This second episode of this largely unfortunate (but already renewed) music-biz drama was more brisk and engaging than the pilot, although much of its humor teeters on the line between deeply unintentional and knowing — but I’ll just pretend that we’re in on the joke. At least no one’s head gets bashed in, which is a huge step up from the previous installments. And after that episode’s two extremely long hours, the regular sacrilege the show commits with ’70s music icons has become a feature that’s easier to accept. And yet, every time Vinyl looks like it’s going to surrender to its premise and become slightly goofy nostalgic fun, it tries to say something serious about The Music, Man — and ends up as cheesy as your local high school production of The Music Man.
Richie is still on a serious bender, injured by the Mercer Arts Center collapse, watching kung fu classic Enter the Dragon in a rat-ridden theater, standing up front, and doing the martial arts moves alongside the characters. “Who the fuck are ya?” asks the proprietor, who thinks Richie is a bum. But this existential question reminds Richie that he has somewhere to be, namely around a conference table with the Germans, closing the deal.
At said table, where Richie is nowhere to be found (obviously), Richie’s goon squad distracts their guests with awkward chatter about The Who’s hotel-room antics and contemporary Broadway hits Pippin and Grease — including an obligatory racist comment from one of Richie’s goons towards his black female colleague, Sue. Zak pops a valium (pick your poison) when he calls Devon in the ‘burbs tells him that she hasn’t seen Richie since the previous day.
Just when things get too tense, our man walks into the conference room, battered and dirty, and starts screaming about how he mugged God. When told he’s bleeding his response is timeless: “We’re all bleeding… on the inside.” He then decides the deal is off, because rock and roll is like the concert he went to the previous night: “It’s fast, it’s dirty, it smashes you over the head.” (Confirming Vinyl as “the most rockist show of all time,” says my viewing companion.) But his partners just want him to calm down and sign the papers, with Zak noting that “Chase Manhattan doesn’t give a fuck about dreams.”
Fortunately, he’s just been to a kung fu movie. He literally uses karate chops to beat up his partners, tells the Germans to “take a hike, you nazi pricks” and then does another line of coke as they bleed all over the rug.
So that’s how their day is going. High once more, Riche shares the good news with the entire A&R staff, giving them all the you’re fired, you have two weeks to earn your job back speech, smashes a Jethro Tull record over his knee (perhaps my favorite moment of the whole series) and tells a hippie employee to hit the road with the immortal : “Go back to Woodstock, you fucking freak, and take your Jefferson Airplane poster with you.” This is all really quite wacky stuff, like if Jerry Maguire were made cornier but also amped up on lots of drugs.
But the draggy buzzkill of this show’s inherent self-seriousness can’t be avoided for long, in this case delivered by Richie’s long monologue about how its all about the songs, man, his pensive watching of Watergate hearings, and a conversation with Jamie that has already been compared to Don and Peggy from Mad Men. He tells her she’s just a secretary; she demands a chance, he gives her a half of one, and so on. Richie lets her help Julie out with prepping the Nasty Bits for a showcase, at which point he tells her her bands sucks and she should go to a bodega for coffee. He convinces the NBs to cover the Kinks because it’s basic enough for what he thinks are their lacking skills.
Poor Jamie. It’s a man’s world, baby. This essential misogyny is made extra clear in the series’ big sequence of flashbacks that bear more than a passing resmeblance ot Mad Men’s suburban plot, particularly when an addled Devon leaves her kids in front of their pancakes at the diner and drives away next to an imaginary Karen Carpenter, completely in thrall to a reverie. And the reverie arose from a flashback, naturally, one to having a hot first liaison with Richie in the bathroom at the Factory. While they pound away against the sink. the Velvet Underground also pound away on stage. Sigh. Once again, Vinyl has managed to make one of the coolest scenes in music history seem like a basic cliché. I actually longed for the Factory/ Nico scenes from Oliver Stone’s extremely unsubtle and campy The Doors while watching this.
Clearly Devon’s in crisis, and Richie’s disappearance, re-appearance clearly off the wagon and visit from a homicide detective (it’s for a different case than he expected) have her feeling nostalgic about their swinging youth, a more innocent time, when she was Andy Warhol’s muse and they hung out with witty Germanic types in a pseudo-sexual arrangement all the time.
Speaking of suburban existential crises, Devon has company. Poor Zak, his face bandaged thanks to Richie’s karate chops, is being wheedled by his Jewish American Princess wife and daughter to spend massive money on the latter’s bat mitzvah. The tour they get the schlocky 70s reception hall is worth the price of admission, but it’s clear that he’s in dire financial straits. He sits in the car with the motor running and a fistful of valium, but then thinks better of it and wrecks his car instead. Romano makes Zak into the most sympathetic hapless schmuck jerk on the show.
Meanwhile, Richie is off to the projects and it’s clear where he’s headed: to revisit Lester Grimes, whose betrayal symbolized the sale of Richie’s soul. And with this meeting, another episode of Vinyl comes to a close, with a message more on the nose than cocaine up Richie’s noses —or Richie’s fists and his colleague’s noses. Pick your nose metaphor, and see you next week.