Vinyl’s Third Episode Reveals Flaws


Next: Ratings for 'Girls' Are Not Stellar

On paper, Vinyl seems like it should have been a sure-fire hit. There is no show on television today that can boast of  as many big names, both on-screen and behind the camera. So why is it having such a hard time gaining traction with audiences?

The latest installment of HBO’s new drama, entitled “Whispered Secrets”, is a perfect example of the problem the show has had with finding its groove. Beautifully shot and well-acted, it nevertheless feels disjointed and repetitive, driving home the same points that the first two episodes made abundantly clear, but without significantly advancing the story-lines.

In fact, the most entertaining part of this week’s show was an interesting but ultimately meaningless mini-plot in which A&R rep Clark attempts to lure Alice Cooper away from his successful band and into signing with American Century as a solo artist. Cooper leads Clark on throughout the episode, encouraging him to over-indulge in the party scene and eventually humiliating him in front of his band in retaliation for a past slight by Richie. The point, presumably, is that Richie Finestra is an inconsiderate jerk who doesn’t care about the effect his actions have on others, which is pretty much what every other scene has already demonstrated ad nauseum.

As for the rest of the episode, if you’ve watched the first two weeks, you’ll know what to expect. Richie is still spiraling back into drugs and alcohol. His wife Devon is still frustrated and resentful. Lester Grimes is still angry at Richie for failing to keep his promise to rescue Lester from his mob-controlled label.  Richie’s staff is still upset that he pulled out of the deal to sell the label to Polygram, and worried about his return to drug use. Jamie is still pushing to sign the Nasty Bits. By the end of the episode, the only significant development comes when Richie shows up to hear them play. Having had their style neutered by American century’s head of A&R, Richie expresses disgust at how like every other band they sound as they churn through a Kinks cover. When he starts to walk out, Jamie rushes the stage and insists that they play their own music, which ignites the bored crowd,  brings her boss back and gets them signed to a recording contract.

It’s not easy to put a finger on any one main cause for Vinyl’s lack of success at obtaining a more sizable audience. The actors do their jobs well in scenes that seem well-directed and on sets that appear authentic. And yet, there’s something about the show that just doesn’t feel right. At some point, one has to wonder if it could be that there are too many big names attached. Mick Jagger was an incredible rock star, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to present the inside of the business dramatically to an audience who doesn’t know the ins and outs of the record industry. Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest cinematic directors of this or any other time, but television is a decidedly different medium with a much shorter attention span and less tolerance for slow builds. Terence Winter is a proven TV commodity, but by rotating directors on a weekly basis, the show can’t seem to stabilize and let his writing do its job of keeping us enthralled.

Even one of the most initially appealing parts of Vinyl, the portrayals of real-life rock stars from the 70’s, has begun to feel like distracting stunt-casting that really adds nothing substantive to the overall story arc. Sure, we get the immediate “Oh, look…it’s Alice Cooper/Led Zeppelin/DJ Kool Herc!” moments, but beyond that, they seem to serve no other purpose except as slightly more interesting scenery.

One weak episode does not a flop make, but Vinyl is in danger of becoming a hugely expensive albatross around the neck of HBO if it can’t move its focus from nostalgia and start concentrating on cohesive and compelling storytelling. When it comes down to building and retaining an audience, all the blasts from the pasts that they can squeeze into an hour won’t save a show that’s just not all that entertaining.