Have you ever fallen asleep while binge-watching a series on Netflix? Episode after episode cycles on by without pause as you’re knocked out cold on the couch atop the clicker and a bag of chips. Hours later, you wake up to the series’ menu with suggestions of what to watch next that are so far off base you can’t help but wince in your dazed stupor. Because it’s Saturday in this hypothetical situation, you remain intent in watching and clumsily try to remember what episode you left off at, only to stumble two chapters ahead in which Character A hates Character B and Character C has now been written as the nemesis of Character D. Soon enough, you realize things aren’t where they’re supposed to be, click back a couple episodes, and once again find solace in the lofty comforts of a structured narrative. That’s sort of how “Take My Picture by the Pool” feels on this week’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, except that, no, we haven’t fallen asleep and, yes, this is exactly where we’re told to be.
After two comparably promising episodes—“Supercalifragilisticjuliefriggingandrews” and “Hard Out Here for a Pimp”—Denis Leary’s win some, lose some FX series takes another hard tumble. Who’s fault is it? Does it really matter? Do we have to answer that? Of course, but let’s divvy up the blame, shall we? Truth be told, “Take My Picture by the Pool” suffers from a major problem amidst a number of minor ones. The most glaring issue is the jump in both narrative and logic, starting when Josh Pais’ rattled Ira, who might as well had walked in and shook everyone’s hands saying, “Hey guys, my name’s ex Machina—Deus ex Machina,” materializes in the studio and startles everyone with the news that Sony wants to offer Gigi a record contract and a $250,000 advance. (Who does he think he is? Frankie Sharp?) Even better, they want Johnny Rock and Flash on board as songwriters behind the scenes, leaving Bam Bam and Rehab in the dust. “They said the drummer is too fat,” Ira explains to no one’s surprise, adding: “And the bass player was old enough to be Frank Zappa’s father.” Ouch.
That’s okay. If you recall, Bam Bam and Rehab have that “beastcore” side project from last week’s episode (see: Three Dolphin Clicking Sounds), and although there’s been zero narrative between then and now, Ira’s all set to start booking them DJ gigs. This doesn’t sit too well with Rehab, who, in an admittedly rare defining moment, rips up Ira’s white flag, mumbles something about their “beastcore manifesto”, and cites a sacred rule about not selling out. Let’s stop for a second and address a few reasons why this conflict is mildly upsetting and confusing. To recap, Bam Bam and Rehab were fairly content going off on their own last week, and their success, at least according to Ira, was a surprising feat in itself. So, why Leary decided to skip that promising beat and segue straight into a fairy tale scenario is beyond me. Bam Bam and Rehab’s triumph should have been The Heathens’ loss, at least that’s how it was set up in the final moments of “Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”
Yet once again, the show’s limiting format and claustrophobic run time rears its ugly head, forcing what could have been a slow burn of a narrative into a hustled and bustled scenario that really only capitalizes on the lead characters’ predictably awful indulgences and their even more predictably shallow moralities. Of course, Johnny and Flash are going to be stoked about the new deal, despite the fact that it’s screwing over Bam Bam and Rehab. Of course, Gigi will champion her own cause, and later come to regret her decision. Of course, they’re all going to backpedal their way out of another obvious problem. Granted, nothing lasts forever, but nothing manages to last more than 22 minutes in this series, and that’s a glaring crisis that Leary still hasn’t resolved. Because of this, the series is back to being a frantic mess, unsure of what it is because it’s equally unsure of what it wants to be. If this all sounds repetitive, consider this an apology, but it’s utterly baffling how up and down this series goes.
There was one change behind the scenes this week. Leary’s son, Jack, who has served as a script coordinator all season, hopped alongside his pops in the writer’s chair. Who’s to say if he suggested the frivolous contract subplot, but the episode doesn’t exactly bode well for his inclusion. To be fair, “Take My Picture by the Pool” has more glaring issues outside of its hammy and erratic script, as aforementioned. Director Michael Blieden is also off his game here, and namely with his manic stylistic decisions—from the awkward club night snapshots, employed to conjure up the lively atmosphere in lieu of zero extras, to Gigi’s gratuitous slow-motion curtain call, seemingly designed for hormonal fanboys to reach for the closest box of Kleenex. Even the guest casting, which has been the most consistently rewarding facet of the series thus far, failed to elicit much of a reaction. Flaco Navaja’s role as a phony pop producer was just … too much. Sure, that was the running joke and the episode’s attempt at a twist, but good lord.
There were some bright spots: It’s always fun watching Leary and John Corbett spar with one another. Bobby Kelly and John Ales do save a dour scene with a witty convo about spirit animals. And even amidst his faults, Blieden manages to sneak in some clever visual commentary by cross-cutting Johnny’s facial reconstruction with Gigi’s make up sessions. Still, it’s just not worth it in the long run, not when every episode feels like it’s pathetically selling off stories at half-price to keep the action moving. Nine episodes down and already we’ve met Gigi’s mother, seen a Heathens comeback, attended a wedding with Johnny’s parents, gone to therapy, traveled overseas, faked deaths, attempted sobriety, witnessed side projects, and, well, you get the point. Now, we’ve seen the gang sign a record contract, only to wipe their collective ass with it. What does this all prove? What did we learn? What changes? Where should they go from here? Better yet, where could they go from here? Do we even care anymore?
Meh, leave me snoozing on the chips.
- Gigi: “I hate that I know what’s happening right now.” Must be nice.
- This episode’s drinking game? Take a shot every time someone says “Gaga.” Good luck.
- Johnny’s weird obsession with fine liquor rivals Jay Z’s love for fine threads. And yet, he’s offended by being mistaken for Jon Bon Jovi?
- B-Lap, aka “Bitches be lappin’ up his vids.” #killmenow
- Can someone please, please, please trademark Cheesecake Cheetah?
- Okay, okay, the New Johnny was pretty funny. Though, prior to the Bon Jovi gag, I had him finally pegged as Bowie. No?
- Rehab: “How old are the guys from Daft Punk?” Bam Bam: (shrugs) “Nobody knows.” Ahem. ::raises up glasses:: Thomas Bangalter turned 40 this past January, while Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo blew out 41 candles the month after.
- Rehab is DJ Whale Earnhardt, Jr. Bam Bam is DJ Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Even Rehab’s tired of the gluttony: “Dude, what the hell? Again with the food?”
- “A Jon Bon Jovi blow job is still a blow job.” Write that down.
- One more episode left and it’s called “Because We’re Legion.” Will Bam Bam and Rehab’s impromptu remix conquer the airwaves? Will The Heathens play Riot Fest? Will Johnny look like Rod Stewart again? See you next week, folks.