HBO's Vinyl is a shrug-inducing ersatz epic

Broken record

HBO's Vinyl is a shrug-inducing ersatz epic

Stepping back to assess the respective oeuvres of Mick Jagger, Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese, one might come to the conclusion that their co-production Vinyl, though a convincing attempt, is a tale that could've been left untold. It's a valid go at something that is not altogether terrible, but it's far from the best output of any of the trio's careers. Only three episodes in, it's a bloated mess – and I place the onus of the shrug-inducing ersatz epic primarily upon their shoulders.

Richie Finestra, played by Bobby Cannavale, stars as a hardworking, formerly hard-partying record executive who has put his baser habits to bed at the behest of, and alongside, his loving wife (Olivia Wilde). In a world full of free drugs, meaningless sex and poorly portrayed rock & roll – Jagger's son James plays a particularly exaggerated role as the singer of a punk band named the Nasty Bitz, one of the worst fictional band names since the Wylde Ratttz, the fictitious glam-rock band from Velvet Goldmine, or the Oneders ("that's pronounced Wonders") from That Thing You Do – Finestra bounces back and forth between the boardroom and the barroom. After squashing a million- dollar buyout from German-owned PolyGram Records, Finestra and his business partners (including a convincing Ray Romano as the Jewish moneyman) are back in the market for some new "raw" talent.

Upon putting the kibosh on the PolyGram deal, Finestra dives headfirst into the cocaine-fueled, liquor-lapping world from which he recently pulled himself. But not before getting in over his head with the brash owner of several prominent radio stations, played by an unrecognizable but totally believable Andrew Dice Clay. The spinout is exacerbated by a (historically true, though highly manipulated in the script) building collapse at a New York Dolls show. It's one of the few scenes in the series in which the songs don't sound like the bland, affected Dumpster-ditties utilized throughout the rest of the series, and it reinvigorates Finestra's lust for life and real rock & roll.

The episodes travel back and forth through time, cataloging the ups and downs of Richie's career – those he's fucked and fucked over – but it never really finds traction. At least not on the level at which Scorsese, Jagger and Winter usually function. Perhaps, however, Vinyl's first three episodes are simply a snapshot of the greater picture – three tracks off of an album that, once finished, begs to be flipped and spun again.

Vinyl screens at 9 p.m. Sunday nights on HBO and on HBO Go.

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