On Sunday, February 14th, HBO premiered its newest addition to its ever-lustrous Sunday night schedule. A period piece, co-produced in part by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, Vinyl offers an insight of the mid-twentieth-century American music industry through the life of the financially, socially, and emotionally congested protagonist, Rich Finestra. As popular culture blossoms in the early 1970s, Finestra, played by Bobby Cannavale, thrashes in an intoxicated effort to keep his sinking record label afloat— staking his claim as the new Don Draper in the process.
At the directorial helm of the nearly two-hour epic of a pilot episode is a man who knows the time and place all too well, Martin Scorsese. The episode is visibly and tonally recognizable as a Scorsese piece in it’s storyline, narration, and shot sequencing. Scorsese taps into the distinct images of a less than glamorous 1970s Manhattan—the same Manhattan of his 1976 Taxi Driver and 1973’s Mean Streets. While many shots nostalgically read as though they were pulled directly from Taxi Driver’s now 40-year-old editing bin, Scorsese also manages to beam a contemporary light on the material at hand. The ending result grants the drama an aura that breathes in such a way that likely would have thrilled a younger Scorsese.
While Rick Finestra looks likely to grow into the next Don Draper, this pilot ultimately fails to be as engaging as Mad Men first was in 2007. Everyone has a preconceived image of a 20th century New York businessman, but Mad Men offered an exposition of the advertisement industry’s seedy motives of philandering “family men” outside the household. This is what lined the Mad Men pilot in a golden frame—the reveal, surprise, and suspense. Here, in Vinyl, the alcohol, the drugs, the ever-looming threat of infidelity lack the same stealth, as these components of the music industry have already been exposed and glorified in storytelling.
The series may already be teed up for predictability. Richie Finestra’s juggling of a potential contract with Led Zeppelin is barely suspenseful as we can readily fathom the realities of the self-destructive musicians’ drug and alcohol addictions. By the pilot’s end, there’s an allusion to an ensuing reimagining of the Sid and Nancy tale with the introduction of a quasi-Sex Pistols group, The Nasty Bits, and a young office worker’s infatuation with the front man. We know how these things tend to turn out, but that may not keep you from watching, as this particular engagement still has time and space to prove its ability to innovate. Good luck, Richie Finestra, you pseudo-Don Draper, you.
Image Via, HBO