Vinyl, Season 1, recently got its home video release from HBO, and I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to take a look at it.
Partly created by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, who also directed the two-hour pilot, the series is set in New York during the early 70s and follows Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), a record producer and music manager for American Century records, as he tries to hustle artists, produce albums, stay on top, keep his wife, Dev (Olivia Wilde) and not tumble down the rabbit hole of drugs and alcohol again… oh, and maybe avoid being arrested for murder.
The series feels gritty, not quite dirty, but gritty, there’s a repulsive underbelly to the music world, and it is put on full display here against the backdrop of a very turbulent time in the industry.
The series is steeped in factual events, grounding the fictional company as much as possible. It also has actors portraying familiar faces like Bowie and Alice Cooper, as well as other headliners and those not so much as they attempt to navigate the coke-addled music scene.
The costume design, music, and story seems to be so spot on that it seems to verge on cliché, but some strong performances, not just from Cannavale and Wilde, but from Ray Romano (I didn’t even recognize him under the beard), Max Casella, and the scene-stealing Juno Temple, keep the series from sinking into what could be stereotype followed by cliché followed by stereotype.
Sending each member of his A&R team out with the imperative to come back to him in two weeks with a new act to sign, the viewer sees and hears a variety of artists, and the musical selections for the show’s soundtrack are excellent, and sometimes unexpected, but always perfectly married to the tone of the scene.
Richie and his team discover the blossoming Punk culture, and despite those in the company who think it’s anything but music, Richie realizes that this is where music is going and pushes for it.
There are backdoor deals with record stores for window displays, radio stations to get airplay, drugs, drinks and girls for the artists, and family drama for Richie and Olivia as they are both tempted back into the life instead of living in their marital suburban fantasy, which wasn’t all that they dreamed.
The show is forced to walk a fine line, because so much is known, or thought to be known, about the era and the music scene, and the behavior associated with it, that it could very easily be seen as one big send-up of a cliché, but the human characters, no matter how maligned and screwed over by one another, is what gives the show its reality.
There are looks inside each episodes, and the picture and sound is gorgeous, and while this one may not be for everyone, it is a bit of a must for any music fan.
Vinyl Season 1 is available now on Blu-Ray and DVD from HBO.