Vinyl: Season 1 created by Rich Cohen, Mick Jagger, and Martin Scorsese (Paramount Television, Sikelia Productions, Jagged Films)

Starring Bobby Cannavale, Paul Ben-Victor, P. J. Byrne, Max Casella, Ato Essandoh, James Jagger, J. C. MacKenzie, Jack Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Juno Temple, and Ray Ramano.

Design Failure

In my line of work, we like to discuss the weight of organizational identity. In particular, the visual mark of a company cannot carry the entire strategic sensibility of the business. If a logo represents every last detail of the organization, it will crumble under the pressure. The design will fail.

For this reason, I think of logos when I consider the effectiveness of HBO’s Vinyl.

At its core, Vinyl depicts the shifting music industry in the early 70s. And yet, show runner Terence Winter & Co feel the need to include a gangster drama within an industry drama.

American Century Records

The overarching narrative centers on Richie Fenestra (Bobbie Cannavale) and his middle-of-the-road record label. On the verge of selling his company to a German conglomerate, Richie feels the chill of cold feet.

After a come-to-Jesus moment, Fenestra destroys the contract, leaving his partners in dire straits.

The rest of the season explores the ramifications of this decision and the necessary steps the company needs to rebrand itself for generations to come, in part, through the grooming of a punk band, the Nasty Bits.

Unnecessary Anti-Hero

While this narrative unfolds, Vinyl decides to add the well-tread anti-hero narrative arcs. An early decision leaves Richie in the crosshairs of the law. Money in the wrong hands creates debts with the mob. Extensive cocaine use conjures schisms with his wife, Devon (Olivia Wilde).

Unfortunately and despite some compelling performances from the supporting cast, the need to plod in the anti-hero circles extends a burden too much for the show to bear.

Even with Cannavale’s patented scenery chewing, the notion of horrible people doing horrible things becomes boring.

There’s an interesting show at the core of Vinyl, specifically around the music industry. This show could be a spiritual extension of Mad Men if it plays its cards right.

Unfortunately, the show fails in Season 1. But, there’s always hope. The Leftovers washed away a putrid beginning with a compelling second act. Perhaps Vinyl can do the same. The ousting of Terence Winter over creative differences might suggest a stark new direction next year.

But for now, Vinyl is trying to the logo that exhibits the entire brand and it breaks under the pressure.

Verdict: 2 out of 5

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