Denis Leary’s ‘Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll’ Desperately, Unsuccessfully Attempts to Be Cool


When a show is titled Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, it’s sure to give you the impression — before you even watch an episode — that it’s going to be creaky and desperate. And that’s exactly what Denis Leary’s new comedy series is.

Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is Leary’s second show on FX, preceded by the drama Rescue Me. In it, the comedian plays Johnny Rock (strike one), an aging musician and frontman of the defunct band The Heathens. He was once a cool rock-star druggie, now he’s a lame has-been druggie. It’s not an original story, and Sex — I refuse to type out that full title one more time — does not aim to make it an original story. Or maybe it does, and it’s just really, really bad at it. Yet the show is not bad enough to be enjoyable to hate. Rather, it commits one of the worst television sins: It is incredibly, unforgivingly boring.

The Heathens, consisting of terribly named Johnny Rock, Flash (John Corbett), Bam Bam (Bobby Kelly), and Rehab (John Ales), were a popular, influential band (as we learn through a fake documentary and cameos by musicians like Dave Grohl — of course) that flamed out as quickly as they showed up, splitting on the night their album was released. Fast-forward a few decades, and Johnny is a broke wash-up who spies a hot woman at a bar, attempts to shove his tongue down her throat, and then learns that she’s his daughter.

Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies) is an “unbelievable singer” who’s trying to get famous but needs Johnny’s help to write lyrics. But since Johnny isn’t good at writing solo, and neither is Flash, she needs to reunite the two in order to start her own band. She has money, and that entices Johnny — far more than the prospect of, you know, getting to know the daughter who randomly showed up. Gigi could be a good character, but her only emphasized traits are “good singer” and “super hot.”

SEX&DRUGS&ROCK&ROLL – Pictured: Liz Gillies as Gigi. CR. Danny Clinch/FX

Gigi is a total bombshell (when we first meet her, literally all we see is her chest framed in the screen), and we’re told this repeatedly —especially through a scene where Johnny tells his band not to sleep with his daughter while they all talk candidly about her body parts. She listens outside with an “aw shucks, Dad!” look on her face. We also see endless visual evidence of Gigi’s hotness. In particular, there’s a bikini photo Johnny uses to convince Flash to write with him (really, the crux of the scene is, “I have a hot daughter, you can meet her if you agree”), which pops up all over the Internet in a later episode, in case we forgot that Gigi is hot. If nothing else, I guess you can say the series commits to its characterizations.

Take Johnny Rock. He partied hard in his heyday and never stopped. An entire episode, the second one, revolves around him insisting that he needs drugs and booze in order to write music. It’s an old, cliched tale that name-drops plenty of boozy/druggy musicians (Ramones, Stones, Replacements), as well as their lesser opposites (Radiohead, Morrissey), as reasons to get fucked up while drinking. He needs to drink and do drugs in order to write music. What follows could have been something interesting — an actual debate about the emphasis on and glorification of drugs in music — but no, it just resets to a shrug when (spoiler alert?) Johnny keeps on boozin’.

There were five episodes sent out to critics; I stopped seeing anything worth noting midway through Episode 3, because it was clear where the show was going. There are stories about Johnny’s false death rumors being used for monetary gain, and Johnny screwing up as he performs, and lots of long, boring scenes about writing. Sex includes plenty of namedropping and showoff-y cameos (“Look, we’re cool enough to know who Joan Jett is,” basically) and extended musical performance scenes featuring some of the all-time worst tunes from a fictional TV band (that are also just as boring as the narrative surrounding them).

Fortunately, we’ve been blessed this summer with an overwhelming amount of television to watch — and even lots of surprisingly good, well-written, and compelling television for once, instead of burnouts and reality shows. So there is no need for Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. TV doesn’t need another story about a snarking, “edgy,” aging white man, and we certainly don’t need to watch it.