After the frenzy and fireworks of Vinyl’s premiere two-hour episode directed by Martin Scorsese, the new HBO series Vinyl has geared down to a single-hour format with a bit less star power in the director’s chair, this time by veteran television director Allan Coulter (best known for his work on Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos).
The series is still mining a deep and rich vein of pop culture history during the fulcrum year 1973 when the music scene was about to split into several directions and the entire Western World was poised to plunge into a long, slow decline following the Oil Embargo triggered by the Yom Kippur War.
The main character, Richie Finestra, is trying to turn his record company around – its offices are situated in the legendary Brill Building in New York City – by catching up on new trends (glam, punk, disco and rap, all just emerging). He’s also trying to hold a domestic situation together while fending off a drink and drug culture that is consuming much of NYC’s young professional class.
While the first episode delivered an apocalyptic ending in the collapse of the Mercer Arts Center during a New York Dolls concert, which left the second episode to pick up the pieces from there. Using several flashbacks, the storyline moves back seven years to a deftly re-created Andy Warhol happening, the Exploding Inevitable featuring the Velvet Underground, where Finestra first meets his wife Devon (Olivia Wilde) and they have sex in the women’s washroom. Another flashback sees the couple in Warhol’s Factory as she gets a screen test.
Flash forward back to ‘73, and Devon is taking the kids out for pancakes. What follows is the episode’s most memorable scene. To the strains of Karen Carpenter singing ‘Yesterday Once More’ as she drives her station wagon home, Devon suddenly comes to the realization that she has left her kids back at the pancake shop. It’s a neat sequence, well-played by Wilde, that makes concrete the often toxic power of nostalgia.
Otherwise, Vinyl’s second episode has downshifted to refine its plot-lines for further developments. The show still excels at its re-creations – the Dolls, Robert Plant and now the Velvets have all been impeccably re-done, revealing one of the best art departments working today – but at Vinyl’s heart is a struggle to keep music alive amidst a overwhelming sea of compromises.
While I guess every episode can’t be directed by the likes of Martin Scorsese, there is still enough going on in Vinyl to keep me watching, even if the second episode didn’t have the punch or consistent focus of the premiere.