Roadies: Season 1, Episode 9 - "The All Night Bus Ride"
Diving into Phil's past leads to an episode that's nearly perfect, until we're brought back to the present and the actual setting of the show.
RoadiesAirtime: Sundays, 9pm
Cast: Carla Gugino, Luke Wilson, Imogen Poots, Rage Spall, Ron White
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 8 - "The All Night Bus Ride"
Air date: 2016-08-14
This may be a dated reference, but for those who can recall, remember when Susan Boyle appeared on Britain's Got Talent and everyone just saw this dumpy little wren of a woman standing there like a brunette Mrs. Claus and judged her harshly, with the cameras setting her up perfectly to be judged? Then she opened her mouth and unleashed the purest sound of untrained vocal magnificence. The look on Simon Cowell's face possibly became the first .gif to illustrate blissed-out happiness.
That's the face this episode of Roadies has managed to conjure, despite the cynical mindset the previous seven have so far set up. It's a tight, well-written, beautifully shot episode that outlines Phil's (Ron White) humble origins as a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed novice roadie for Ronnie Van Zant (Nathan Sutton) and Lynyrd Skynyrd. It's almost flawless, except that moment when we come crashing back down to reality and realize this is just another episode of the show and not a biopic. Then it seems a little out of place in the scheme of things.
Cameron Crowe might possibly have another music movie in him, and it's painfully obvious he wants it out. The excuse of an all-night bus ride, from which the episode takes its name, may seem like a good time for our heroes to ask their unofficial leader how it all happened for him and invite a 40-minute flashback, but what it feels like is that this is the story Crowe wants to tell, and Roadies is just the medium in which he was allowed to do so. So there's some uneven jamming of personal vision happening in the world of a show that's just been middling to average; however, by itself, "The All Night Bus Ride", is a beautiful, heart-soothing rock 'n' roll bedtime story.
The crew is on an all night bus ride (that's the name of the episode again!) and so Wes (Colson Baker) asks Phil to tell them all how he got sucked into this world of glamour and bunk beds. Phil wasn't always the grizzly-voiced, gun-toting, hooligan he is now in his ripe old age. When he was a clean-cut 20-something in 1973, Young Phil (Connor Weil) worked with his dad in their bait shop. Papa Phil sold way more than bait; on one particularly illegal jaunt, made his innocent boy run some Cuban cigars to a promoter. The promoter almost ripped Phil off but Ronnie Van Zant heard earnest, honest, goody-goody Phil and believed in his heart and got him his money.
The rest was rock 'n' roll textbook. Phil became their assistant road manager and pretty much lived for the hard-partying Skynyrd boys. Except that time they planted their drugs on him while trying to get to Canada; Phil sweet-talked the border guards out of arresting the band, but also said his good-byes. Ronnie and he never lost touch, though, and he was the one who listened to his dreams and wishes. Ronnie wanted to take his band beyond their lurid reputations. He wanted to be someone his kids could be proud of, and that conversation is what Phil recalls most clearly. Ronnie wanted to be known for more than a band that's ready to fight anyone, anywhere and beyond the tawdry tales of musical excess, he's the vulnerable voice of reason for the band. It feels, though, as if he needed the support of someone more grounded in reality than he can be, as part of a band; that's what Phil was to him.
Coming at it from the opposite end of the spectrum, however, Ronnie played the very same role for Phil. Lynyrd Skynyrd opened for the Rolling Stones and blew away an audience of thousands. This led to their Japan tour, which Phil also hopped on, but while being good boys is all well and fine in theory, when Germans start groping your girls, well then allow me to break that bottle on a head for you, Ronnie Van Zant. The band got smuggled out of the country while Phil disguised himself as Ronnie and sat in jail for three days. After that, he went back to his family for a while. As mentioned before, Ronnie was his voice of reason, and he told Phil to give reality as much as a fair shake as he did the dreamland of touring life. That's why Phil went home for a while. That was also the last time he saw Ronnie. The band bought the plane that brought down half its members, including Ronnie. Phil admits he couldn't listen to them for 20 years. They were his boys. Now, so is the Staton-House Band.
Phil not being on that plane led to half a lifetime of guilt, and though it feels like misplaced grief, it makes so much sense. He and Ronnie were soulmates in terms beyond romantic love, and it’s so clearly portrayed on-screen. Finally, Crowe has managed to communicate what music can do to a person, a relationship, a family. This is what we've been waiting for, which is why the episode’s eventual return to the present feels so terribly jarring.
The parallel between the present state of matters on the bus and the on-going drama of Dead Sex -- the horror porn program everyone in the show is obsessed with -- does soften the blow a bit. David Spade, the star of Dead Sex, realizes all his sex was for nought; no matter how much he fornicates, he just can't save the people of Earth. Similarly, Reg (Rafe Spall) realizes that no matter how hard he works, he can't get the numbers to align. Much as David Spade was used as a sex pawn, Reg understands he was never supposed to save anyone. Thus, a plot to split up the band so that Tom Staton could go solo is revealed. The crew has no idea, of course. They're just hoping to be along for the European leg of the tour, which Reg already told them they were. Also, Shelli (Carla Gugino) and Bill (Luke Wilson) have to stop groping because Shelli's husband's father is dead, and she has to go be a good wife.
It seems the break-up/going solo plot lines are on the horizon so that we can have even more band drama cliches worked in before the finale. It's really hard to care about that when the best song of the day so far, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man", is still echoing in our heads.