new entry “Vinyl” relies heavily on. Luckily it works — to a point.
The series, which had a long gestational period in development, brings star power both in front and behind the scenes. Showrunner Terence Winter and director Martin Scorsese are back together following their “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” days, with Mick Jagger on board as an executive producer. In front of the camera Bobby Cannavale lends leading man credit as record producer Richie Finestra, while the likes of Olivia Wilde, an unrecognizable Ray Romano and J.C. MacKenzie flank him as his wife and business associates.
The audience meets Richie at the pinnacle of his downfall. In a drug-addled craze he flashes back to all the key moments that got him to his current junky state, taking us through a two-hour pilot full of twists and turns. As we trace his history we’re tuned into the dark underbelly of the business, the one that once upon a time forced
Indeed, this is a story of that part of the ’70s as much as it is about Richie and his public fall from grace. Several plot points flex and meld together involving numerous characters, some at the top of their game, others having recently fallen and still others yet who are climbing their way to the top. Along the way are a plethora of rock names and icons — both fictional and real — helping to define the era and music, which is so key to this overall premise.
At times there seems to be too much going on in the pilot, between Richie running away from gun-wielding lunatics, attempting to sign new talent, working to keep his existing roster, finagling a deal to sell his company and balancing his precarious home life. But it’s no greater a flaw than most pilots attempting to set up the scheme of things face, and the action never seems bogged down or tied up in specifics. If anything, it leaves viewers questioning how one man could possibly go through so much without cracking. And then, sure enough, he cracks in the biggest (and perhaps most confusing) way possible by the episode’s end.
The acting delivers much as one would expect with such an all-star cast, with Cannavale taking up the now-popularized anti-hero role with aplomb. He draws sympathy thanks to the company he keeps, including his bumbling associates, who threaten to derail his deal at every turn. Romano, who showed his dramatic chops on NBC’s “Parenthood,” continues to hone them here in a role very much unlike anything else he’s ever done. For her part, Wilde has no problem keeping up as the housewife with a past, and throws it down in one particularly memorable scene with Cannavale that will have plenty of viewers holding their breath.
Visually, the cinematic scope very much defines this as a big budget HBO offering, one that could play in more than just a home theater. With such pizzazz going into the visuals it would be easy for the story itself to get caught up in the odd style and tone. Instead the two work hand-in-hand to deliver that extra narrative punch, delivering one of the most intriguing and finished-feeling shows of 2016 to date.
“Vinyl” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO.