Few series that come along move me in some way. HBO's new series Vinyl struck a chord with me for some reason. I was blown away.
The fact that it's based on the New York rock scene in the 70's is cool, but great series and great movies are about great characters. What they do provide is the hook. What keeps you watching is the characters.
Bobby Cannavale is brilliant in his role as Richie Finestra; a deeply flawed and complex record company exec who can't seem to catch a break. But what also surprises me is the performances from people like Ray Romano and Andrew Dice Clay. Cannavale's portrayal of Richie, and the performances by some of the supporting cast is so convincing to me, I forget that I'm watching a show.
The film noir quality of the show is amazing as well and so perfectly reflects the darkness of the story and its characters.
It does a really interesting job of weaving real life bands and their members into the story lines similar to the way that Entourage did, except of course, they're not the actual people, but pretty damn accurate representations of people like David Bowie, Young Led Zep, Alice Cooper and John Lennon.
I remember watching Breaking Bad and thinking how dark it was.... This is darker in a much more compelling way.
I think the reason I'm so compelled to watch even though it's so depressingly dark at times is because Richie has a quality that you can't help pull for and hope that he'll either catch a break or redeem himself. You get these little glimpses of him and his brilliance and why he made it and you keep wishing that things will turn for him... At the risk of offering up spoilers they never really seem to turn, even though you get the feeling that someday they might.
Richie is emerging to be more and more like Walter White, but less evil in many respects. I see him as being in the "empire" business, but I think he's accepted the consequences of his actions and is trying to do his best to deal with them and try to turn himself and his life around. He went through a very interesting arc in this first season and overall I like how he's come out at the end. He has a lot more work to do, but it felt as though things were turning for him if only slightly in the finale with the launch of his Alibi Records label.
The critics are panning the series - saying it's broken or not working. Perhaps there is some truth to some of it. I think that the plot line about Richie and his involvement with the death of "Buck Rodgers" is a little weak and not quite so believable. Overall I don't think there's anything in here that's completely implausible given how the record industry worked back then, and how dangerous and corrupt New York City was in the 70's.
The absence of Richie's wife and kids in the season finale was a little obvious. There was no followup with her at all in fact so that felt like a gaping hole. I don't know if mainlining coke would snap you out of a heroin induced coma the way it did with James Jagger's character. I figured with Mick Jagger as an EP and advisor on the show, he's probably seen crazier things than that in his 6 or so decades in the business so there's probably something to it.
In all, I think that despite some of its weaknesses, the performances are solid and the characters are starting to find their feet.
It's rare that a season one of anything ever really crushes it and this show, while great, didn't really crush it. It was deeply dark, and very depressing for a lot of it. For a while, part of why I felt it was so well done had to do with what I think was a great job of making you feel what Richie was going through for most of the season. I think it also did a really great job with production design and making you feel like you were back in the 1970's.
It does have me hooked in a big way, and while there was a lot of brilliance in it, I don't think that it's for everyone. There are problems to work out sure, but overall, I felt it was very well done and I'm going to follow it into season two.