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Vinyl: Season 1, Episode 3 - "Whispered Secrets"

Leyla Hamedi

Alice Cooper, his boa, and his guillotine show up as this week's musical cameo; really, that's about it for the third episode.


Airtime: Sundays, 9pm
Cast: Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde, Ato Essandoh, Juno Temple
Subtitle: Season1, Episode 3 - "Whispered Secrets"
Network: HBO
Air date: 2016-02-28

People can be stupid. They can be dim, dull-witted, and incredibly dense. But unless they're also deaf, dumb, and blind, they know this is a show about rock 'n' roll. We're reaching Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too levels of stupefaction. Vinyl: The Show About Rock 'n' Roll That Plays Rock 'n' Roll and Also Songs With Rock 'n' Roll in the Title. Take a shot every time you're reminded. So far, this episode has Johnny Winter's, "Rock & Roll", and Thin Lizzy's, "Rocker" to get you started.

To be fair, not everyone watching is a critic or writer. It could be just fine for an audience that has absolutely no familiarity with the subject, but let's be real. This is a show about the fans from the fans. Who else is going to watch besides the fans, who will nitpick and bitch about how they know this already. Give us the story!

Unfortunately, the story in this episode is floundering. There are a few great moments and the subsequent great lines, though, like when Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) demands a super-cool offshoot of his American Century label with matching name and receives only dad-puns in return (Rocket/Rock It). Richie’s attempt to spin dropping 70 percent of the label's artists as a caring move with his PR rep is painfully realistic in its comedy and tragedy. Then there's Alice Cooper (Dustin Ingram) tricking the smarmy A&R rep into thinking his head's literally going to roll after allowing him to wine and dine him. Besides these moments, there’s little forward motion and entirely too much wallowing in the back-story, which isn't all that interesting.

With the aforementioned Alice Cooper cameo, though, they nailed it. It might sound like a cheat to say somebody is the spitting image of Alice Cooper. I mean, get the greasepaint and literally anyone can look exactly like King Diamond or members of KISS, too (pre-Lick It Up). Ingram’s vocal inflections, careful mind manipulation, and cheeky delivery, all come together seamlessly to create the best cameo so far in the series. The Andrew WK-sung, "I Love the Dead," was perhaps not as on the mark, but provided a fitting transition for the scene in which murdered radio host Buck Rogers' (Andrew Dice Clay corpse!) body is finally recovered. Seems Richie and Joe Corso (Bo Dietl), his partner in crime, are in it now, those wacky kids.

Speaking of wacky, of course, Corso shows up earlier in the episode with his gal, gushing to Richie that she's the new Petula Clark. Richie allows himself to be blackmailed, even though Petula Clark's dowdiness is the last thing he needs for a label going through a major facelift. Predictably, Corso's little something on the side is neither talented nor edgy. It would've been interesting to see how this relationship could've developed if she had been exactly what Richie was looking for but alas, the story sticks firmly to the clichés.

Indeed, it’s clichés and disappointed women that keep this filler episode going. Devon Finestra (Olivia Wilde) really has that faraway, misty water-colored memories look down pat. Devon is tormented by her husband’s failure as a provider, so she doesn't have the money to live out her suburban, artsy dream of aiding defecting Russian dancers by hosting them in a barn. She has to sell her Warhol silkscreen of herself for God's sake, and humiliate herself by asking him to sign it. Warhol, played by John Cameron Mitchell as more Eastern German transgender pop star than Pittsburgh pop-art poseur, helps her out, but what has poor Devon been reduced to?

Meanwhile, our other female lead Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) keeps getting trampled by the higher-up A & R man who makes the Nasty Bits a proper band with their cover of the Kinks. Yes, Martin, I get the Van Halen reference, and how their first hit was also a Kinks cover. It’s like a Jeopardy! Scorsese category: The Show About Rock 'n' Roll That Plays Rock 'n' Roll and Also Songs With Rock 'n' Roll in the Title. It could be a coincidence, although that's hard to believe, since ham-handed rock criticism is de rigeur for this series.

I digress. Richie witnesses this transformation at a show and hates it, but it's okay because Jamie's wide-eyed I-believe-in-yous inspires the band to punk out and actually play their dirty bits. Jamie might think she's the secret puppet master by the way she took control of the situation, but she's just another cliché without indicating anything deeper that could signify further character development.

Honestly, a groupie probably would've been a better choice, because in this particular world of fandom, groupies were the freakin' queens. Why can't a woman who celebrates talent with aid from between her legs be as "serious" as one that fake-works at a label? Refusing to showcase that aspect of rock 'n' roll in nothing but the scenery makes it more sexist than actually featuring a groupie. Who knows, though; maybe Pamela Des Barres will be a future cameo.

The music lessons bop on with more soul and funk, and Richie keeps trying to get back to the simple life when all that mattered was how music made him feel (super high). He visits Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) and, despite getting kicked out of his place and blamed for Grimes’ losing his voice after getting beat up by the record label mob (?), we can pretty much assume that Richie will be the cocaine-white savior who brings Grimes back with that new-fangled thing sound, hip-hop. Take a shot if a Run DMC/Aerosmith cameo set to "Rock this Way" happens.

Vinyl is available on HBO Go and HBO Now.


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