He’s on the wagon. He’s off the wagon! He’s on the wagon. He’s off the wagon! He’s — wait, what’s that, no one cares?
Last week on Vinyl, Richie tried his damnedest to stay sober on a trip out west with Zak, where they sold the company jet and tried to poach Elvis Presley. Neither pursuit was successful: Elvis stayed in Vegas where he belongs and Richie gambled away the 90 grand they just made off the sale of the jet — but he blamed it on the two hookers Zak had been cavorting with, making Zak believe that he’s responsible for the theft. Nice friend! On the plane ride home, Richie gave in and ordered a drink.
So naturally, in this week’s episode, he’s doing blow again. “E.A.B.” is another episode that focuses way too much on Richie’s boring drug habit. He asks Zak and Skip if they’re carrying immediately after they get rejected for a loan to cover the money he gambled away. Zak and Skip are all, Really? This is your priority right now? To which Richie replies, “I built this company using drugs. When I got sober, that’s when everything got fucked up.” Zak replies, “That’s a convenient interpretation.”
Meanwhile, Andrea clashes with Hal over the new logo and launch party for Alibi Records. “We must be an assault on the past,” she says of the new imprint, ironically, since this show is a weekly dose of nostalgia porn. She tells Hal he’s a “redundancy” and fires him on the spot.
All this puts even more pressure on the Nasty Bits to produce a great song. Richie visits them in the recording studio, where they’re working with Lester (Jamie is just kind of hanging around, sadly without much to do this episode). “Like it or not,” Richie tells the band, “you’re the face of the new label, and if you don’t deliver, there won’t be a new label.” No pressure, fellas!
The guys struggle to come up with something original — “There’s no more notes!” — until Lester reminds them that most popular music is just the same few chord progressions delivered with different embellishments. He picks up a guitar and demonstrates, and Kip notices that one of Lester’s examples is an original tune. The band ends up rearranging Lester’s song and recording it as their own — which is appropriate considering Vinyl is all about paying lip service to originality and authenticity but is less interested in actually embodying those things.
Speaking of authenticity, Zak’s excited to have signed a new artist, the baby-faced Gary (Big Love’s Douglas Smith), who sang at his daughter’s bat mitzvah and whom Zak plans to rebrand as “Xavier.” The kid’s got the voice of an angel, which he demonstrates at a lunch meeting with Zak and Scott. You can practically see the dollar signs in their eyes.
Devon still isn’t speaking to Richie, which means she’s still isolated from everyone else on the show except Ingrid. The two go to Max’s Kansas City, where John Lennon and May Pang are hanging out. A photographer tries to take a picture, but they shoo him away; Devon notices and manages to finagle the guy’s camera and charm the couple into posing for a picture. Later, she and the photographer develop the photos in a dark room, and you know what happens next: Have any two characters ever been in a dark room together and not hooked up?
Like a multi-car collision, the clichés just keep piling up: Richie and Zak turn to mobster Corrado Galasso for a loan, despite Maury’s warning that Galasso won’t hesitate to kill him if their relationship goes south. Again, Vinyl can’t resist tossing in gangster drama — the show doesn’t seem to want to focus on the business, even as its characters are desperately working to revive it. Instead, the episode’s big moment comes when the cops pick up Richie and inform him that they’ve been bugging his office — before taking him into custody.
I knew we were in trouble when the pilot episode ended with a murder. Vinyl insists it’s all “about the music,” but if that were true, it would, you know, be about the music. The murder of Buck Rogers looms over anything music-related, which on some level makes sense — if you’d killed someone, you’d be more worried about that than the next artist to sign with your record label. But TV has enough bad boys in trouble with the law. Given all its resources, it’s a shame that there are just one or two moments per episode that hint at the truly original show Vinyl could be.
“E.A.B.” leaves its best scene for last. Clark has been bonding with his new mailroom buddy Jorge, mostly over drugs. In a gorgeous sequence that closes the episode, Clark follows Jorge through a hot party in a dank basement, where throngs of people shake and sway to music that, in a savvy twist, we don’t actually hear (the scene is set to the awesome “Wild Safari” — lol — by the Spanish funk/soul band Barrabás). Clark’s the only white guy there, and we watch the scene unfold in slow motion through his eyes, as he takes in the funky flailing bodies — and the DJ spinning records at the front of the room. Looks like someone’s about to dig himself out of the mailroom — but will he bring Jorge with him?
I think this is the best scene Vinyl has produced so far (“E.A.B.” was directed by Jon S. Baird), and it demonstrates how powerful this show could be if it just leaned into its stated mission of reproducing the lightening-bolt energy of discovering a new sound.