Vinyl Slows Down the Pace, Cranks Up the Heat in Episode Two


Next: Reminder: The Fifth Season of Girls Premieres This Weekend

After a frenetic two-hour premiere filled with what some considered too much world-building,  HBO’s Vinyl seems to have settled into a smoother rhythm in its second week, focusing more on advancing the story-lines and fleshing out the characters.  That’s not to suggest, however, that things have gotten any easier in the lives of beleaguered record executive Richie Finestra and the people around him.

As we pick up in episode two, Richie is on a bender while his wife worries and his staff, hoping to close the deal to sell their failing label to Polygram, tries to placate the impatient German buyers. After surviving a building collapse during a New York Dolls concert, Finestra pumps himself up by disrupting a showing of ‘Enter the Dragon’ and then hits the meeting like a drug-addled tornado. In a manic state, he cancels the deal with Polygram, much to the consternation of his staff, who have a financial stake in unloading the label before the buyers figure out that the books are cooked.

In one of the most compelling scenes so far, Richie explains his “epiphany” to his disgruntled staff before going all ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ on them, firing everyone and giving them two weeks to earn back their jobs by bringing him fresh young artists to sign. “Think back to the first time you heard a song that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up”, he tells the shocked room. “Made you want to dance, or f***, or go out and kick somebody’s ass. That’s what I want!” When Ray Romano’s Zak objects a bit too strenuously, Richie channels his inner Bruce Lee in response.

“Think back to the first time you heard a song that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up; made you want to dance, or f***, or go out and kick somebody’s ass. That’s what I want!” …Richie Finestra

More from HBO

Woven throughout the episode, fittingly entitled “Yesterday Once More” after the Carpenters’ hit song, is the descent into an existential crisis by Richie’s wife Devon, who, in the face of her husband’s return to drugs and alcohol, begins to question her life choices. Reflected in a series of flashbacks depicting the exciting beginning of the couple’s relationship, Devon recalls a time when she was a part of the scene, and not just the nagging wife and mother to whom Richie must come home and explain himself. Ably portrayed by Olivia Wilde, Devon doesn’t have much to do so far but establish herself as the obligatory one-dimensional “long suffering but supportive wife”, a la Carmella Soprano, but she does it well. Here’s hoping her character develops a bit more nuance as the season progresses.

Another complaint by viewers of the first episode, that the show’s musical choices seemed to lack significance, is emphatically answered this week. With tunes by David Bowie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Velvet Underground, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones, this week’s show feels much more important and timely, with a soundtrack more in keeping with our expectations from a Martin Scorsese production.

If you liked the epic two-hour premiere of Vinyl, chances are you’ll enjoy the second episode even more. Those who may have found the first episode a bit too loud and frenzied for their tastes might do well to give it another try before consigning it to the bargain bin. If the subsequent installments stay at this level, Vinyl may soon become the show to watch.

New episodes of Vinyl air Sundays at 9PM on HBO.