Monday, 9 October 2017


Someone in the pub last week suggested I reboot the blog with a comparison* of The Orville vs Star Trek : Discovery.  Well...That's not how this works. Too predictable.
It has irked me that this blog has been a one note promo site for HBO up until now. The only reason I've not covered Westworld tv is that it pretty much blew my mind beyond rational analysis.  (In the meantime, try this)

so instead this is

HBOs Emmy nominated THE NIGHT OF
HBOs one season failure VINYL

The one season of HBOs VINYL is flawed but fun and still worth a spin

VINYL was a much anticipated music related HBO drama about New York in it's amazingly creative 70s. I nearly said heyday LOL. This is the hell experienced an shown in THE NIGHT OF from the other perspective.

American Century records is a music company about to get a ringside seat to the birth of Punk, Disco and Hip-Hip, if the slightly cartoonish but entertaining staff and clients can keep their hands off the powder and each other. Co-written by Mick Jagger and directed in parts by Martin Scorsese, who where both there at the time so should know.

Is it great, classic HBO - No
Is it still entertaining - Yes

This is best seen as a long movie, as it was cancelled after one season and isn't coming back, I think it was ultimately too much like MAD MEN. It was released unfortunately at the same time as HBOs other hope for the future, WESTWORLD, and was just steam rollered for attention by that far superior show.

Writing is ultimately the problem with VINYL, which tries to easily recapture the dynamics of MAD MEN only to find that apparently straightforward story was a lot more complex than it looked. That said compared to the plot aerobatics of WESTWORLD even MAD MEN might not have lasted long.

VINYLs main issue is it seems to be more about cocaine then music. I can see this being authentic for the time, but hardly makes the characters sympathetic in the austere world of today,

Bobby Carnivale a great actor and a real scene stealer in Boardwalk Empire but not sympathetic enough to lead the series. Seven seasons of Don Draper was just about enough thanks, and Draper did have enough wrinkles in his background and behavior to make him understandable and ultimately pitiful.

Had it been possible to rejig VINYL in the face of big egos like Jagger and Scorsese it should probably have been all about Ray Romano's character, Zak Yankovich, head of promotions who is the most likable face in the chaos.
American Century is nearly bought out by a German company, which is a problem as Led Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant is virulently anti-German
For a story heavy with 70s rock cliches this has some great female characters,
Olivia Wilde is great as the magnificent Devon Finestra, a survivor of Andy Warhol's social circle and Factory favourite. Juno Temple is an ambitious assistant who just burns up the screen.  Annie Parisse as Andrea "Andie" Zito, a previous manager at the company with an lot of unexplored but interesting history tries to restore order but only creates her own chaos.

That said, for all the casting masterstrokes, one major casting disaster is having Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall's son as a early John Lydon type punk at the heart of the action. Just telling the events as they happened would have been far preferable to a fantasy of events told from the perspective of those being rebelled against. A blatant piece of Hollywood nepotistic casting like this is a great pointer to what drove the punk movement in the first place.

Also isn't the timeline off? English punk bands before the New York Dolls? if those punks been more like Ian Dury and Dr Feelgood this would have made sense. In fact - why wasn't the punk section of VINYL just all about the New York Dolls? Were they too boring? (this is a joke).

So, its got a lot of issues, but if you try and see it like AMERICAN GODS with a good soundtrack and less like a documentary it's at least fun.

There are scenes from this one season failure of a show which have stayed with me all year.

 There is a surprisingly affecting scene when American Century tries to rescue Elvis from the tomb that is his Las Vegas career
 Or when the junior record exec try out a new sound as a dance record

Perhaps the most interesting part of VINYL is it's failure - it shows HBO experimenting and trying to get things right. This show was redeveloped endlessly, as was WESTWORLD, and sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't.

Example - The cameos and inserts of real legendary musicians into the narrative is clunky and awkward and perhaps would have been better done with real footage back protected onto the scene.

I've a high tolerance for this kind of thing from HBO and recently tried very hard to like JOHN FROM CINCINATTI before it's pretentiousness overwhelmed me. Even then that had plenty to like.

Can you regard VINYL, and surfer soaps trying to be Shakespeare, and even minor successes as TREME and HUNG as HBO classics? Obviously not, but are they better than some of the mainstream garbage we are served every day as decent TV?

Fox's EMPIRE is a successful tv show about the music business, about to go for it's 4th season. It's entertaining enough in a trashy way like the best mass market tv. I enjoyed Season 1 last year with a bottle of wine while writing out Xmas cards.

Something keeps EMPIRE just about watchable, performances and music mainly.
But it's garbage compared to VINYL.

The real issue is wether experiments like VINYL are worth the effort when there is so much other quality HBO and cable shows that don't get the attention (SHOW ME A HERO). But, If you are that much of a fan of how these shows are put together even the interesting failures are worth a look.

THE NIGHT OF is hard work

THE NIGHT OF has won and been nominated for many awards.

In contrast with Vinyl I was really looking forward to this. I now realise to write this honestly I'll have to watch to last two episodes of The Night Of, and this is annoying because I hate it.

It's another show set in New York, but this is a hell hole rather than any kind of living place.

It's unbelievable. I don't believe any kid with any background would be stupid enough to get into that situation. Naive? Where did this kid grow up? Narnia? He's supposed to have spent 20 years growing up in Queens NY!
Did he ever leave the house or did they home school him in a oxygen tank.? They are supposed to be Pakistani-Americans,  not the Amish.

If you are bored, like me, of seeing Muslims as naive, ignorant magnets for violence, you should instead watch MASTER OF NONE , which is very refreshing and funny.

THE NIGHT OF seems, for HBO original shows, a very unsophisticated take on race which puzzled me until I read on the wiki
"based on Criminal Justice, a 2008–09 British television series"
Hmm. That's depressing.

Just to clarify, I'm not Muslim or Pakistani and I'm not offended by this portrayal.
I'm just bored with it.


The gritty detail is laughable

John Turturros feet... honestly. This is a potentially interesting character reduced to the level of a joke, and that ailment isn't that funny.

Economics of New York taxi firms? If it was this much of a drag they wouldn't operate on a day to day basis. Does Uber exist in this universe? Honestly I'd rather watch Misfit Garage.

Lawyer politics ZZZzzz
(and yet I loved S1 of Damages and love Billions)

Gritty detective on his last case about to retire Zzzzzz

Want a vision of New York as hell? avoid this and watch Jacob's Ladder. The Night Of is like The Wire written from a suburb. If you need that level of grit and authenticity watch SHOW ME A HERO instead.

The Positives -
As usual with HBO casting and acting is top notch all round

While being fully aware of the critical reaction to both shows I have a bit of an itch already to rewatch VINYL despite all its many flaws, while you really would have to pay me to to watch THE NIGHT OF again.

(I'm aware most viewers and reviewers do not share my opinion on this show)

Finally You can tell a lot about the quality of the shows in this golden age of tv by the titles. It seems obvious but is worth reiterating.

VINYL's titles are exciting but overcooked

THE NIGHT OF's titles look (to me) like a dull knock off of TRUE DETECTIVE

* OK - Star Trek : Discovery vs Orville

I can see why people hate Star Trek : Discovery, but its flaws are 90% promotional - this is NOT set in universe we were familiar with and does not link up easily to other series. But, if you can get over the details up to Ep 3 it's a well written, smart, beautiful show with already some of my fave characters on tv.

The narrative before this was that The Orville was real the Trek show, if so it's everything about TOS that I used to hate - predictable, flat, dull to watch despite being set in outer space, and aliens which are not anything like alien enough. The worst crime is it's not funny while trying hard to be. I've given up already. And I would count myself a Seth McFarlane fan.

FYI the entire first season of Star Trek : Next Generation absolutely stank out 1987 before turning into the phenomena we know and love in later years.

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