Last night was the final “Vinyl” of season 1. The show, despite the lackluster ratings of the first episode, was immediately picked up for a second season, though it’ll be without showrunner Terence Winter.
Going in to the first episode, I was really excited about all the possibilities for this show. I’ll watch anything with Scorsese’s name attached to it, but I have to say, overall, the show could’ve been a lot better. It was entertaining television, but it was just kind of all over the map.
There were a lot of storylines to be resolved heading into the finale of HBO’s ode to the rock ‘n’ roll excesses. Would Richie give up information about Corrado Galasso to the FBI? Would Richie repair his relationship with Devon? Would Richie repair his relationship with Zak? Would Richie relapses into a giant mountain of cocaine? Would the Nasty Bits come through at their big gig opening for the New York Dolls? Would there be a random awkward scene where a celebrity lookalike sings a famous song in a warehouse? Would it be a kid that looked vaguely like a young Tony Bennett singing “Boulevard of Broken Dreams?”
The answers? Not really. I don’t know. No. Surprisingly, no. Yes. You know it. Yep.
The finale opens with the FBI questioning Richie about – not Galasso – but rock ‘n’ roll groupies. The FBI agent seems more intrigued to find out about what happens after rock shows than what sort of shady dealings Galasso has going on. Later in the episode, at another meeting, the bartender reveals that the bar will be undergoing a renovation so they can feature bands. The new name? CBGB. Richie is like the Forrest Gump of the music scene. He somehow manages to be on the scene for every pivotal moment in the evolution of music.
The finale felt a bit rushed. Probably because they had to cram in so many storylines. So one of the better late developing arcs, Clark and Jorge pumping out Indigo’s “Kill the Lights” to every DJ on the scene, and basically starting the disco movement, flashes by too quickly. Turns out, being demoted to a position in the mail room paid off for Clark. Since he has access to the outgoing mail, he never mailed the letter releasing Indigo from their contract, and American Century still retains the rights to the song, which is now charting. Could mean redemption for Clark and maybe a bigger role for Jorge in season 2.
Richie may have been a scumbag for 90 percent of the season, but he attempts to make things right with Lester by buying the rights for “Woman Like You,” Lester’s song that the Nasty Bits recorded. Of course, he does, first try to low ball him by $10,000, but eventually they make a deal that satisfies Lester; $20,000 and some more bands to manage. In my opinion, Lester was one of the best characters on the show.
When people think of threesomes, they usually just think about the awesome sex stuff, but what about the super awkward aftermath. Kip is obviously jealous of Alex and Jamie’s relationship, and he takes it out on the band. This leads to Kip overdosing on heroin right before the band is about to open for the New York Dolls. He’s unconscious when Jamie and Lester find him, but have no fear, Richie comes to the rescue. What do you do when the frontman of the band that may save your record label is passed out from too much heroin? Inject him with cocaine of course. Richie injects Kip and he is revived. So, basically the hero of the finale is cocaine. It’s only fitting.
The Nasty Bits take the stage, and after some initial boos from the New York Dolls fans, the Bits win the crowd over. But right in the middle of their obscenity-laced take on “Woman Like You,” the cops bust in and break up the set. Turns out, the whole thing was set up by Richie and Andrea in a brilliant marketing move guaranteed to create some buzz around the band and giving them some true punk street cred.
The other major arc to be resolved was Richie and Zak’s relationship. In last week’s episode, Zak found out that Richie lost the company’s money in Vegas, and let him take the blame. The finale finds Zak going to Corrado Galasso to seek his blessing to make a move to kick Richie out of the company. He drops a “Godfather” reference to the mob boss and then, finding he wasn’t impressed with the film, goes into full “Everybody Loves Raymond” stuttering mode and backtracks from his comment. Ray Romano was another surprise hit of the show.
Things come to a head when after a meeting in Richie’s office with Richie, Zak and Corso, Galasso tells Richie that Zak has gone behind his back and Zak confronts Richie about his misconduct. Galasso tells them all to get it together. He doesn’t care who runs the company – just make money. It’s basically a reworking of this famous scene from “Goodfellas.” Galasso mentions something about a chop shop he operates near Yankee Stadium. The cops pick up this little tidbit (remember, Richie’s office is still bugged) and raid Galasso’s shop.
A bit later in the show, Zak gets abducted by one of Galasso’s henchmen. As he’s pushed into the car, he loses a shoe. The shot of his lone dress shoe on the street as the car pulls away made me think that Zak was about to get whacked. Zak ends up tied to a chair in Galasso’s warehouse. Galasso calls in Richie and Joe Corse too. Galasso, wondering how it would be possible that less than a day after mentioning the chop shop in front of Richie, Zak and Corse, the shop gets raided. Galasso smells a rat and he thinks it’s Zak. During the conversation blame gets passed around and Corso lets it spill that he and Richie murdered Buck Rogers. Since Corso is so quick to give up Richie to save himself, Galasso surmises that he must be the rat and puts a bullet in him. (Another almost exact shot from “Goodfellas.”) Richie and Zak are off the hook with a stern warning to focus on making money. They come away with their lives intact but their friendship broken.
Whew! So that part of the story is wrapped up. I’ve got to say, I love gangster movies. I could probably recite all the lines in Goodfellas, but any of the mafia scenes in “Vinyl” just made me want to watch Scorsese’s classic mob movie. “Vinyl” would do better focusing on the music in season 2.
The episode wraps up with the Alibi Records release party. Richie makes a big speech about how rock ‘n’ roll saved his life and how the word “alibi” is an excuse for bad behavior, and he won’t make excuses any more. He passes out some spray paint to everyone and the crowd watches as Julie sprays “Fuck this place up” on the office wall. So they do – in true rock ‘n’ roll fashion. Listen, I get smashing up hotel rooms, but is it really the best move to get your employees drunk and tell them to trash the office? MC5’s “Kick out the Jams” plays as the party rages, and Richie and Zak lock eyes. No smiles. Zak walks out. So, there’s some tension for season 2.
What about Devon? Olivia Wilde was totally underused this whole season. The writers never really let her character develop. They solved this problem by completely excluding her from the finale. That’s one way to do it.
The first season of “Vinyl” was like a band trying out new material on an audience at a concert. There were some obvious hits and crowd-pleasing moments and also some very obvious missteps that sent that fans to the beer line. We’ll see how the approach season 2. We’ll probably see less mob hits, but we’ll probably still see plenty of hits of cocaine.
Notes and links
– At one point in the finale, Julie hears Freddy Mercury singing “The Night Comes Down” and remarks on Mercury’s range. The man could sing. Which reminded me of this gem of a video.
-Ray Romano’s character Zak Yankovich did 100 percent more cocaine than Romano’s character on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
-The Ramones appear in the audience during the Nasty Bits set.