‘Vinyl’ Season 1 Episode 3 Recap: “Whispered Secrets”

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It’s hard to say that Vinyl got better this week, but it did slowly start gaining momentum, if only because so many plots are progressing that a few of them are bound to keep our interest. I do wish that the primary murder plot would just get buried, so to speak — it remains an unwelcome intrusion on all the mediocre music and money plots. But instead of getting relief from being haunted by the bloody memories of Andrew Dice Clay’s Buck Rogers character being bludgeoned to death, Richie is haunted. And he’s slowly but steadily losing his marbles, even when sober.

At a big shindig for record bigwig Maury Gold, the emcee’s crass routine manages to spill the beans to Devon that Richie didn’t sell to Polygram, causing her face to turn icier than the water-glass that’s sitting near Buck Rogers’ empty space.Our (anti) hero is a little on edge, and as he shouts at the guest of honor in the bathroom, Maury’s admonition that Richie”say hello to a headshrinker” is not exactly wrong. Therapy would be a great idea for this man. Or you know, he could also just do more cocaine! He chooses the cocaine.

Back at the office, Richie runs a big meeting about what which artists to get rid of as they “trim the fat,” discussing the financials of each artist, and how to get easy cash from Christmas songs and the like. He’s also trying to find a name for a new label that sounds like “the future” because he wants to be hip and with it again. Yet the past keeps coming back to bother him, whether it’s a visit from mobbed-up moguls Maury associates with who offer him a “bridge loan” in exchange for his silence to the police about their shady doings, or another one from Buck’s murderer, Joe Corso, who also happens to have a lady-friend who sings (and has other talents too, he assures Richie) and just happens to have a demo tape. Richie nods and sweats and nods and sweats through these encounters. I wonder if he’s having the same problem I am telling all these mobster types and their suspect business activities and possible involvement in murders apart. No wonder Richie is stressed!

Richie isn’t just fending off the underworld, though. He’s also trying to win back the one artist who got away from him, blues man Lester Grimes. Richie is obsessed with authenticity now, and thus of course he visits Lester at the building in the ‘hood where the latter’s now a superintendent and tries to get him to think about giving his old blues tapes another shot. Lester sends him packing, but of course (this is where our “count the music movie clichés” game starts) later, alone, he listens to his old voice and is moved. Lester is also hanging out with D.J. Cool Herc as he helps invent hip-hop, and even though Lester is dubious, he defends Herc from the older dudes who just want him to play one song and leave it on, not switch around so much. I really hope this plot goes somewhere interesting and Lester is more than just a symbol for Richie’s failings, because his plot has some great potential.

The same cannot be said for Devon’s story, which continues to be one flat cliché about post-bohemian, suburban ennui after another. Devastated that Richie’s decision to stick with his company and not sell it means she can’t contribute big bucks to her fundraiser for a Eastern European dance troupe, Devon sits in the bedroom thinking about the old days, when they had a baby and a lot more chemistry. She lights upon the idea of selling Andy Warhol’s portrait of her which looms above them in the flashback, and when Richie can’t cough up the cash for the shindig, she ends up going back to the now-famous artist’s studio and getting him to sign the picture. She pretends to just want him to sign it for no particular reason. Yet looking at her sadly, the pop artist knows she’s going to sell it. He signs it for her anyway, filming her while she cries.

The episode’s B-plots are more entertaining and light, with the best belonging poor label schmuck Clark, who runs into Alice Cooper and gives him a big pep-talk about going solo and signing with American Century. After a wild night, Clark ends up with a snake around his neck (her name is Eva Marie Snake), on a golf course while Alice tees off, and later, with his head in a prop guillotine, convinced he’s going to die. Alice then reveals that their whole wild night was a prank to get back at Richie Finestra for standing them up when they were young and struggling (music industry cliché #2). Clark’s genuine terror and Alice Cooper’s casual bullying may not be nice, but they are just the right kind of nasty.

On the subject of nastiness, everyone’s favorite surly brits, the Nasty Bits, have cleaned up their act at Julie’s request and launch into a competent Kinks number. But of course, Richie hates what they sound like all polished, and before he can walk out in disgust, Jamie harasses them and throws a bottle onstage, forcing the lads into sounding like their old snarling selves. Now Richie is impressed. “What the fuck just happened?” asks Julie. Music movie cliché #3, Julie. That’s what just happened.

But given all the other sad sacks on this show, how can we not root for team “Nasty Bits + Jamie”? They at least have some forward momentum and energy and verve.

Richie, meanwhile is stuck knowing that Buck’s body has been found — and to top it off, murderin’ Joe’s lady-friend with the demo has a horrible voice.