“So this is my story. Clouded by lost brain cells, self-aggrandizement, and maybe a little bit of bullshit,” Richie Fenestra gruffly narrates in one of the opening scenes of Vinyl, HBO’s most recent show that immerses viewers in New York City’s 70’s music record scene. Vinyl follows Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), Devon Finestra (Olivia Wilde), and Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) in the complex story of a declining NYC record label, American Century, who are in the midst of a deal to sell themselves to a German record company, Polygram.
The first scene of the pilot episode shows a panicked Richie, the founder of American Century, relapsing into a cocaine addiction before a stampede of kids run past his car on their way to a punk rock show. Eyes glazed over, Richie walks into the venue, transfixed by the music and the crazed, drug infused experience. The remainder of the two hour premiere showcases the ups and downs of his impending buy out, which leads Richie to a brawl with Robert Plant (Zebedee Row), the neglect of his wife and family, and involvement in a homicide. Along the way, the show features a storyline about the emerging blues scene, including the story of a singer, Lester Grimes, who is forced to sing shallow songs over his own authentic music for the label.
The second episode of Vinyl continues to follow Richie’s gradual spiral out of control, where he decides that he no longer wants to sell the company and punches his business partners in one of the opening scenes to avoid the deal. “Yesterday Once More” delves deeper into Richie’s relationship with his wife, Devon, showing flashbacks from earlier moments in their relationship, and the office politics. The overarching theme throughout both episodes is the struggle new artists face between changing to fit a mold the label wants and their own sound.
One of the shining features of Vinyl is the soundtrack, which does an ample job of transporting viewers directly into the time period by featuring a plethora of 70’s hits. Every element of Vinyl, from the plaid fashion to the sideburns to the frequent drug use brings viewers directly into the atmosphere and vibe of the time, embracing the mantra “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” to the fullest. Vinyl does an excellent job of showcasing many different faces of the 70’s music industry. The greedy businessman, the struggling artist, the emerging bluesman, and the lowly worker in the record label are all featured throughout the show.
Where Vinyl falls short, perhaps, is in its lack of continuity and sporadic nature. The almost two hour premiere is as long as a full length film, and the show jumps between various characters and storylines in both episodes in a way that can feel excessive at times. Ultimately, Vinyl offers much potential for the future in its artistic direction and atmosphere, but it needs to hammer down a more specific plot direction to keep viewers interested.