The assertion that TV is the new cinema is rammed home by this ambitious ten-parter set in the amoral fug of the 70s music industry. It’s a collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, so expect a kind of Mean Streets Fighting Man.
As the Scorsese-directed pilot opens, record-label boss Richie Finestra (Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale) has hit rock bottom. And via period-perfect flashbacks and a scorching soundtrack, we find out what put him there…
It begins with laughs at the expense of Donny Osmond and England Dan & John Ford Coley. Ian Hart is hilarious playing Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant as a kind of X-rated tornado. And if not the spit of Mick, James Jagger certainly sounds just like his dad, playing Kip Stevens, the nihilistic frontman of a proto-punk band.
But what starts out like Almost Famous soon turns into something more like GoodFellas, as the world of washed-out rockers and scuzzy execs slowly drips its poison. So when you hear War’s I Was Slippin’ into Darkness at Richie’s birthday party, you know it’s on the soundtrack for a reason. And this being Scorsese – and HBO – you can expect a blizzard of swearing, smack and sex.
As the series unfolds we’ll see the consequences of Richie’s moment of madness, but also explore the lives and back stories of his family and colleagues. It’s a fiery central performance from Cannavale – but even better are Juno Temple as ambitious A&R assistant Jamie Vine and Olivia Wilde as Richie’s wife Devon.
The pace, initially at least, is indulgent, while the violence has the familiar stamp of Scorsese, but it’s immersive, slow-burning drama, with music the most influential character of all.
And what music it is – serious money has clearly been spent on the rights. The pilot alone embraces everything from Abba to Zeppelin via, Bo Diddley and Ruth Brown, even Slade and Mott the Hoople. Even better is episode two, where you can tick off Bowie, Toots and the Maytals, the Velvet Underground, Stevie Wonder and the O’Jays.
To begin with the A-list tracklist feels like showboating but the music soon becomes skillfully woven into the narrative: Karen Carpenter appearing to Devon in her car and singing Yesterday Once More to her really shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does – in fact, it’s an emotional highlight of episode two.
Similarly the early vibe of a 70s Wolf of Wall Street (Vinyl’s co-creator Terence Winter wrote that, too), with its sleazy air and aggressive blokeishness, soon settles down into something more all-embracing, contemplative, at times joyous.
Why not give it a spin?
Vinyl begins tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic