Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?
A new TV channel means no escape from reality
Are you a fan of reali-tee TV? Then glad tidings for you unapologetic anthropologists and car-crash Kardashian watchers. A new subscription video-on-demand service (or SVOD, as no one will ever call it) launches in Ireland this March, promising just what the world needs – more trash TV.
Hayu from NBC Universal brings us “all-reality, all-day”, perfect when for when you have the mother of all hangovers and you can’t focus on anything more challenging than Millie from Made in Chelsea’s hair.
Hayu has 3,000 episodes worth of reality shows to call on - including Keeping Up with the Kardashians, The Real Housewives, RuPaul’s Drag Race – the show that brought the world the “Snatch Game”– The Millionaire Matchmaker and Don’t Tell the Bride.
If you’ve never seen the latter, here’s a run down: bride tells groom she wants a traditional cathedral wedding followed by Tuscan-style reception and a muted colour palette; groom arranges marriage at a paintballing park followed by hot dogs with no bun because he blew all the budget on the his astronaut-themed stag.
Reality TV was once heralded as an exciting, unpredictable form of observational media. Mainly though it’s become seen as the beginning of the end: it’s base, barbaric and disturbing, which says as much about us its audience as it does about its subjects.
Big Brother was accused of turning us into creepy voyeurs; X Factor made us all nasty little Simon Cowells, revelling in teenager’s tears. Other critics lambast the fact that so much reality is scripted and how networks actively manipulate their “stars” and viewers to boost ratings (see
Jersey Shore’s Snooki getting sucker-punched).
With 500 more episodes promised each year, and at ¤4.99 a month, the makers of Hayu say “it costs less than a lipstick” and the subscription is no contract, unless you count the one you’ve made with the devil. Katy Harrington
“No, Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger,” is a sentence that has never been said. “I’m afraid this is a terrible, terrible idea Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, and so I’m not giving you money for your television project,” is another sentence that has never passed the lips of mortal man. I challenge you to say either of these sentences aloud. It cannot be done.
And this is why we have Vinyl (Sky Atlantic, Monday), Martin Scorsese’s Mick-Jagger-produced first foray into television.
The two-hour pilot begins chirpily enough with a weeping grunting middle-aged man snorting cocaine in a dark alley in the privacy of his car. No, this is not a programme about either Irish economic policy circa 2006 or your last birthday, but a programme about the music scenes of the 1960s and 1970s.
“At last,” says you. “Baby boomers are usually so shy about talking about the music of the 1960s and 1970s. It’s about time the dramatic arts addressed this gap. And, furthermore, wouldn’t it be great to tell this story with less youthful exuberance and counterculture, and more sweaty middleaged men in crisis having board meetings and grunting?”
You are in luck. Our protagonist is record executive Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale). He is the owner of a big, sullenly handsome, rubbery face which is framed below a symmetrical floppy middle-parting and atop a broad wingtip collar.
Despite looking like a depressed Spitting Image puppet version of Saturday Night
Fever- era John Travolta, he has a beautiful wife (Olivia Wilde), a record label, lots of money, a corrupted soul, shattered ideals and a past filled with betrayal. For some reason, he is unhappy.
Luckily, Richie comes with a disembodied voice-over, like many other Scorsese characters and Gerry Adams in the 1980s. “So this is my story,” he tells us at the outset, “clouded by lost brain cells, self-aggrandisement, and maybe a little bit of bullshit.”
He also likes to express his inner torment in Scorseses que moments of sudden, cinematic violence: ripping his car mirror off its hinges to snort cocaine; smashing his priceless Bo Diddley guitar in a hissy fit; participating in the bludgeoning to death of a vulgar, troublesome colleague.
The dawn of nostalgia
Already in the early 1970s, people like Richie were nostalgic for the early 1960s, and when not drugged and breaking stuff, the characters are constantly asking each other about when they first heard the music of that very slightly earlier age. Yes, the delightful repetitive cycle of nostalgia beloved by God’s favoured generation clearly began at the chimes of midnight on January 1st, 1970.
Vinyl is the anti- Mad Men. Chronologically, it begins roughly where Mad Men finished and it reverses that show’s focus. Whereas Mad
Men wondered at the unknowable interior worlds of characters unpredictably shaped by a churning zeitgeist, Vinyl’s protagonist is tediously knowable and the external world helpfully shapes itself in loving mimicry of his inner life.
Indeed, when Richie begins to feel, at a New York Dolls concert, that the whole edifice of rock’n’roll is collapsing in order for something new to arise from the ashes, the building literally collapses (this is supposedly the Mercier Arts Centre which fell down in 1973, albeit with no one in the building). Here is another sentence no one has ever said: “Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, is that not a little too on the nose?”
Richie’s unhappiness should not be mistaken for depth. We come into his story at the point when his youthful enthusiasm has flattened into boring old cynicism. Who cares what happens to him? Meanwhile, the fictionalised musicians – Led Zeppelin, the New York Dolls – are ephemerally sketched cover bands, the female characters are all wives, groupies and male fantasies of female empowerment (the go-getting young A&R woman sleeps with the singer she wants to sign), and all the other male execs are venal ids competing for space in a fluctuating hierarchy and, presumably, for the better wigs.
“No, Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger,” I say, hitting them on the snout with a newspaper. “Bad Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger.”
Vinyl is just the latest iteration of HBO anti-hero porn. The original anti-heroes, of course, were bad boy celebrity chefs like Marco Pierre White, who nowadays has a dual existence as a black-and-white photograph of a young man smoking a cigarette and a crumpled, squinting middle aged man who judges our choices.
At the moment, he shills his restaurant as The Restaurant (TV3, Wednesday) and assesses the idiosyncratic cooking of Irish celebrities. This is the culinary equivalent of being a judge at the Community Games. Fellow experts Clodagh McKenna and Tom Doorley are aware of this, but no one has told White, who uses his glasses as a prop and makes gnomic pronouncements as though, off camera, an intern is carving them in stone. Maybe they are. I’ve no idea how he lives. And who wouldn’t want the words “It’s like kissing an ugly woman. I’m going back for more” etched on their mantelpiece?
This week, health-obsessed Finnish spoilsport Dr Eva Orsmond – who, we are told, “makes people laugh and cry in equal measure” – cooks for a room filled with self-diagnosed “foodies” (this lies somewhere between a fetish and a medical condition). Of course, Irish people are fierce judgmental about food these days. It’s been at least 10 years since “pesto” replaced “the famine” at the bedrock of the Irish collective unconscious, and now we can photograph our dinners with the best of them.
Eva makes steak tartar – raw mince with an uncooked egg on top (it has the look of a bizarre farmyard accident) – and measures out fun-eluding portions of squid. Then she and her team watch on a monitor as the guests eat, which is presumably something that happens now in restaurants. Poor Eva wants her meals to make a healthy point, but few outside of the vegan community want their dinner judging them. “People don’t like healthy cooking,” concludes Eva. The judges seem to like it. They are in their element, scoffing thoughtfully and mispronouncing French.
And Eva is happy enough. Sadly, she never quite matches the messy exuberance of another, much-loved Scandinavian gastronomer, the original bad boy of cookery, a maverick food fusionist with a heady disrespect for the rules: the Swedish Chef. Why doesn’t someone make a gritty 10-part HBO drama about him?
Richie comes with a disembodied voice-over, like many other Scorsese characters and Gerry Adams in the 1980s
RuPaul and guest judge Debbie Reynolds in an episode of
RuPaul’s Drag Race. Photograph: Rolling Blackouts/Logo TV
Nothing says rock’n’roll like sweaty men and board rooms, at least according to Vinyl’s greasy take
Sullenly handsome, rubbery: Bobby Cannavale in Vinyl