I wanted to love ‘Vinyl.’ I really did.
Because it has everything. It has Scorcese. It has Jagger. It’s about music. In the early 70s. In New York. You should not be able to combine all of those things and have it come out so… mediocre.
And that’s precisely what Vinyl is. I hate to make this comparison, because I love the city and I always will, but it’s sort of a mirror of what New York has become over the years. Which is to say, it’s inauthentic.
Let’s talk specifics. A music executive, Richie Finestra, played perfectly adequately by Bobby Canavale, owns a record label that’s running out of capital, a victim to the excesses of the times. His backstory has him starting out in the music business because of his love of the jump blues — a genre that’s all about authenticity. The first artist he tries to promote back in the early days of his career is a blues genius, and I won’t spoil the specifics, but it doesn’t end well. His guilt over that is supposed to be one of the things that drives him. That, and what his colleagues call his “good ears.” He’s the only guy who can hear that ABBA is going to be huge. And Donny Osmond, etc., etc.
But ultimately, the whole thing devolves into what has now become a lazy trope for Scorcese, a struggle for power. And while that’s worked for a lot of his films, even his recent ones like ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘The Departed,’ it really doesn’t work for ‘Vinyl.’ It’s just tired. You can see him working behind the scenes to build up the stakes, with Finestra’s business, his passions, his family, and his personal life, but in the end, you just don’t care. It didn’t help that the pilot was two hours, which was WAY too long. John Oliver’s show, which preceded it and was only a half hour, was ten times more engaging.
Scorcese may just be too close to all of this stuff to be really objective about it. New York, rock & roll, the 1970s, drugs — especially cocaine. Man. You wanna see Scorcese on cocaine? Watch the scene from Taxi Driver where he’s the guy who makes Travis Bickle drive him to his wife’s apartment so he can watch her have sex with another man. He’d hired another actor to do the role, but he wasn’t getting it right, so Scorcese stepped in. He was coked out of his mind. And he was fucking AWESOME.
Turns out, he had a pretty major problem with coke and had to get sober. I’m not saying, by the way, that people who have a problem shouldn’t quit doing drugs. But maybe some people do their best work while they’re on drugs. Is that a mixed message? Probably.
But that’s just the thing. There’s a scene in Vinyl where Bobby Canavale’s character relapses on coke, and it’s the worst, most contrived scene in the whole episode. I just don’t think Scorcese can get the proper perspective on the things he loves (or used to love). It’s counter intuitive, but I think it’s the case. And apparently no one was willing to tell him that he wasn’t getting it right. Because he’s, you know, Scorcese.
Ultimately, Vinyl is a show about a guy no one who can say no to, made by a guy who no one can say no to.