HBO’s ‘Vinyl’: Raw and nostalgic

Most people today are entertained by feeble family sitcoms or stale overplayed bands with very little distinctiveness. Thankfully, HBO has come through once again with a dynamic and emotional new series that incorporates edgy and powerful rock n’ roll culture. “Vinyl”, a new drama based on the music industry serves as a classic rock anthem which would presumably be on cassette in a 1970 Oldsmobile.

The show is about the foul-mouthed, drug-using 1970s record executive Richie Finestra, played by Bobby Cannavale, as he balances getting his fix and finding the best new artist. The show jumps from present day to clips from the past showing Finestra as he builds his musical kingdom.

The series begins with a struggling Finestra losing business and his humility along the way. As the executive of American Century Records, or what is known as “American Cemetery: where artists go to die”, Finestra is hoping to cash out and sell to the powerful German company, Polygram.

The series is in good hands as it was created by Terence Winter (“Boardwalk Empire”) Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, and Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, whose previous works include “Goodfellas”, “Mean Streets”, and “The Wolf of Wall Street” among countless others. While watching the show, you can easily tell Scorsese and Jagger were a part of its creation. It incorporates the quintessentially gritty and fast paced drug filled life that is so widely known in 70s culture and in Scorsese’s films.   

Along with the creators, the cast speaks for itself. Cannavale, who is better known for his role on “Boardwalk Empire”, is wildly hypnotic. His acting is blunt and tenacious, allowing viewers to truly imagine his struggle and passion.

Cannavale’s character, Finestra, desperately acknowledges the transforming music industry and has to figure out how to cope with it. He says, “Now, it’s changed so much, it’s not even recognizable as the thing people used to be so afraid of.”

The supporting cast includes Olivia Wilde (“House”) who plays a former model and Finestra’s wife, Devon, who is left at home to clean and tolerate her husband’s drug use. Along with Wilde, Ray Romano (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) plays Zak Yankovich, Finestra’s right hand man and confidant, and Jack Quaid (“The Hunger Games”) plays Clark Morelle, a young and up-and-coming executive at American Century.   

Like any new show on television, it’s easy to pick out flaws in what was only the first episode. With a cast that provides an exceptional acting display, one couldn’t help but feel as if some of the supporting characters may be underutilized.

Wilde and Romano’s characters showed signs of support and distaste towards Finestra’s lifestyle which could play a significant role later in the series. As powerful as the performances are, it also seems somewhat anticipated. With the different mix of music and movie influences, it seems like something that has been seen before. Artists distracted by drugs and groupies, the power hungry producer, and all around mayhem of 70s music culture didn’t come as much of a shock.

However, “Vinyl” truly takes you back with a certain nostalgia of what it was like to actually go out and hear bands perform. Considering the show takes place during an era where all forms of music were combining and creating unique sounds, “Vinyl” gives an inside look at how rock, punk, and disco were all able to emerge.

“Vinyl” doesn’t skimp on the portrayal of the underground scene or the origins of blues-rock. The outfits, the haircuts, the partying all show elements of that era and allow the viewers to get lost in a world that was once very familiar.   

It’s easy to be mesmerized by the actors who look like they just walked out of 1973. If it’s not the raw energy of the fictional band The Nasty Bits, then there is still the fascinating portrayal of legendary bands like New York Dolls and Led Zeppelin as the new talent that Finestra is trying to capture.   

Nowadays, playing vinyl has become synonymous with ironic mustaches and college drop outs that frequently drink wheat grass.

However, with an abrasive and in your face Rock n’ Roll attitude, this well written story has the potential to turn Richie Finestra into a music legend.    

Audiences will be ready to see what happens next, and will soon realize this vinyl is not for your average hipster.