Everyone’s afraid of something. Even someone as mean, cynical, and leathered as Denis Leary’s Johnny Rock. “Lust for Life” hints at the guy’s inherent terrors by tipping off the episode with a simple question asked by his equally hard-boiled daughter, Gigi: “Do you love me, Dad?” Well, it should be a simple question, but Johnny’s not that easy, so he stumbles a bit, twitching his eyes and words, before Gigi calls his bluff. “Wow, okay … you don’t love me,” she scoffs, attempting to keep her cool. The truth is that the two know there’s a connection, they’re just concerned it’s misguided. Rather, they love the idea of such a relationship, as Johnny suggests, and that predicament is what could (and should) drive Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, at least for awhile.
For two episodes, we’ve watched Johnny, Gigi, and their reunited Heathens saunter from one room to the next, tossing out endless pop cultural barbs and dollops of self-loathing, all to polarizing amusement. The real problem, though, is that there’s been nothing at stake. Well, outside of the fact that if Johnny fails to write songs for Gigi, he’s out on the streets or back in bro bars headlining Jon Non Jovi. But, we know that can’t happen because then there would be no show, so there must be something else to possibly thwart the would be rock ‘n’ rollers. Last week’s “Clean Rockin’ Daddy” hinted at a sobriety tale, before ultimately concluding that Johnny could actually use the drugs to their benefit. So, unless he dives head first into the bottle, there’s no issue there.
That’s why Johnny and Gigi’s newly minted relationship needs to go down a few rocky roads, no pun intended. And considering the strongest moments of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll so far involve the two of them collaborating—as seen in this episode’s reserved four-minute-plus opening at the piano—it’s likely they could be just as magnetic and dynamic if they start clashing. Such horrors of parenting may be around the corner, at least if we’re to consider Johnny’s face at the end of this episode, which confirms his worst fears have come true: he might actually love someone. The issue with that is the show might not afford itself such drama, if only because its tone and its lean running time beg for treble over reverb. In other words, Leary wants the laughs.
He’ll need both if Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is going to outlive its confined premise. We’re only on episode three and last week’s claustrophobia continues to loom as once again we’re sucked up into the vacuum of Gigi’s recording studio. There are only so many one-liners and rock ‘n’ roll discussions that can keep us from running towards the studio doors. This week’s rockist cliché finds Johnny and the gang discussing infamous rock ‘n’ roll deaths, from Jeff Buckley to Stevie Ray Vaughn, when rumors spark online that Johnny choked to death from a chicken bone—a chance for publicity! It’s funny enough and even includes a “Hey, that’s Matt Pinfeld!” cameo (not the only guest star, as you can see above), but there’s a feeling that this is all getting very cyclical very fast.
Alas, it would appear that fear runs in the family blood, and whereas Johnny loses sleep over commitment (and possibly success), his daughter is shivering from a little stage fright. This tension surfaces a day before the band’s first big gig, at New York’s Bowery Ballroom no less, when Johnny confronts Gigi on the roof, where we once again get to breathe, and the two engage in some sobering dialogue on destiny. Gigi references the biblical tale of Jonah and the Whale, which Johnny hilariously confuses with Noah Baumbach’s “pretentious indie flick with Jeff Daniels as the asshole dad in Brooklyn,” and offers a telling lesson for her father. “Dad, listen to me, I am your whale,” Gigi pleads. “I’m your second chance. I’m spitting you back on to the shore.” Fair enough.
Yet that anecdote doesn’t squash Gigi’s own demons, so the task is instead handed off to the one and only Joan Jett. The infamous riot grrl appears backstage at the Bowery, where she confirms that Johnny never “slept” with her and plays Wolfman Jack for the shaky starlet. “All the guys out there, they wanna fuck you,” Jett insists. “All the girls out there, they wanna be you. So, just relax, have fun, do your music, seduce ‘em all, and you got it.” As expected, this Jett ex machina pushes Gigi to literally face her fears and own the stage in the episode’s closing performance (the song’s not too shabby, either). While there’s something rather poetic about a daughter conquering her fears as her father faces his, it’s more telling of the show’s own trepidations—that of any and all conflict.
You know, sometimes it’s okay to sit in the whale for a bit.
- Note to self, Greg Dulli sends bigger flowers than Richie Sambora.
- Well, Leary certainly expanded upon Ava’s character. She slept with all of Bon Jovi, minus their “ass” of a bassist, and she was a little T.O.’d that Johnny didn’t invite her to also sleep with Joan. “She’s into girls, did you ever ask if she’d be willing to do a three-way?” Oy vey.
- Also: “Nobody reads Rolling Stone anymore.” Perhaps Ava prefers The Pitchfork Review?
- Add “Skinny Bitch” as one of Johnny’s ensuing pseudonyms.
- Drug of choice for this installment appears to be electricity, which Johnny says is “better than blow.” Keep pluggin’ away at those guitar inputs, boys.
- “Joan has ballzheimers.”
- Any guess as to who will play Gigi’s mother?