Published on theMusic.com.au, Jul 2016
“Let me just say what no one is saying, the band have become relentlessly irrelevant,” said a review of fictitious indie rock act The Staton-House Band on the Sunday’s episode of Showtime comedy-drama Roadies.
Rainn Wilson (The Office) plays a popular music blogger that reviews the band’s show via a YouTube video and slams them; ironically enough, the general gist of which could loosely be applied to Roadies and creator/writer/director Cameron Crowe.
While Roadies doesn’t quite paint an accurate picture of the music industry’s inner-workings, it’s in interesting case study on Crowe and what mainstream media actually believes goes on behind the scenes.
It’s also a prime example of why shows like Scorsese and Jagger’s HBO flop Vinyl are unable to hit the mark. In order to create content relatable and entertaining to your average network TV viewer, things need to be generalised and almost dumbed down – it’s why the characters on Roadies throw Taylor Swift’s name around every five minutes (no joke) and other bands like Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Wilson get name dropped, all while making the show’s writing feel like an out-of-touch parent trying to talk with their kids about what’s hip.
A network trying to stay relevant by feeding off someone who’s now so far removed from the actual way the music industry is growing was always going to be a recipe for disaster.
Crowe’s now 58 and it’s been 15 years since his Almost Famous flick came out and won a slew of awards, and since then it seems he’s been living in a bubble, blissfully unaware that touring in 2016 is quite different to how it was when he’d follow acts like the Allman Brothers Band around in the ‘70s while writing for Rolling Stone.
J.J. Abrams scores a producer credit, while Hollywood stars Luke Wilson and Imogen Poots play the show’s main characters, showing they opted for big names rather than people more relevant to the industry. They’re good actors, but none of them actually have any decent musical background, so there’s a disconnect between the actors and the authenticity of their characters.
Rapper Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly, plays Wes and is the closet it comes when looking at main cast members having strong musical ties, and his credits are linked to shows like Ridiculousness and a slew of MTV-awards. Plus he’s actually not that great an actor.
Carla Gugino plays Shelli, a production manager who works alongside tour manager Bill (Wilson), and this pair actually manage to carry the show pretty well considering what they’ve been given to work with, but once again, they’re just not all that believable as die-hard industry folk.
It’s not Gugino’s first stint on Showtime, having a recurring role in Californication back in 2010 – in fact, if the network really wants a hit, they’d be better off reviving the character of Atticus Fetch – played by Tim Minchin – and giving him a spin-off. It wouldn’t necessarily be more accurate but at least it would be more engaging. Plus it’s Tim Minchin.
Reg Whitehead (Rafe Spall) is the show’s villain – so to speak – a suit sent from corporate to make cuts and the crew more efficient, and while it’s an obvious stab at the businesses and corporations behind the scenes of the music, the character is almost an unintentional dig at the showrunners.
On top of all this, where are the appearances from up-and-coming acts? Buzz bands and acts that are actually popular now. The support band slots on this fake tour go to artists like Lindsey Buckingham, generic indie-folk act The Head & The Heart and a somewhat cringe-worthy performance from Reignwolf.
More importantly, for a show based on the music industry, the soundtrack is less than note-worthy and once again feels cliché.
It’s only every now and then we’re given a glimpse into the real scene, and for some reason those aspects are hidden as Easter eggs, like when Bill is trying to find an opening act and we get a quick glance at his list of potentials.
Tame Impala apparently weren’t available, but he’s also listed Best Coast, Chvrches (spelt Churches on their list) and Kurt Vile – the latter of which actually does have a song on the soundtrack. So, someone on the writing staff does know music, but their expertise is being overridden by Fleetwood Mac solo acts and cheesy indie rock.
Actual roadies have been bagging the show too, with a friend of mine who works in the field saying, “If the show was accurate it would be 50% unloading trucks and 50% people trying to find cigarettes.”
One of the few correct depictions in Roadies comes from the tour managers and others needing to baby the talent and the ridiculous requests said artists make throughout, but even then they don’t explore that nearly enough.
The main problem with the show thus far is its characters and storyline could be applied to just about any other field. If you take this plot and apply it to a group of bakers, mechanics or retail workers, it wouldn’t feel all that different.
Approach Roadies as light-hearted entertainment – something to chuck on in the background as you do other things — and you won’t be too disappointed. If you dive in head-first looking for life-changing industry commentary you’ll be sorely disappointed.