On February 14, 2016, eager TV buffs and music enthusiasts took to their televisions for the premiere of HBO's period music drama "Vinyl". Created and developed by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese ("Goodfellas"), lionized show runner Terence Winter ("Boardwalk Empire"), and the forever immortalized singer Mick Jagger, there was plenty to be excited for what was supposed to be a magnum opus set to capture the cocaine induced hysteria of the eardrum shattering music scene in America during the 1970's. With a handful of episodes featuring real-life icons such as David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Elvis Presley, and Led Zeppelin as characters in the story, spectators gripped the edge of their seats believing it was all but guaranteed they would be blown away, if not driven mad, by the nostalgic craze of the sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll they had grown up hearing about via their headphones, and radios.
Yet, despite benefiting from strong acting on the part of Bobby Cannavale as the embattled record label mogul Richie Finestra, "Vinyl" barely hobbled over the finish line guided by the sheer force of will of Cannavale's efforts. Viewers were left only having experienced a high that could only be described as mellow at best. A high high enough to convince audiences not to ask for their money back, but a high not high enough to allow audiences to believe they had received their money's worth. Needless to say, for executives at HBO, it proved to be the latter. Despite tendering the show a renewal four days after its air date, the cable company reneged on its promise in late June, pulling the plug, and canceling "Vinyl" after just one season. So what happened? Here are five reasons that doomed the promising music series:
1. The writing
Despite benefiting from the creative intuition of Terence Winter, who helped pioneer the success of iconic hits like "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Sopranos", the praised screenwriter also responsible for authoring the script for the Academy Award-nominated "The Wolf of Wallstreet" appeared all but burned out when it was finally time to take to the typewriter once again and begin punching out scenes for "Vinyl". Although most of the action and dialogue of the series proved adequate enough to pass as entertainment, there are periods over the duration of the drama where one is forced to wonder whether Winter fell asleep, overcome by the lethargic labor that seemed to manifest in various beats, which, for the better part of the series, came off as generic, if not uninspired.
2. Lost in the lights
As with every period piece, there comes the allure of a lost time. Especially if that time proved to be a defining moment for a particular culture and history, and an exploration of the American music scene in the 1970s is by no means an exception to this rule. Boasting the intoxicating presence of David Bowie, Alice Cooper, and Elvis Presley to name just a few, "Vinyl" was certainly not short of ammunition laced with ecstatic amounts of the "wow factor". But as someone once warned: "Don't get high on your own supply." "Vinyl" got so carried away with its hype and star power, that it ultimately eroded its ability to function as an effectual story—the type of supply that causes highs to remain for a long time.
3. Unlikable female lead
While there is no denying the acting bravado on the part of Bobby Cannavale that proved to be "Vinyl's" single most redeeming quality, it's hard to say the same for Olivia Wilde while keeping a straight face. Or perhaps, it was the character she was tasked to depict. Portraying Devon Finestra, Richie's (Cannavale) wife who struggles with managing her husband's lifestyle as demanded by the nature of his business, her disdain for Richie's cocaine addiction is poorly set up, and as a result, Devon's periodic outbursts of forthright hostility promulgate the impression of being unwarranted, and even makes her seem somewhat dastardly spoiled. So much so that the potential for a strong, independent female lead is squandered for what appears to be yet another disgruntled suburban housewife miserable while surrounded by her husband's money only because he is unable to make more of it.
4. Plot development
Burdened by poor, if not inconsistent conception of characters, amidst struggling to manage the glamour of its own celebrity, it's hardly a surprise to find "Vinyl" eventually hampered by roadblocks within its own plot. Serialized within ten episodes, the sporadic storytelling makes it difficult to gauge the direction of the show until about the seventh episode where the pace quickens and appears more focused. Nevertheless, its hard to salvage the momentum lost when you only just figure out what your series is about with three episodes remaining.
Sounds cliche to say, in fact it's probably the cliche's cliche, but when you have a writer that hardly seems taken with what he writes, characters that are hard to stand behind, and a show that can't shake its psychedelic confusion until the tail end of its inaugural season, it's hard to convince a viewership that pays top dollar a month in subscription fees to believe a program so convoluted is worth a single hour of their time, especially when they're surfing a cable channel that includes alternatives such as "Game of Thrones". Throughout the season, not a single episode of "Vinyl" eclipsed the one million viewer mark.
Despite the many road bumps that prevented "Vinyl" from delivering on the adrenaline-packed hype that surrounded due to the nature of the show's time frame and content, it is certainly not a debacle of epic proportions. However, much of the hysteric vivacity promised by the HBO drama becomes diluted by what appeared to be a sheer lack of commitment, focus, and passion from the conception of the series to its execution on screen.
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