TV Killed The Rock-‘n’-Roll Star

We were all disappointed in HBO’s “Vinyl.” I think I made it through a handful of episodes before I finally gave up. I hadn’t gotten around to “Roadies,” but hearing viewers’ reactions, critics’ write-ups, and it being canceled quickly after the final episode of the first season, doesn’t add any urgency to my picking it up. The year started with so much promise with news of the two shows. We were finally getting something for the music fanatic to add into our binge-watching queue. And then we watched them. You could see the writing on the wall from the beginning. Maybe we’re more upset, this time around, because of who was involved. It was great on paper. On one side, you had Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese on “Vinyl.” One of the greatest rock-and-rollers of all time, a man who had lived the stories they were pulling from, teamed with one of the greatest director/storytellers ever. Perfect! On the other side, you have Cameron Crowe and J.J. Abrams teaming up for “Roadies.” Crowe, the man behind, arguably, the greatest rock-and-roll movie of all time, “Almost Famous.” Both shows even had real musicians guesting. But, it wasn’t enough. They just never lit. They never worked. Dennis Leary’s “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” made it past season one, but I expect it only made it to a second round due to Leary’s history with FX. It, too, is gone now. Otherwise, “The Get Down” had a decent first season, but it’s not quite there, though I have higher hopes for the next round.

It all begs to question: Why can’t anyone write a good TV show that’s based on music? Is it the format, or just bad writing? Seeing how every other genre doesn’t seem to have had any trouble making the jump from the big screen to the small makes it all the more frustrating. Is it really that hard? Is it just the format in itself? I can name countless great shows that aren’t directly about music, but use it as a backdrop to tell their stories to great results — “From The Wonder Years” to “My So Called Life,” “Freaks and Geeks” to “Scrubs” and “True Blood” to “Master of None.” Or, on the film side, something like “Dazed and Confused” or “Garden State.”  None is about music, but music plays a role in all of them, as if it were its own character. It’s one of the reasons I became a fan of “Gilmore Girls” (obviously, as I’m referencing for the second week in a row). It talked about musicians, name dropped and even debated albums. It had the conversations that I was having with my friends.

And maybe that’s the biggest problem with TV shows about music is: It’s almost like they take the reason we’re all watching for granted. They do the opposite of all of the aforementioned shows by focusing on tired plot lines that we could have gotten most anywhere else. The one place you’d think we’d be happy turns out to be the place with the least soul. We relate to the nerds, not the actual rock stars. Why did “Almost Famous” work so well? My guess is not because of Stillwater, great as they were, but because of William Miller. He was surrounded by music, but he was one of us. He was, as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs proclaimed, uncool. We’re uncool. Lindsay Weir and Daniel Desario were uncool. Kevin Arnold was uncool. Dev Shah is uncool. Richie Finestra from “Vinyl” is just a mess, and as interesting as the concept might be, I can’t ultimately root for, or relate to, the villain no matter what he does to try for redemption. He’s the record label guy, and, as we all learned when we were young, they’re the bad guys. (Side note, I have a ton of record label friends, and all but one of them are amazingly sweet, gracious people who are huge, real music fans, as nerdy as any of us.)

If we’re ever going to get a great rock ’n’ roll TV show, it’s gotta have soul, and maybe it has to have more of us in it than them. A show where we can all ham out in front of our mirrors, hairbrush in hand. Leave the bravado and debacle for the biographies, and give us something that will make us laugh at ourselves, together.