Thursday, July 16, 2015

REVIEW: 'Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll' - Johnny Gets His Old Band Back Together for His Daughter in 'Don't Wanna Die Anonymous'

FX's Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll - Episode 1.01 "Don't Wanna Die Anonymous"

Watching a sold out Afghan Whigs reunion show leads Johnny to try and get his old band back together.

There's a lot of information that Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll has to just flat out tell its audience in this first episode. In fact, so much of the running time is devoted to who these characters are, what place in their lives they are in right now, what the band used to be and how they will connect again for the future. That's a big task for just 23 minutes. The show still had enough time to do an elongated sequence where the bandmates try to pick a code name for Johnny's daughter's vagina. That wasn't especially funny or creative which could spell certain peril once the show gets past the introductions and operates as a pure musical comedy. The introductory beats of this first episode are fine but they also come out of a way of pure contrivance.

It's easy to sell this show if the network can market musical celebrity cameos on an occasional basis. In the opening minutes of this premiere, it has Dave Grohl talking about the influence The Heavens had on Nirvana. That is completely irrelevant. It is simply not necessary to say just how important this band used to be. That's not important to the show's storytelling. In fact, it takes one out of the story because it is really incredulous to believe that one band would have so much influence of the music industry after just one album. It establishes what this band used to be and helps build up Johnny's ego to the point where he's upset that people don't recognize him as a celebrity. But it's largely just so the show can feel important about itself and it's ability to connect with what the music industry used to be.

The show can't linger on the past. The past does inform who the characters are. Knowing that Johnny slept with the wives, fiancés and girlfriends of his bandmates immediately tells the audience what kind of a character he is. That establishes an identity right away. But the development of the character doesn't go a whole lot deeper than that. He is still living that hard rocking lifestyle from all those years ago. It has gotten him nowhere. And yet, he still believes that he deserves respect. The world around him doesn't want to give it to him and he only makes himself seem even more horrible in the public's eye. The Bruce Jenner jokes aren't all that great but it shows just how horrible a human being Johnny is suppose to be. One who is desperate enough to manipulate the people around him for the sheer glimmer of hope of being able to play music and do drugs on a regular basis again.

That is complicated by the people of band having actually matured as human beings. They recognize Johnny as the horrible person he is. And yet, Bam Bam still hangs out with him and Flash commits to the session knowing what Johnny doesn't want him to do. The one potentially dangerous misstep is in how the show treats Johnny's dynamic with his daughter. She is someone who he has just met. And yet, their dynamic is completely defined with him trying to sleep with her (which is so creepy) and him trying to get the rest of the band not to sleep with her (also very creepy). She shows much potential as a character capable of being the frontwoman the band has deserved all along - with Johnny off on the sideline. That could be a very terrifying prospect for him which could be a very interesting story avenue for the show. But she will desperately need some more character development beyond "the woman who is super confident with what she wants and makes sure everyone knows it too." That's a broad characterization. It's certainly more than several other characters get - like Bam Bam and Rehab. But it will need to have more nuance in the future. But that's a criticism for most of the show's characters. They are all only defined in the broad strokes. This show has potential. But it really could go either way as a series.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Don't Wanna Die Anonymous" was written by Denis Leary and directed by Michael Blieden.
  • Elizabeth Gillies ready does sound terrific as a singer. I wonder if that's enough to ignore whether or not the actual songs are any good. I didn't notice her song so much as how she was performing it. As long as she can sell it, the show is probably in a good place.
  • Though that opening musical sequence with Johnny as the frontman singing the title song wasn't that great at all. Really peculiar as to how a song like that would be enough to get so many musical legends to say that this band influenced them.
  • Plus, the actual look of the band back in the early 1990s was just too ridiculous. It was largely just trying to cover how old all these people actually are. The wig on Bobby Kelly especially was really bad.
  • Ava's one really big moment is with Johnny noting how the last 25 years have just flown by and they are still just struggling to make it. And yet, she is just as delusional as he is because she is still certain that they will break into the music industry again and show their immense talents to the world.
  • Another comedic moment that just didn't work all that well: Johnny saying anyone on Twitter whose handle includes Gaga is famous.
  • But Johnny does have a couple of monologues that do work - him praying to God for the third time in his life and him explaining to Flash the kind of high he wants to feel again through performing and writing songs.