“I’ve got a golden ear, a silver tongue, and a pair of brass balls.” This glib pronouncement is how we meet Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale), the troubled record exec protagonist of HBO’s new drama Vinyl. But don’t let his initial tough-guy slickness fool you: Richie is on the edge of the precipice. His self-made label is about to be sold to a German conglomerate of dweebs, the titans of radio won’t play his artists, and Led Zeppelin refuses to sign with him. He’s a man haunted by the last twenty years of rock-n-roll, having made his bones during the innocence of the 50s and the hope of the 60s. But now it’s 1973 and degradation is the name of the game.
Vinyl feels like the natural progression from where Mad Men ends. A sequel, if you will, where the guys ruling the boardroom are no longer Ivy League suits, but Italians, Jews, and African Americans who used music to claw out of the old neighborhood. Where the carts of booze have made way for desk drawers of uppers, downers, and hallucinogens. Where Peggy Olson is now an ambitious A&R assistant, a wild-haired, fishnet-clad pill maven (Juno Temple) who peppers every other word with “fuck” and knows exactly how to tell off a sexual harassing coworker. But the game hasn’t changed; they’re still looking to land new products to sell to the masses, whether it’s the bubblegum of ABBA or the grit of the New York Dolls. For Finestra, it may be passed the time for believing the future is bright.
The pilot sings the familiar Scorsese song of frenetic camera work, jarring edits, and blaring rock soundtrack. In fact, it’s experience of auditory overload; between the incessant daisy chain of classic rock hits, the at-times unintelligible “Nooyawk” garbling, and a confluence of irritating, nasal voice work from the leads, I needed some quiet after the cacophonous two-hour opener. But thanks to Cannavale’s vulnerability and Temple’s verve, I will be sticking around. What Scorsese, Terence Winter, and Mick Jagger have created here works. Even the final sequence, the most heavy-handed metaphor I’ve seen in ages, can’t keep me away from this blast of energy.