“Hipsters” often warrant polarizing discussions because too many people have different (and typically derogatory) ways to describe them. At a base level, Merriam-Webster defines a hipster as “a person who is unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns (as in jazz or fashion).” Something like Urban Dictionary, however, goes on to describe hipsters as “a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter,” before digressing on a number of other stereotypes bravely disguised as generalizations. For eight episodes of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Denis Leary has carved out his own take on hipsters, predictably biting his thumb at anyone who doesn’t wear lots of leather and worship dated rock ‘n’ roll clichés.
And Leary bites right through his thumb on “Hard Out Here For A Pimp”. The episode is a sharp vessel of vitriolic commentary that capitalizes on a long sought after subplot (Gigi and Flash’s relationship) while gliding on the show’s most reliable chemistry (Bam Bam and Rehab). Similar to last week’s “Supercalifragilisticjuliefriggingandrews”, the episode works damn well. Once more, Leary steps in for director Michael Bliedin—mind you, the last time was for the ill-fated, “Doctor Doctor”—and directs from his own script, which goes two-for-two in proving that the manic comic finally has a grasp on what Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll can be and how it may prove to be sustainable if FX decides to go for a sophomore run. The jury’s still out there.
But there’s substantial evidence for a double-dip as Leary, John Corbett, Elizabeth Gillies, Bobby Kelly, Elaine Hendrix, and John Ales work quite well together. That is, when they’re told to. Because if there’s any tangible upgrade to be had from “Hard Out Here For A Pimp”, it’s that Leary is inching closer to realizing the full potential of his ensemble, penning enough material to evolve his cast beyond archetypes who wear idiotic name tags like Flash and Rehab. Remarkably, everyone’s in tune again this week: Johnny’s pushing a new boy on Gigi; Flash is coping with said situation; Ira returns with fatherly advice; Ava observes the chaos with biting commentary; and Rehab and Bam Bam create a brave new genre called “beastcore.” As Rehab insists, “It’s more than a genre, it’s a movement.”
There are a lot of fictional “-cores” tossed around in the episode—from the agreeable “stumblecore” to the rather insipid “morecore”—which is arguably Leary’s way of saying the music industry has become too confused, too muddled, and too esoteric. Let’s not forget that this is the same guy who earlier wrote that listening to Radiohead songs felt like taking the SATs. Could you imagine him tackling more recent fare like Nicolas Jaar, or Jenny Hval, or Oneohtrix Point Never? He tries by introducing a new buzz act called Jim and Mike, a minimalistic two-piece responsible for “normcore.” As Ira explains to the Heathens, it’s “purposefully dressing like you’re on the way to the mall,” which is why the two look like a modern Jan and Dean. Despite being a parody, it’s easily the closest this show’s come to even remotely capturing a sound from today.
For Johnny, Jim (Bryan Fisher) and Mike (Brian Charles Johnson) offer the perfect anecdote against Gigi and Flash’s relationship. Well, maybe not Mike, as Johnny humorously insists he’s not good looking enough for his daughter. So, he goes after Jim, creepily insisting that he date his daughter, which he does, and they hit it off, or so the montage tells us. For Bam Bam and Rehab, though, Jim and Mike offer the necessary springboard for them to push away from the Heathens and into their own side project. So they do, at Rehab’s suggestion, which is why they go on to craft “noise pop songs with no words” and call their band Three Dolphin Clicking Sounds. Except they’re referring to actual dolphin clicking sounds. You know, sort of how like !!! is verbalized as Chk Chk Chk? Yeah, exactly like that.
So, what exactly is beastcore? “It’s all driving bass and drums, guttural sounds, we throw in all sorts of sound effects—lions, whales, camels, roars,” Rehab excitedly explains to Bam Bam. “We put ‘em in my foot pedals, mix ‘em all in, maybe get a keyboard … we start an entire genre here.” You’d think this was a recipe for disaster, but as Ira eventually reveals to Johnny, Ava, and Gigi, the side project is a huge hit with the New York crowds. “They got a standing ovation for their second song which has a lemur mating call in it,” he admits, eliciting gasps and disbelief. Who knows if this will lead to any ensuing conflict for the Heathens—probably not, based on the show’s many prior examples (including this episode, which ends with Flash and Gigi back together)—but that’s not really the point.
The bigger picture here is what Leary’s saying about music today: He thinks it’s a joke. “You’ve gotta be shittin’ me,” Johnny scoffs when he watches Rehab and Bam Bam work over electronic effects. That they’re any sort of success validates all of Johnny’s (and by proxy, Leary’s) whining about why music has been in the dumps for decades. To him, hipsters are what most rockists think of hipsters: pretentious clowns parading around pretentious music. Now, this would all be obnoxious if it weren’t so damn enjoyable. We all know that Johnny’s an old grump who wouldn’t be caught dead listening to Boards of Canada and who would rather have his bar’s jukebox sport Allman Brothers to Zappa over the infinite reaches of, say, TouchTunes. (Actually, he’s not alone there.) But Leary knows he’s not exactly right.
As the ending reveals, Jim is not so different than Johnny. He operates on the same level, sleeping around and screwing his band over with reckless abandon. Leary doesn’t just drive this point home, he takes his hands off the wheel, slams on the gas, and lets the Oedipal message plow right into the goddamn garage, from the visual metaphors involving early morning screwdrivers to Ira’s insistent beckoning. Yet such a realization offers a strange and subtle message that’s hidden behind the gasps and sounds of disgust. Maybe not in character, but in spirit, Leary contends that these so-called hipsters are hardly any different than what he might have been years and years ago. It’s a peace flag of sorts that affords the episode the aforementioned cynicism and gives purpose to the condescension.
Still, look at those effing hipsters.
- This episode was brought to you by Miller Lite.
- Did I miss something? Who’s the “evil midget” in Game of Thrones?
- Flash on Game of Thrones: “It’s an historical drama.”
- Ava on Game of Thrones: “Middle Earth porn.”
- Bam Bam and Rehab ought to listen to U Talkin’ U2 To Me. That way they would know it’s Bonobos, Thedge, Adam Claytwothousandpounds, and Larry Mullen Sr.’s Son. Jeez.
- Ava’s secret art to the blow job: “tickle the taint”
- And the Song of the Year goes to… “My Name Is Johnny Rock And I Look Like Willem Dafoe If He’s A Goddamn Crack Head”. Great scene.
- “Oh my god, you’re dating me.” The worst thing for a father to ever say to his daughter. Kudos, Johnny.
- See you next week for “Take My Picture By The Pool”, the penultimate episode that, shot in the dark, probably has something to do with taking photos by the pool.