As TV-critic godfather Alan Sepinwall pointed out in his book The Revolution Was Televised, so many great television shows of the late 20th/early 21st century have focused on tortured male protagonists—men whose actions aren’t always loved by the audience, but are at least understood thanks to the deep sense of pathos found in both the writing and the acting. Vinyl wants Richie Finestra to be such a character: a Tony Soprano, a Vic Mackey, a Walter White, even a Nucky Thompson.
But to propel him to that status, it seems the writers are working overtime, focusing solely on Richie’s darkness and none of his redemptive qualities, if there are any. In defense of Bobby Cannavale—who continues to tackle the role with all the fire, depth, and charisma we’ve come to expect from him—Terence Winter already dug Richie into somewhat of a hole by making him a murderer in the first episode. This makes sense for a mob boss or a meth dealer. But a record executive? Not so much. Granted, there were some saving graces early on. Richie’s love of music appeared genuine, as did the love for his family and perhaps some of his coworkers.
Over the past few episodes, however, he’s done nothing but shit all over everything that could possibly make him good, assaulting his business partners both physically and financially, relapsing into cocaine addiction and destroying his living room, blowing off Devon and generally treating her like garbage, and continuing to be a manipulative shark to all of the talent signed by American Century. Still, there have been glimpses of him trying to do the right thing, even if he went about it with rage, recklessness, and misdirection.
Tonight though? It’s going to be really hard for Richie to bounce back from tonight. There’s the usual stuff—the coke, the manipulation, the power trips, etc.—but with an especially nasty does of jealousy, homophobia, and racism thrown in for bad measure. Actually, consider those last two flaws folded into the first. Normally, I’d chalk up Richie’s callous remarks towards gay men to the ignorance of the era, or even to the fact that he and Devon are on a double date with Hannibal and Cece, his glad-handing facade still required to coax the artist into signing with his label. Maybe he’s just being fake.
But Richie seems genuinely pissed and disgusted when he brings up a theatre production from Devon’s past, where her male co-stars supposedly couldn’t keep their hands off her in a scene despite their homosexuality. He clearly has some major possessiveness issues with his wife, as proven by the dinner exchange and the events at the end of the evening. After Devon and Hannibal grind on each other back at Hannibal’s apartment—at Richie’s urging, no less (he still needs that record deal)—he becomes outraged by how close their bodies get, practically yanking Devon out the door while continuing to verbally groom Hannibal through gritted teeth.
Once they’re in the elevator, Richie’s jealousy almost evolves to consensually rough sex, until he puts his hand between Devon’s legs. Discovering that she’s wet after dancing with Hannibal, he accuses her of wanting to have sex with the funk musician (a charge she denies) before spewing his vilest line yet:
“I didn’t give you a million dollars, so you thought a black cock was your consolation prize,” he growls.
After explaining she was going to string along Hannibal just long enough for him to seal the contract, Devon accurately reminds Richie how he cares more about signing artists than having a healthy marriage, and the two storm off into the night.
Alright, so Richie’s unlikable. Fine. So are many of the other male protagonists I’ve mentioned. But what makes him unique? His respect for his family and peers is now either disingenuous or completely destroyed, so what defines him beyond his increasingly despicable behavior? I’m not sure Vinyl has the answer at this point. Right now, the series feels like it’s being set up to be a redundantly cautionary tale, with Richie bound to take a harder fall than he’s already taken. By the end of “He In Racist Fire,” he’s lost Hannibal to Jackie Jervis, recruited a PR agent named Andrea (Annie Parisse) who he almost married over Devon (this can only mean trouble), and looks poised to go hounding after a fellow coke addict on the dance floor. Taking a cue from Mad Men, the camera cuts to black before we know if he’s actually going to cheat. But Terence Winter and co. are jumping the gun if they consider Richie Finestra to be in the same league as Don Draper. They’re both bastards, sure. But Draper was an interesting bastard.
- Hey, at least the music continues to work like gangbusters. More on that below.
- I was really disappointed when Wizard Fist didn’t turn out to be an early version of Jethro Tull, even though it wouldn’t have made since at all in the show’s timeline (the band was already wildly successful by 1973).
- Lester’s proving to be a goodhearted yet effective manager. I’m hoping his story garners him success. He’s been fucked over so much already.
- The more I think about it, I’m serious about putting every song from the show into a mega Spotify playlist after the finale, so get nitty gritty with anything I missed in the comments section. I’ll comb through everything after the tenth episode.
- I try as best I can to interact/debate with you all, as long as we all hold each other accountable to play nice (that goes for me, too). However, I’m at South By Southwest through the 20th (hence the late publish time), so I’ll probably be M.I.A. for a bit.
- “The idea is new and not fed through a machine so hard that you can’t feel the fucking intestines of the artists and the music.” Yeesh. It’s getting harder and harder to handle any line about the importance of real rock ‘n’ roll.
- “Where’d you find these guys? Fucking Sherwood Forest?”
- “We went to Enter The Dragon.” “Stupid goddamn name for a dragon.”
- “I don’t need a bump. I got a bump.” “Oh yes you do, sir.”
- Rosco Gordon’s “Let’s Get High” plays during the opening music showcase.
- When Cece walks into American Century, we get Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles,” which I will forever associate with Burger King commercials.
- That’s Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” when Richie schedules the disastrous double date, as covered by Dan Auerbach’s modern garage act, The Arcs.
- Calvin Carter’s “I Ain’t Got You” has been covered by numerous artists, most notably by The Yardbirds featuring Eric Clapton. It’s their live rendition that plays in the photo shoot. I’ve also wondered if Springsteen riffed on the song for the opening track on Tunnel Of Love.
- You don’t need to be a hardcore Iggy Pop fan to know that it’s his fucked-off baritone covering The Nervous Breakdowns’ “I Dig Your Mind” when Richie walks in on Sal entertaining his coworkers.
- A fever-dream version of Little Richard wails his way through “Rip It Up” while clad in caveman garb.
- Procol Harum’s cheesily yet awesomely passionate “Conquistador” kicks off the date.
- Big Star’s “Thirteen” lends an odd naivety to Kip mainlining heroin. Side note: that’s track four on Number 1 Record, and Jamie’s able to start the LP at the exact right spot. This might be a stupid question, but is that an easy thing to do? Any time I try to start a record-side on any track other than the first, I end up scratching it. Feel free to make fun of me for this.
- Devon and Hannibal dance to Sylvia’s soft-disco hit, “Pillow Talk.”
- Shortly afterwards, Devon justifiably slaps Richie to the tune of “The Crystal Ship” by The Doors.
- Julian Casablancas reprises his vocal performance as Lou Reed (sans Velvets circa the Rock n Roll Animal era) with “White Light/White Heat” in the final scene and over the credits.
- I didn’t catch it in the episode, but this week’s Vinyl EP has a cover of The Punks’ “My Time’s Coming” from Alison Mosshart (The Kills, The Dead Weather). It also includes “Let’s Get High,” The Arcs’ take on “Watch Your Step,” Pop’s “I Dig Your Mind,” and Casablancas “White Light/White Heat.”