Vinyl season 1, episode 6.
This Vinyl review contains spoilers.
The Cyclone is the scariest ride on Coney Island. It doesn’t have the deepest dips or the most dangerous curves. What makes the Cyclone so scary is that it looks like it can fall apart at any moment. That’s what Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) looks like in Vinyl’s “Cyclone” episode. This guy is falling apart. It’s not just the plaster from the roof and it’s not just the Bolivian marching dust he keeps siphoning off every available spout. The guy is veering so far out of control he hasn’t even got time for a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous.
When the episode opens, Devon (Olivia Wilde) has disappeared into perennial artists’ colony the Chelsea Hotel and Richie and his friend Ernst (Carrington Vilmont), Ingrid’s (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) boyfriend, are in the midst of a binge. Right in his own house with the kids asleep, or awake, it doesn’t matter, a few doors away. This is no real big thing. It keeps Richie off the streets, where he can be a real killer. But through the past two episodes the head of American Century Records jumped the rails and now he’s copping everyone’s stash and stomping in everybody’s sandbox. Just ask Zak (Ray Romano), whose daughter’s bat mitzvah was ruined by a runaway train.
Richie is looking for the conventional in an unconventional paradigm. That’s all Zak sees when Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse) takes him to catch David Bowie (Noah Beane) rehearse. Is that Ziggy up there or just the Starman? Mick Ronson only gets one line, but Bowie is treated with the utmost respect in the midst of a show that has little regard for small things like feelings. This is where Romano really shines. Underneath those easy laughs are some desperate truths. His growing resentment comes from a lifetime of frustrations, professionally and personally. When Zak finally knocks Richie down on the dancefloor of the Bat Mitzvah, you see that he’s wanted to do that since the schoolyard. Maybe not with Richie, specifically, but he filled that role somewhere. I only hope Zak doesn’t fall for that insipidly anachronistic lip-syncing of “Life on Mars.”
Both Richie and Zak are looking to the past to find the future. Rock and roll hasn’t really changed much since they were matching B-sides. In 1970s New York City, that means that strip of music stores on of W. 48th Street between Seventh and Sixth Avenues. Music Row is gone now and I blame Kip’s (James Jagger) new guitarist, Alex (Val Emmich), not paying Manny for those guitars they snagged. That scene was pure rock and roll fantasy, which is why it’s set in the Village. That’s how every band really should recruit their guitarists when the label puts on the pressure, at the old Rudy’s Music Stop.
The president of American Century Records bullies the talent and he bullies the staff and the office is constantly under siege. The artists are revolting. But they’re not disgusting enough to provide the right alibi for all that’s going on at the label. The biggest and most dangerous inmate is running the asylum and everyone else is an amateur. Whoever hasn’t been fired yet has to step up their game and for what? Why would they do this for Richie Finestra? He doesn’t inspire much confidence lately and it doesn’t seem like he was as inspiring a music vet as he was a bully. It must have something to do with the paycheck.
Let’s face it, the Finestra character that has no redeeming qualities but you can’t take your eyes off him for a second. You can’t afford to. You never know what he’ll do when he’s not being kept in check. And even those checks, they bounce. I’m hoping that Richie falls even farther. We all want to see the Cyclone jump the track, secretly, in the darkest parts of our hearts. We hope nobody gets hurt, but we don’t want to miss it. Lead characters in series don’t always get the chances to plow certain depths that expendable characters can, because they have to survive the run. It isn’t surprising that Buck Rogers, played by Andrew Dice Clay, didn’t make it through the pilot, though he remains a spectral presence.
HBOs has been promising “Manson Lamps” characters as leads for a while. Some of our favorite premium characters go off the rails. Usually it’s a secondary character, but sometimes, like Edie Falco’s Nurse Jackie on Showtime, the show is about a character in free fall. But with Richie, we are counting on the free fall. We know it’s like a drum fill that never ends. He still sees himself as the charismatic young go-getter in the throes of a new and righteous passion. While everyone else just tries to steer clear of the accident waiting to happen.
Tonight, Vinyl blurs the perception. What is drug fantasia and what is the real haze and why has nobody ever noticed that American Century Records’ logo looks like a toilet? I’m never going to unsee that. And really, who eats one egg? Devon is an erotic work of living art if we can trust what Ernst is reporting on reconnaissance. There is something wrong with Ernst. You couldn’t quite tell right away, but he kind of reminded me of Finnegan, Captain Kirk’s nemeses at the Star Fleet Academy on Star Trek in the episode “Shore Leave,” in a pink satin yarmulke. It came out while Ernst was doing the “Ow Mommy” bit. Now try and unsee that. I don’t mean he’s like a character out of The Sixth Sense, but I am looking forward to the second viewing to see how many times Richie changes clothes and if there are any red doorknobs someone’s not opening.
The supernatural element could either be just the right amount of ethereal suspense or too much cautionary tale flailing while the rollercoaster runs out of track. The Cyclone rollercoaster sails over Coney Island, the episode was dedicated to David Bowie. Twinkle, twinke, Uncle Floyd.
“Cyclone” was written by Carl Capotorto & Erin Cressida Wilson and directed by Nicole Kassell.