First, the good news: It looks like Vinyl’s correcting some of its missteps. Richie’s clean and sober (for now), and the first-season finale stays concerned with transitioning American Century into its new incarnation, Alibi Records. The recently axed Terence Winter, who wrote the episode, also gets to plant the seeds of conflict for next season, all of which seem like a more natural fit for a show about the music industry than, say, covering up a murder.
For instance, although Richie jumpstarts Nasty Bits’ career by having the police interrupt their set for obscenity charges, the band’s still going to have to contend with Kip’s heroin addiction and his jealousy over Alex, ignited by last week’s threesome with Jamie. And even though everyone—including the Bits themselves—is ecstatic about the cops cutting the f-bombs of “Woman Like You” short with their fists and billy clubs, Lester looks on from the balcony in horror. Supposed punk-rock purism aside, this is still an instance of manipulated rebellion on Richie’s part, or, more specifically, commodified rebellion. And commodification often leads to an artist getting screwed, something Lester knows all too well from experience. Similarly, Zak has little faith in the new counterculture (or at least trying-to-be-counterculture) direction of Alibi, gazing around with disenchantment while the entire staff graffitis the office at Richie’s command. He may not be ready to forgive his friend for throwing him under the bus just yet.
All of these threads are fertile ground for season two of Vinyl, and it’s encouraging to see the series shifting its focus to the clash of art and commerce, a theme that, while not exactly original, has still resulted in the show’s strongest episodes. But because there’s still a lot to tie up with a huge yet out-of-place story element; because there’s still an elephant to shove out of the room before things can progress in a more coherent fashion, a lot of the good stuff gets shortchanged in favor of cleaning house. I’m talking about Buck Rogers’ murder, of course, which finally gets put to rest during a tense meeting between Richie, Zak, Joe, and Corrado Galasso.
That only happens after Zak tries to make a move against Richie by reporting his partner’s lies and financial indiscretions to the crime boss. This causes Galasso to view Zak as untrustworthy, and after a raid of his chop shop, he wonders if the mild-mannered head of promotions might be the rat in question. Luckily for Zak, Joe gets defensive when Richie says anyone in the room could have been responsible for the tip-off. Joe then brings up Rogers’ murder in a huff, and, in the process, inadvertently convinces Galasso that he—not Zak or Richie—is the one who’s been talking to the police. One of Galasso’s men shoots Joe point-blank in the head, and Richie and Zak are free to go with a stern warning to focus on making money.
“We move forward, and we never have to talk about this again,” Richie assures Zak as they both flee. Amen to that. Just typing the above summary gives me a headache, the organized-crime elements still at odds with the rest of Vinyl, even after 10 episodes. While Richie’s label is technically still in business with Galasso, I’d be happy if we never see the mafia at all in the second season. The label can silently be indebted to the mob without ever delving into another Sopranos-lite storyline.
To be fair, the wiseguy business is a necessary evil in “Alibi,” but that doesn’t make it any less jarring, especially when its inclusion forces many of the show’s more interesting beats to be rushed. The journey of Clark and his mailroom pal Jorge (Christian Navarro) suffers the most. While it makes sense that their peddling the Indigo single to DJs around the city would take the club world by storm, it’s also a tad unrealistic to see them get the disco movement grooving in just a single montage. If Vinyl didn’t have to worry about spending almost half of its finale cleaning up the murder plot, their arc might have a little more room to breathe, and thus feel more natural. The same goes for Kip snapping out of an overdose so he can perform at the New York Dolls show (good thinking on that coke injection, Richie) and Richie witnessing Hilly Kristal’s germination of CBGB, both of which also feel glossed over.
Then there’s the issue of the cliche idealism found in Richie’s vision for Alibi. Vinyl has always floundered when he launches into one of his fiery monologues about realness and music that makes you feel something, and his spray-paint gesture only worsens that. Granted, it’s possible that we’re supposed to be on Zak’s side and think that what Richie’s saying is complete bullshit, that Alibi will soon deteriorate just as American Century did. But it’s hard to take the danger of Richie’s proposition as seriously as Zak does once you consider the nature of the sequence. The sight of a bunch of adults (many of them middle-aged) tagging the walls with phrases like “FUCK THIS PLACE”—all to the tune of MC5—comes off as lame and goofy as opposed to sufficiently doom-laden. If we’re meant to view it as a foreboding final moment, I just don’t see it.
Oh well. At least it’s tied to the business of making music. At the rate Vinyl was going for a while, “Alibi” could have just as easily ended in a shootout. With the drawing board now wiped clean of blood and a great deal of the coke residue, hopefully that kind of subject matter will soon be in the show’s past.
- It felt strange not seeing Devon this week, but hopefully it’s a sign of her and Richie being done for good. I still hope Olivia Wilde comes back for next year though.
- Equally puzzling is Paul Ben-Victor and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen’s top billing throughout the first season. Maybe there are bigger plans for both of their characters, but right now, Maury Gold and Ingrid mostly feel like guest roles.
- Fun fact: Producer Rick Yorn is the brother of Pete Yorn, of whom I’m a fan.
- Scott’s close on the fanciness of Cary Grant’s real name: Archibald, not Oswald.
- I’m supremely grossed out by the thought of Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron having sex with 12 women in four hours. Let’s hope we never see that in one of the show’s musical fever dreams.
- “You and Maury can suck the permission out of my dick.” For my money, Lester’s easily the MVP of Vinyl’s first season.
“It’s Mostly Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It)”
- I realized I never listed the show’s opening theme, “Sugar Daddy” by Sturgill Simpson.
- In the first scene with the detective, Richie puts Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” on the jukebox.
- I don’t recognize the two songs playing during Zak’s meeting with Galasso and can’t find the lyrics online. Does anyone know them?
- That’s a young Tony Bennett singing “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” in this week’s fever dream.
- Aretha Franklin’s “Pitiful” scores Joe’s visit to the office.
- The Allman Brothers Band’s “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” plays over Kip and Jamie’s argument.
- Julie’s impressed by Freddie Mercury’s performance on “The Night Comes Down” by Queen, which transitions us from Kip’s OD back to Zak’s office.
- The Stooges’ “Gimme Danger” serves as the house music before the Bits take the stage.
- Louis Jordan’s “Reet, Petite, And Gone” from the musical film of the same name plays during Richie’s second meeting with the detective.
- And MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams” takes us out.
- I got a screener of the finale this weekend, so this review was written before the Vinyl EP gets released at midnight. I’ll update this section with its track listing, covers by modern artists, and anything else on it that I left out later tonight.
- And as promised, I’ll be creating a massive Spotify playlist of all of this season’s songs after I’m done combing through the comments for any tunes that I missed. Feel free to point out any omissions for both this episode and the previous ones. Then check the “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll” section for the playlist around Wednesday or so!