Labor Day, the most bittersweet of holidays. It marks the end of summer; no more trips to the beach or the neighbor’s pool. The school year has started, fall is on its way or if you’re in LA, more of the same weather till it drops ten degrees. This three day weekend is the final hurrah before we are immersed in the trenches of work and winter and the end of another year. There’s a lot of great ways I could have spent this time, either with friends flipping burgers, maybe even being productive with my writing, get started on that great American novel. But alas, much like I spent my vacation in New York watching the Phantom Menace trilogy for a podcast formally known as Griffin and David Present, I spent these early days of September (roughly 32 hours) watching the poorly received Showtimes series Roadies in anticipation for the renamed podcast Blank Check with Griffin and David as they have tirelessly revisited all of Cameron Crowe’s filmography. This is more proof of my unhealthy dedication to an audio program as I have watched over ten hours of mediocre content for what I can only hope is enthralling two-hour discussion between the hosts (and “pro-doer” Ben).
I want to state upfront, Roadies isn’t a terrible show. It really could have been a train wreck after witnessing last year’s Aloha which feels like a script written by an alien trying to mimic how humans communicate. It’s similar to the fiasco of Elizabethtown which introduced to the much detested “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” and the less appreciated knife-wielding “Murder Stationary Bike.” Roadies never reaches that level of catastrophe with white Hawaiians or misshapen shoes . The show centers around the crew containing riggers, guitar techs, managers and a nanny working the road with the fictional band Staten-House. Each episode takes us to a different city with a myriad of roadblocks and plenty of sexual tension. Most important to why this show isn’t dead on arrival is Crowe has returned to writing what he knows. He brings forth his love of music and atmosphere of life on tour which he first recreated in Almost Famous. Electrical rigger Kelly-Ann (Imogen Poots) embodies a young Crowe, in the industry because she believes in the music, following a band that speaks truth. One of her traits is her interest in film, she almost leaves the tour to attend film school but stays, always with a portable camera in hand (or at least the last episode leads us to believe she’s been documentary everything). Tour Manager Phil (Luke Wilson) is current day Crowe, someone who has seen it all, maybe sobered up but remains close to the world of music past and present. These two and production manager Shelli (Carla Gugino) take control of the narrative as they try to reign in the devoted team they travel with.
Sadly, it’s no Almost Famous as it doesn’t have the greatest era of rock ‘n’ roll on its side (or Phillip Seymour Hoffman). What should be an intimate look at the unsung heroes of the music industry feels more like Crowe showing off the songs on his iPod with egregious musician cameos from rising stars like Halsey to legends like Lindsey Buckingham. Enjoyment of the series hinges strongly on your enthusiasm towards live performances because each episode will pause for at least one song similar to the musical guest segment on SNL that I routinely fast forward through. This does not include the “Song of The Day”, the bonus content written out on screen to save you time from having to Shazam it. Crowe is no stranger in investing a lot of time and money into a project’s soundtrack but this comes off too much as either bragging about what cool bands he likes or pandering, hoping The Head and the Heart is what viewers want to see. These music specifics are what make up the world’s fervor in each city and stadium which holds a well of pop culture history. Reflecting on the past leads to some of the better moments like “King of the Road” Phil (Ron White) recounting his glory days with Led Zeppelin or the bottle episode where ignorant financial advisor Reg (Rafe Spall) utters “Cincinnati” on the tour bus and the entire crew of roadies must drive 100 miles the opposite direction because of a “Who” based superstition. I like music trivia without having to watch the music. The is a visual medium, I can listen to the songs later.
Now my disinterest towards what is indeed the basis of the show is my own problem. That’s a flawed, personal reason I was detached. There’s still a fair amount of small nitpicks and glaring omissions hindering the growth of Roadies. On a grand scale, there are too many characters. Some of the people on the poster get four lines an episode at most (Finesse Mitchell is purely on there for diversity sake). I was anticipating way more Keisha Castle-Hughes who I’ve missed since her Whale Riding days but get short shifted as sound board operator Donna. At one point Kelly Ann mentions that Donna and her girlfriend (who is pregnant) broke up which is glossed over and forgotten because they seem to be back together next time it’s brought up. There no consistency between story lines for minor characters. Both Milo (Peter Cambor) the guitar tech and Chris (Tanc Sade) one of the band members are remarked on having crushes on Kelly Ann, something that never plays into the narrative. Then you’ve got Shelli’s husband Sean (Matt Passmore) who surprises her at a venue, he seems real chipper for a guy who’s dad died a few days earlier. If you’re not a lead, your storyline picks up and drops off as it pleases. There’s often no sense of how much time has passed (the tour is only a few weeks but feels like months) as emotional turn around is so abrupt. Then there will be build ups with no payoff. Phil runs into an ex at a corporate function, he’s nervous that she might remember him, she does and is quite cordial. The end. I would have assumed that was going to be a significant plot point but like many are just another hollow scene. The writing itself is quite cliche which isn’t doing any favors for the characters. I found myself correctly guessing the next cheesy line to be uttered and I don’t want to know that. Television writers to be more inventive than my media consumer brain that repeats what I’ve already heard countless times.
I’ll be it there are two instances in which the creative team really shows me up and the Cameron Crowe crazy penetrates through. First is the show-within-a-show that is a hit with all the characters and presumably the nation which is “Dead Sex” starring David Spade. Garnered from the few clips exhibited, it’s Walking Dead-esque and the premise is that a virus has spread and the only way to stay alive is to have sex, every nine days to be exact. I can’t tell if this running gag was put in place as a commentary about how there’s so much ridiculous, high concept TV out there now and Roadies is a combatant of that as a grounded character drama. This theory seems unlikely purely because everyone adores the show and we should be on their side. No one questions its integrity which puts the egg on the face of our heroes. Maybe its to make Roadies look good by comparison. Crowe has made some less than stellar contributions lately but at least it’s not tits and zombies, right? Or someone in the writers’ room thought it was funny and they knew David Spade was free between Sandler flicks. The even bigger mystery that irks me to no end, that has no bearings on a show that has been otherwise based in a familiar reality is that Taylor Swift goes to…space? This is something discussed so casually that I had to think that artists perform in alternate atmospheres all the time. This arises when Phil is forced to leave the band and joins the Plant Swift tour wherein apparently they travel to a satellite or space base for concert purposes. Phil skypes with Kelly Ann and laments how much he “misses gravity.” It’s so frustrating how normal this is to everyone. Shelli has marital problems which is suddenly a no-brainer when Sean is Swift’s tour manager. Of course, phone sex is hard when your husband is no longer in the same gravitational pull. We’re also supposed to believe Phil goes to space and returns to Staten-House in two weeks!? Is going to space like being ordained? Apply online, print out your certificate and walk onto a rocket? Pack light because you’ll be back in no time. That element is so frustrating I’m willing to overlook why the black lead singer of Staten-House has a white son. Anything in this world is possible!
Those setbacks don’t ruin the show, but it sure doesn’t help. It’s nice to know that Cameron Crowe hasn’t completely lost touch, which his recent string of flops led me to believe. He’s trying to get back in touch with his roots. It’s not a fruitless effort, just a bland one. His scathing take on critics in the form of a pompous Rain Wilson in episode three doesn’t put him in anyone’s good graces. It’s flourishing like that which make it clear Crowe cares too much. He’s trying to please people with cool bands and standard tropes so everyone can follow along. Not inclusive enough to have notable diversity and the stoic Hawaiian security guard is uncomfortably too “spiritual.” Will Roadies get a second season? It’s not like it’s a show that didn’t find its footing. It knows what it is and it’s uninspired. The appeal is built on relationships and music and if you don’t care about the romances (the friendships are pretty empty) and you’re more into hip hop than alt rock then no need to buy a ticket, let Roadies pass on through.