Cliches are to be avoided at all costs. They may have been clever when they were first written, but after being regurgitated by myriad unskilled wordsmiths over the years, they’ve not only lost all value, but they’ve gained a negative connotation. They’re lazy, and they’re unoriginal. That said, there really isn’t a better way to summarize HBO’s upcoming series Vinyl than by saying it has a lot of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
In typical HBO fashion, the show is decidedly raw: In just the first episode, there’s everything from excessive cocaine use to oral sex performed in public hallways to an all-out orgy. Mick Jagger co-created the series—along with Martin Scorsese, Rich Cohen, and Terence Winter, the latter of whom also helmed HBO’s The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire—so who’s going to call out the show for taking things to an unrealistic extreme? Who’s been there and seen more of what Vinyl is about than the frontman of The Rolling Stones?
By “there,” we’re referring to New York City, 1973. The premiere episode—which will air on HBO on February 14 at 9 p.m. EST—runs an intimidating two hours, deviating from the one-hour norm of the series, but every second is necessary. Richie Finestra is a nuanced character, and introducing him and the circumstances that lead to him being in the position in which he finds himself, makes for a packed and intense 120 minutes. Finestra, played by Bobby Cannavale, is a record label executive caught up in the trappings of the rock and roll lifestyle and trying his darndest to stay on the wagon. Cannavale turned in a confident and powerful performance, managing not to crumple under the pressures his character faces. He doesn’t turn in a “troubled protagonist looks blankly at the wall to appear contemplative” performance: There’s life in his often-bloodshot eyes.
The rest of the main cast is also beyond serviceable, which is important because—being a Scorsese production—the subplots are as deep as the characters experiencing them. Finestra’s subordinates are key in establishing his character by reacting to him in a way that shows Finestra is a reasonable man who is also to be feared if he is wronged. Ray Romano brings a raw, biting, and necessary dark humor to the role of Zak Yankovich, Finestra’s right-hand man.
Elsewhere, Juno Temple embodies authenticity and youthful enthusiasm in the part of eager young employee Jamie Vine, who is trying to prove herself and work her way up the company. It’s a classic trope, sure, but that also means the character has clear motivation, and Temple has a hunger in her eyes that is entirely convincing.
It’s also worth mentioning that Finestra’s former colleague Lester Grimes is key in revealing a potential dark side of our protagonist that might crop up later, and that Mick Jagger’s son James does a totally serviceable job as punk rock singer Kip Stevens and makes it clear he’s not just here because of his last name. The supporting characters create a vivid universe for Finestra to inhabit and go about his business in, for sure, but they also have human dimensions and motivations of their own so you’re not just waiting to see Finestra’s face again when he’s not in the picture.
So far, we give the show 4 out of 5 burritos:
Are you looking forward to Vinyl? Do you think you’ll carve a couple hours out of your Valentine’s Day evening to catch the two-hour premiere? Let us know in the comments!