I believed the previous episode of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll — the show named like one of those American Apparel t-shirts —starring Denis Leary of Comedy Central Roast fame was the sixth episode, but nay, it was the seventh. I haven’t looked up how many S&D&R&Rs are left; I find that if I just take it one step at a time — with no foresight or anticipation — it feels like a more manageable experience. Dealing with the weekly ritual of watching and writing about S&D&R&R is like a way of managing your life —giving it… not meaning, but some strange point around which everything else comes into focus. Also, I probably wouldn’t get up until 11 on Friday mornings without it, and it’s possible I would never again in my life have thought about Greg Dulli from the Afghan Whigs.
Yeah, Johnny (Leary) packs in some more accusations about Dulli “stealing his stage persona.” “Greg Dulli again,” Johnny’s father (Peter Riegert) says, “Bring out the violins!” Yes, we met Gigi’s mother last week, and this week — as if for a lack of other ideas related to, say, the development of their music career or something we thought the show was supposed to be focused around — we meet Johnny’s parents, mostly his mother, Elizabeth (Kelly Bishop, a.k.a. Emily from Gilmore Girls). She has terminal cancer, and is marrying the man she loves, supposedly, to find a last bit of happiness.
She asks Johnny and the band to perform at her wedding, and they do begrudgingly — music you would think that rough-and-tumble rock’n’rollers would have no ability to play. Decked out like Saturday Night Fever and Farrah Fawcett look-alikes, the band delivers a set of, apparently, “9 Billy Joel songs, 4 Bee Gees tunes and “My Heart Will Go On.” The reason the Assassins (that’s their name, in case you’re just joining us) spent a bunch of time putting the set together is because they, once again, care about Johnny and want him to make peace with his mother. Leary plays keytar and grand piano. Whatever, man — it’s typical S&D&R&R shit.
The major theme of this episode is about following, or not following, your dreams, and, like, what even are dreams? Johnny’s parents are both different types of failed performers: His father was a former pro sax player in New York who walked away to become a doctor and live in the suburbs, while his mother persevered, hoping for Broadway stardom. In one of those long S&D&R&R group scenes where everyone talks really stagily on top of each other delivering lines that could just as easily be handled by two people, the band and Ava explain to Gigi that Johnny’s mother resents him because she was pregnant with him when she had a shot at the lead role in Mary Poppins.
Johnny then acknowledges their tenuous relationship by writing a weird-as-fuck song of forgiveness called “Put It On Me,” which the band plays at the wedding. All that hardship in your life, ma — all that hatred of Julie Andrews, and your failed off-Broadway productions, and the fact that Liza Minnelli didn’t come to your birthday party — put it on me. I’m your son, no matter what. Yeah, it’s weird and snide, but apparently not supposed to be. Then again, I’ve never been able to tell whether or not the original music is supposed to be a joke.
This song does not affect his mother at all, who is marrying a gay man in a marriage of convenience — he’s a B-list documentary director looks to score it big by essentially engineering a film about the life of Johnny’s mom. Everyone interviewed reads off scripts that she’s written. Even his mother’s cancer has been played up for effect: Johnny’s father had already removed her benign polyp (“If that polyp was a tumor, I’m Clarence fucking Clemens!”)
As is standard practice for the show, no one learns much/anything by the end of the episode. His mother is worse than before. Flash, Johnny, and Gigi get closer to one another, in some abstract way, that is always just shown, rather than explained (out of nowhere, a hug). Does anyone on this show like each other? The most hilarious part of the episode comes when those three eavesdrop on Johnny’s father — at home, after the wedding — secretly playing Johnny’s tribute song to his mother on saxophone. It’s funny because Johnny’s song is completely impossible to remember the second it’s over. If we were not told that it was the same melody (“I think he’s playing your song, Dad!”), no one would have had any idea. That’s the magic of television right there.
The secret weapon of the episode, of course, is its thick glaze of shoving-trays-in-the-middle-school-cafeteria-lunch-line gay jokes. Among other things, directly after the would-be touching moment with the sax father wailing in his fancy Village apartment, the episode ends with Bam Bam giving the gay barbecue chef at the wedding a HJ in the kitchen while simultaneously eating ribs. “Rehab” (the bass player, played by John Ales) appears with a septuagenarian lady he’s intending to get with, being that he’s high on the renowned ‘70s aphrodisiac: the Quaalude. Honestly, it’s hard to think of a worse way the episode would end. “I won’t tell if you won’t tell,” Bam Bam says. Mm!
Look, this is a television show. It’s on TV, I write about it, it’s out there, people need to know. As a Winona Ryder parody of Björk once put it on SNL “Everything is music.” In the case of S&D&R&R it’s more like, “Everything that is on Earth is a thing and must be addressed.”