Before The Heathens record their next surefire hit, “Complicated”, Greg Dulli’s “favorite alt-rock studio guru” J.P. (Rob Morrow) surreptitiously drops little secrets in the ears of each member. “Gigi so knows about you and Ava,” he tells Flash. “Johnny thinks your weight’s making you a weak leak,” he burns Bam Bam. “You are so beautiful,” he leers at Ava, before adding: “Gigi knows about you and Flash.” Through puffs of smoke, he materializes in front of Rehab and fibs, “Johnny thinks you’re a better bass player than John Entwistle ever was.” Finally, he sits down next to Gigi at the piano, and whispers: “Your dad wrote this song about your feelings toward him, Flash wrote it with you in mind, and also, I’m pretty sure Flash slept with Ava.” These lies and half-truths are intended to motivate the band to be their best on tape, while also highlighting the divine wisdom of this John Varvatos-wearing sleaze-ball/self-proclaimed “vibe advisor.”
But really, J.P. feels more like an unintended parallel to Leary’s way of thinking in the writer’s room. Little verbal cues should translate into organic magic, right? That may work in Gigi’s magical recording studio (once again, Dulli penned a serviceable song for the series), but as we’ve witnessed all season, that methodology doesn’t exactly work so well in real life. Week after week, Leary has slapped a multitude of Post-It notes on his handful of characters with the intention that at least one should stick, only to find them crumpled up on the floor minutes later—mostly on his accord. As such, it’s made for an increasingly frustrating watch that has left this show bereft of any substance. Now, it’s time for Leary to finally wake up from his rockist wet dream, as “Because We’re Legion” caps off a mismanaged season with surprisingly one of its more low tempo episodes. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of potential drama, but at this point, we know it’s all lip synching bullshit.
If you didn’t gather from above, Flash and Ava’s big shared secret is an affair that occurred 25 years prior due to “revenge and madness.” Johnny doesn’t know, naturally, and he still doesn’t by the episode’s final curtain call. But Gigi does, which could make for an icy moment in the future, that is if FX opts in for a sophomore season. (Judging by the season’s ratings, which have been as up and down as Leary’s narrative, it’s not exactly a guarantee.) Then again, does this story even fit anymore? For the last three to four episodes, the series has done away with any thread that could be construed as serious, capitalizing instead on the more comedic elements that this show needs to facilitate its incredibly debilitating 22-minute format. Such a revelation for Johnny wouldn’t exactly fit into Leary’s current model in which any and all conflict is conveniently wrapped up in a neat little package. Sadly, there was a point this beat would have been ideal, but that note has rung out far beyond reach.
Actually, everything might be at this junction. Because Leary has consistently struggled to elaborate on any of his one-note characters, we’re still left with predictable jokes that shouldn’t even be considered recyclable at this point. During last week’s “Take My Picture By The Pool”, Rehab griped about Bam Bam’s own redundancies, calling him out by asking: “Dude, what the hell? Again with the food?” That this was even a line in the actual show speaks to the obvious elephant in the writer’s room, no pun intended. (Mind you, I’m not offended by the onslaught of fat jokes. I’m offended by the lack of ingenuity.) Simply put, Leary has never given any of his personalities a chance, boxing them in no different than he does on screen with the claustrophobic sets. This week, the only ostensible difference is an egregious glut of stupidity, from Bam Bam’s ditzy and slapstick helmet conundrum to Flash literally doing a montage-fueled double take as if he was a dopey Chuck Jones creation.
What’s depressing is how everyone in the cast has been so game to do something more with the ridiculous source material they’ve been handed, and they’re partly why this show hasn’t been exactly insufferable all summer long. From the beginning, there’s been an almost unspoken heart to Leary and John Corbett’s chemistry, but even now their scenes together feel rare and underwritten. For weeks I’ve raved about the bond between Bobby Kelly and John Ales, the two heroes of the series who have elevated whatever asinine situations they were tossed into. And there hasn’t been one week where one of you readers don’t pine for something better for Elizabeth Gillies, who has carried this show’s proceedings far too many times than any lead or supporting role should ever have to on a weekly basis. It’s almost like you can see her own frustration in this season finale, knowing that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, that things are almost over, and she can just … walk away.
Having said all that, there’s still reason to believe that Leary can deliver another promising series—just not this one. To be fair, there were certainly glimpses of genuine humor and emotion within this season of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, only they were just that: glimpses. Altogether, the series has felt like a tedious 100-piece puzzle, only every fourth or fifth piece seems like it belongs in one of the other more complex boxes across the room and, for some reason, there’s a loose part from Mouse Trap mixed in the mess. Okay, that’s not the smartest or savviest metaphor, but it’s one way to describe how frustrating it has been watching what should have been something so simple be jumbled into something so needlessly disconnected. Ten episodes in the can, and many peaks and valleys behind us, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll feels as if Leary simply ran into the dark with a vintage Walkman and a single Ramones cassette, knowing damn well that he had to tackle whatever was in the title without any thought as to what he might put behind it.
And that’s that.
- I love Greg Dulli, but this was some crazy hagiography here.
- “What’s My Name” belongs to Rihanna. “Complicated” belongs to Avril Lavigne. C’mon Heathens, you can do better than that.
- Deep Thoughts with Ira Feinbaum: “Anger and rage have no place the negotiation table.”
- The Beatles debate between everyone was a nice touch for this season’s final rock ‘n’ roll cliché. “If I’m being anybody, I’m being Paul,” Flash insists, who admits Lennon (who Johnny claimed) had “lots of talent” yet “no marketing ideas.”
- On second thought, J.P. is the textbook definition of a “walking cliché.”
- Post-mortem shots fired: “I’m not gonna be Linda. I can actually sing.” Pretty cold, Gigi.
- “Fuck The Beatles, let’s be The Who.” Love you, Bam Bam.
- Ava’s takedown of Flash was cold, severe, self-effacing, and commendable: “You want some stability or a guaranteed time line? Date someone my age.”
- What the hell was with the black and white photos of the band in the montage? What is this? Vanilla Sky? #forced
- When Ava timely slides over the ashtray towards Johnny and Rehab does the same with a napkin for Bam Bam, it almost made me wistful.
- Gotta appreciate the yeast infection gag.
- Parting words: Hope everyone had as much fun watching Leary’s leathered shenanigans go down as I did. It was an interesting summer watch, to say the least. In hindsight, I guess my real disappointment here is that Leary never bruised us once in any episode—and really, that was one of his finer attributes as a writer. Honestly, if you have Netflix, revisit Rescue Me some time and catch a few of these heavy-hitting moments, specifically the pilot’s beautiful closing montage, or the gripping final minutes of season two’s “Happy”, or even the vitriolic conclusion of season three’s “Discovery”. There’s a reason Leary has it good with FX, and a devout following of fans. He’s earned that much.
- And that really is that.