Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, TV’s greatest and most comprehensive fantasy television show, is back with a bang: that is to say, its very first line incorporates the phrase, “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.”
Perhaps the tone is just a bit darker this time around: Ava (Elaine Hendrix), Johnny Rock (Denis Leary), Flash (John Corbett) and the rest of the former Heathens are, from the jump of this show, confronted with mortality. It’s a little more than the usual order of the day — more than the constantly lingering fact that they are getting older, and closer to never having the chance to fulfill their dreams as rock icons. Johnny may never get his “vibe” back from Greg Dulli (the musical director of the show), or stop resenting Flash. The premiere begins in the aftermath of a funeral for the former backup singer in Rock’s old band passing away. This raises the idea of a “bucket list,” like a jumper cable for a season of television that it’s hard to believe was ever greenlit; there are so many rocks for Johnny and Ava, especially, to still get off.
It’s an excuse which — given how little plot this show runs on — is more than enough to give the FX comedy mileage, possibly for a full season. A box full of old videos of the Heathens reveals that Flash and Ava had an undisclosed relationship in Nashville, when she and Johnny were on a hiatus. So we get some footage of Ava as a second-grade Sheryl Crow, and 1994 bad hair days, then a series of elliptical arguments about who fucked more people in the halcyon Rock and Roll Days of Yore. Johnny muses, considers leaving the band, creating his own brand of “demon” whiskey.
That’s what the show is. Nothing happens in the present, save for long verbal spats — drily rattled off — we get tableaus of the past, described details which are simultaneously lurid, but also banal. The cumulative past of Johnny and the former Heathens is a rock ‘n’ roll daydream culled from endless real-life source material to become something indistinct — a true Urban-Outfitters-CBGB-shirt Frankenstein’s monster from which we can derive no lessons, except, perhaps, that human beings have the desire to have sex and make money. Also, you can afford cocaine when you are a famous rock star, and usually, you do it.
The desire to do these things, in Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, is what makes the world go round. Sometimes, too, having a warm body at night, to languish with as your thoughts calm down for the day, even if that your dad’s best friend and cuckold (Gigi, played by Elizabeth Gillies) is important. Sometimes, staring at a good old photo of yourself, looking younger and cooler than you are now, can make your day. In the end, any conflict, remorse, or self-hatred that mounts within you on a given day can be diffused by these simple things. Worry and self-examination is contained and cyclical, just like the episodic sitcom format Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll seems to be morphing into this season.
As the waves of self-doubt ebb and flow for our six-person central cast, we hardly get to see anyone else in the world around them. The Assassins seem, in speech and reference, blissfully separate from it. For 22 minutes every week for the next nine, we’ll be able to escape in their claustrophobic world. We can enjoy their ever-on-brand, slightly nonsensical cultural takes (Johnny, for instance, wanting to grab John Bonham and bring him back down to Earth and say, “Hey, douchebag, enough with the 20-minute mellotronic flute solos”). They’ll make up a lesbian Van Halen cover band called “Vag Halen,” they’ll make non-sequitur Bowie references to be timely, and even a Snapchat reference or two. Will they learn anything about themselves? No — but did the Seinfeld characters? Will you? Absolutely not. But you may lose yourself, perhaps, in the music — the moment, before you definitely let it go.
The Assassins end the episode stronger than ever, ready to make new songs. Gigi forgives Flash, and Johnny forgives everyone. Rehab gets a good reel of pictures of Flash; Bam gets away with calling Johnny, essentially, a busted old asshole. People are bad, but that brings them together as much as it pushes us apart. Business as usual; another episode of television down, and the rest of your life still to go.