Note: SBR never spoils.
I’ve made it a habit to try and pick up a new show every year. Sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to do, but someone has to be first witness to what could be the next TV sensation. One day, while watching South Park a commercial for a new FX show caught my eye. For one, I recognized one of the main stars from another show. And as a guy into rock music, the theme and musical choice was compelling. Empire satisfies my love of R&B, so maybe this will do the same for my love of rock.
Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll (I’ll shorten it to SDRR) premiered on FX on July 16, 2015 with its first season ending September 17. (The show has been renewed for a second season). The show is created by, written and starring Denis Leary.
The show follows a band named The Heathens, who broke up after their first and only album. The lead singer, Johnny Rock, has actually managed to break up every band he ever assembled/joined. 20 years later he runs into a girl at a bar who ends up being his daughter who he didn’t know existed. The daughter, Gigi, specifically sought him out with a proposition to reassemble The Heathens (eventually rebranding it as The Assassins) with her as the lead singer and Johnny as songwriter.
The show mainly focuses on the inner workings of this band. You see the process by which they write their songs, build a fanbase, and try to coexist. The instability of the band is the show’s core element, with most of the arguments being instigated by Johnny.
In comedies, the focus is rarely on the central narrative. Instead, you focus on the situations that end up driving the plot forward (a situation of the week type thing). However, some shows have a fairly fascinating plot to go with it. SDRR’s central story, while nothing extraordinary, is above average when compared to the average sitcom. I found arcs, such as Gigi and Johnny’s complicated relationship and two members creating a new genre, fascinating. I wouldn’t go as far as to say these are deep and gripping plotpoints, but they compelled me to keep watching.
SDRR has two types of jokes: scathing sarcasm (mixed with insult humor and gags) and references. The show is heavy on the reference humor towards the beginning, and this is what’s going to immediately turn off a lot of people. A common joke throughout the show would be “That song sounds like something *blank* would write after coming out of *blanks* vagina”. (That’s an actual line from Episode 2). If you don’t know the band/performer, this goes over your head. If you do get the joke, it’s a giggle at most. This is some of SDDR’s weakest humor.
Eventually, they lessen the references and start focusing more on sarcasm and gags. This is where the show starts to pick up. From Episode 3 onward, the show gets steadily funnier. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s hilarious, but you’ll get a laugh once you give it a chance. Although, by that point, the show becomes less focused on comedy and begins focusing on the characters and story.
Basically, the funniest and most accessible episodes are mid-season with the first and last two episodes being more story-based.
It’s important to note that while I found those first two episodes unfunny, you very well may disagree. Just because I didn’t get the Sting or The Who references doesn’t mean you won’t. My point is that if you aren’t knowledgeable in this area, it may take you a bit longer to get into this show. By Episode 3 or 4, it becomes more accessible to everyone.
The most important aspect of any comedy is the strength of its characters. Thankfully, SDRR has some very interesting characters and great performances.
Denis Leary plays Johnny Rock, a washed up, drug addicted, snarky has-been bent on fame; the stereotypical rock star. By far he is the most memorable character of the show and has the funniest lines. Leary was born to play this role and he gets lost in it easily. He adds the color, style and look that makes such a character enjoyable.
Gigi is played by Elizabeth Gillies. (People my age and younger will recognize her from Victorious). The long-lost daughter of Johnny, she’s the ambitious, no-nonsense, sassy lead singer also bent on fame. Her character takes a while to develop, and before she does it’s as if she goes out of her way to not emote. Come episode 4 or 5, she becomes more like the band’s anchor. She becomes take-charge, calculated, impulsive, and even vulnerable.
Flash, played by John Corbett, is the band’s guitarist. He agrees to join Johnny’s new band despite their longstanding animosity. He soon sparks a relationship with Gigi: half because he digs her, and half to spite Johnny. He’s more reserved, back-handed, and in-touch with the music instead of just the old days. Flash is probably the second funniest character in the show, matching Johnny in his sarcastic ability.
There’s Bobby Kelly as the rotund drummer Bam Bam, a softy who loves food. John Ales plays the bassist Rehab, the self-loathing drug-addict. Finally, Elaine Hendrix plays back-up singer Ava, Johnny’s girlfriend who acts as his all-day emotional compass and the band’s surrogate mother. These characters are relegated to the background, having their moments but never standing out much.
Really the only memorable characters thus far are Johnny, Flash and Gigi. It’ll be nice if Season 2 allows Rehab, Ava and Bam Bam more comedic opportunity and development.
The single best thing about the show is it’s music. Imitating their success with R&B through Empire, Fox and FX also pack some really good rock tunes in SDRR. I wouldn’t say their mind-blowing, but I have a couple on my phone.
My favorite song is the rock ballad “New York 2015” from Episode 3. “Complicated” was also good, and so was the theme song which could’ve been a typical 80’s chart topper. The song “What’s My Name” is cleverly turned into three different songs in three different genres.
FX clearly has a talented group of musicians in their ranks, creating a rich, hard rock sound that I dare you not to find a favorite song in. Of course, how could you not mention Elizabeth Gillies powerhouse voice. She’s best known for pop music, and you can hear that in her voice from time to time. Fortunately, power knows no genre. Rock music fits her like a glove, especially in songs like “What’s My Name”.
For a first season, I think it’s a decent show. Nothing to write home about, but it’s worth a shot if the premise sparks your interest. The humor gets better over time, but a minor understanding of rock history (bands, drummers, lead singers, etc.) may make the show funnier for you. It’s well acted, moderately funny, and has a good soundtrack. In the future, I hope the comedy gets sharper and they flesh out the characters more.
This show’s ideal audience are hardcore rock fans and people who grew up during the 70’s and 80’s when rock was prominent. Those are the people who will pick up the references and find the show funnier. Those outside that group can still get into the show if their patient with it. If you’re expecting constant jokes, you’ll despise this show.
I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!