There aren’t jokes, per se, in FX’s Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. I don’t think punchlines like this qualify. Or do they?
“Oh, yeah? Is one of them a threesome where you last longer than seven seconds?”
Here, Johnny Rock (Denis Leary) refers an anecdote he tells earlier in the episode: one, of course, from the “old days” that are referred to more than the present day on Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. The quip phrased like a joke, emphasis-wise, but isn’t; like all the other humor on the show, it’s a slightly ironic reference back to something we hardly remember or don’t care about. The cluttered yet substance-less dialogue does somersaults to make it seem like there is something happening on this show, when really everything is just standing deathly still.
To spice things up, the FX comedy often inserts some cultural references to remind us that the show is set in 2016, not 25 years earlier. In this one, S&D&R&R takes on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway phenomenon Hamilton. Rehab (John Ales) and Bam Bam (Robert Kelly), to fill up the plot, are often caught up in different silly side projects that somehow do sort of well. Rehab’s song cycle about the Irish Potato Famine is being seized on by a Broadway producer because “historic but edgy material” is now popular on “the New York theater scene.” It’s another instance of S&D&R&R’s rampant, meaningless cultural tourism.
This is juxtaposed with a jarring plot line about Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies) casually tracking down a one-time-only female sex partner. When it comes to “sex, drugs, and rock&roll,” the Assassins’ theory is, you’ve got to try everything once. “This is gonna sound like some Oprah shit,” Ava tells Gig, “but I dont regret the things I did. I regret the things I didn’t do. So you gotta have a threesome or a lesbian affair or something.” Or as Flash (John Corbett) puts it, when Gigi — after looking at one Instagram video, because this show is set in 2016 — decides to pursue fellow rock front woman Davvy (Naomi Jones): “That’s gonna be two items off your bucket list: black, lesbian.”
Ah yes, that’s all we need to springboard an entire episode (named “Rebel Rebel,” mind you, and peppered with stray Bowie references) of S&D&R&R: a weird, off-putting little tidbit of a concept. In a way, the way it’s all sketched is too haphazard and cartoonish to even feel insensitive. “Most days I wake up and I say ‘I am the Queen of Pussy Castle, and I will destroy all my enemies,’” Davvy says, charming Gigi, and one-liners like that are the only reason a whatever-let’s-just-try-this-lesbian-thing plot line was introduced on the show. Any kind of cogent commentary on sexuality — or indeed, connections to life on Earth outside of the show — does not enter into S&D&R&R’s hermetic universe.
Two episodes in, and characters have already said “sex, drugs, and rock&roll” twice, codifying the phrase into a kind of religious mantra for the series’s characters. Rather than logic, increasingly, it is some arcane idea of what this phrase should mean that motivates them, not traits the show has developed for each of them. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is almost charming in its desire to flee from the workings of real life and its current cultural moment, as perhaps we all do after the past few weeks, but it can certainly be more than a little jarring. Why does Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll exist? How long is a piece of string?
I don’t know. But Johnny, like Flash, finishes in less than seven seconds himself in a botched threesome later in the episode. Time is a flat circle.