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[Cultural Attachment]

Despite the dismal track record of TV shows about music, Jagger and Scorsese give me hope

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Denis Leary in Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.
Smith Galtney

I already can’t wait for 2015 to end, thanks to two upcoming TV shows that I’m literally being teased with. Netflix is prepping The Get Down, created by Baz Luhrmann and Shawn Ryan, and HBO just released a trailer for Vinyl, courtesy of Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger. Both will debut next year. Both are music-related dramas set in ’70s-era NYC, using the emergence of punk and disco and hip-hop as a backdrop. As much as I wanna squeal with excitement, I’m trying not to get my hopes up, because 95 percent of all music shows on TV suck.

The latest disappointment is Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, FX’s new half-hour comedy created by Denis Leary. He plays Johnny Rock, the debauched lead singer of The Heathens, a band that was on the verge of breaking big in the early ’90s, only to self-destruct and break up the day its debut album came out. Now it’s 2015 and Johnny’s got no money and no prospects, until the daughter he never knew he had shows up with lots of cash and dreams of becoming a rock star. As she and Johnny scramble to get the ol’ gang back together, hijinks ensue …

But not really. Even if you think someone mistaking Cascade for cocaine is edgy, comedy gold, S&D&R&R has one fatal problem. We’re supposed to believe that this Johnny Rock is an underappreciated genius. Dave Grohl even shows up to declare, “There wouldn’t be a Nirvana without The Heathens.” But Leary’s mullet wig looks ridiculous. The archival footage from the glory days is laughable. And if the name Johnny Rock wasn’t bad enough, there’s a guitarist named Flash, a bassist nicknamed Rehab and a drummer called—wait for it—Bam Bam. When they all tune up and count off in the studio, there’s the inevitable Hollywood moment when everyone leans in and gives that slow-burn nod of the head (shorthand for “we’re onto something HOT, man”), but the rest of us are just like, “Seriously?!”

Not that better music makes a more credible show. Smash, NBC’s ill-fated drama that tried to be about Broadway but felt more like a series about bipolar aliens, had such good music that there’s serious talk of turning its musical within a musical into a real-life production. Nashville has deflated its authentic soundtrack with several seasons of increasingly soapy melodramatics. Empire, however, gets away with its lapses in musical cred (“Drip Drop,” y’all) by going balls-out, crazy-ass Dynasty and not aiming for any credibility whatsoever.

Of next year’s new shows, the one I’m most worried about is The Get Down, just because the idea of Baz Luhrmann bedazzling the Bronx the way he bedazzled The Great Gatsby seems like a disaster. But the trailer for Vinyl is a perfect wet dream. Lots of white powders, dirty New York streets, a band that looks modeled on the New York Dolls, and—for whatever reason—the ghost of Bo Diddley? Better yet, the art directors have sidestepped the kitschy colors we’ve seen in countless ’70s movies in favor of the decade’s more timeless elements (charcoal suits, wood-paneled interiors, metallic hi-fi equipment). Dear God, please please PLEASE let this show be great. I’ll still watch if it’s not, of course. When music shows misfire, there’s nothing more fun to hate-watch.

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