If there’s one thing I know about you (let the record show I do not personally know you), it is that you are not watching the Showtime television series Roadies, Cameron Crowe’s latest impotent stab at entertainment relevance. Because whenever I ask someone if they’ve been watching it, the answer is invariably no, as why would they? Life, after all, is hard enough as is. Which raises a troubling question: Why does Roadies exist?
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Why, in spite of everything—in spite of the fact that Aloha, Crowe’s last film, a film in which Queen of the WASPs Emma Stone played a woman who was a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian, rightfully bombed, as did the three that came before it, We Bought a Zoo, Elizabethtown, and Vanilla Sky—is Crowe given carte blanche to continue straining to fellate himself on screens large and small? In a world in which Charlie Fucking Kaufman can’t generate the funds necessary to direct another picture, what deal at which crossroads did this son of a bitch make in order to have his latest creative misstep be not only greenlit, but wantonly advertised on bus stops?
My friend Dave tried to explain it the other day, describing Crowe as a one in a series of respected auteurs who, in their golden years, are allowed unfettered opportunities to create new projects, regardless of the dim candles they may hold to their predecessors. “But Cameron Crowe didn’t direct Citizen Kane,” I countered. “He directed Singles.”
But, Megan! You’re possibly (though not likely) thinking. He also directed Almost Famous! He was a Rolling Stone wunderkind! Surely his inside-baseball knowledge of ‘70s dad rock would make fantastic fodder for episodic television! And perhaps it would, had Roadies been created 20-30 years earlier and not been hastily cobbled together in what one can only assume was a direct response to HBO’s born-to-fail rock drama Vinyl, executive produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger.
I am here to tell you that Roadies makes Vinyl look like Mean Streets.
Roadies follows the trials and tribulations of a ragtag group of all-white (natch) roadies (double natch) who live for the music, specifically the music played by the wildly successful fictional arena rock group the Staton-House Band. While the Staton-House band may be fictional, cameos from actual musicians (like the Head and the Heart, Lindsay Buckingham, and Reignwolf, whoever the fuck that is), abound. The program stars Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino, both of whom deserve better.
I am watching Roadies because you will not. Allow me to recap the first five episodes as you have, justifiably, not seen them. In the coming weeks, I will also be recapping the next five, because you will not watch those either.
Episode One: Life Is a Carnival
In this universe this show inhabits, Pearl Jam remains a topical reference. A groupie inserts a microphone into her own vagina and licks it afterward. Kelly Ann, the show’s resident wide-eyed forest nymph (who, unlike other girls, skateboards) abandons her dreams of film school to continue toiling as an electrician for the implausibly named Staton-House Band—a job that entails little more than her pushing wheeled objects. (But the rewards are priceless. The band played “Letter From a Lover” tonight! That’s never been on the set list!)
Episode Two: What Would Phil Do?
Former actor Luke Wilson declares, straight-faced, “I’m big wave surfin’. I’m the Laird Hamilton of rock. And I love it.” The roadies mourn the loss of Phil, the just-ousted road manager played by Ron “Tater Salad” White in a straw cowboy hat, and rue the presence of a Limey money man (named, naturally, Reg) who has come in to trim the tour’s fat. Kelly Ann declares, straight faced, “A raisin is essentially a person’s idea of how to change a grape, when a grape was already perfect.” This platitude is treated as profound. The band plays another rare song from the archives: “Coyote Kisses.”
Episode Three: The Bryce Newman Letter
A blogger has accused the band of getting too comfortable, a scathing indictment because art is about hunger. In the Roadies universe, bloggers have power. But so does the crew. Wes, a roadie whose job mostly entails making “epic” coffee, purchases a hallucinogen named Joshua Tree 37 to slip in the blogger’s “epic” coffee, which the blogger, blissfully ignorant to the shit storm that is to come, zealously ingests. A Mexican fast food mascot then speaks in a “Yo Quiero Taco Bell”-esque accent to the tripping blogger, telling him to apologize to Apple CEO Tim Cook. It is the third time Cook’s name is referenced in the episode. It will not be the last.
Lindsay Buckingham, the night’s opening act (while he’s clearly the bill’s most venerated performer, he is willing to shed his ego and open for the Staton-House Band because he’s such a fan), reveals he’s “in the program.” (The 11th Tradition of AA states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”) After the blogger’s trip, he recants his statements about the band and expresses his love for the roadies, writing, “Community. The feeling you get from a perfect song. You realize... you’re not alone.” Drugs, once again, solve problems.
Episode Four: The City Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken
The bus driver, Gooch (played by Luis Guzman, because that’s the law) is convinced the bus is cursed, on account of the fact the Limey uttered the name of the city in which the Who Concert Disaster of ‘79 occurred on said bus. Hijinx ensue. Christ knows what bands are supposed to do when they’re actually playing Cincinnati.
Kelly Ann Facetimes Phil, who is presently in outer space, where he is working on the Taylor Swift tour. Allow me to repeat myself: Phil is in outer space, where he is working on the Taylor Swift tour. Which is taking place in outer space. As in, not-Earth. I can only assume Crowe was on Joshua Tree 37 when he came up with this premise, which I’m sure he thought was a cheekily absurd critique of pop bigness. It plays solely as the bad kind of absurd.
“I love Taylor Swift, but I fuckin’ miss gravity,” Phil says. He informs Kelly Ann the roadies need to drive 100 miles, find 11 balloons and 11 eggs and play a song by the Who in order to break the curse. Gooch refuses to stop the bus on this journey, which forces the Limey take a shit in a bag; post-shit, he and Kelly Ann stumble upon what might be a dead body in pursuit of the eggs, which results in a lot of good natured running, laughing, and bonding. The sexual tension between this nymph-like child and fully grown man is palpable.
There is a slow-mo shot of balloons being released into the air after solemn, respectful talk of the music fans who tragically died (in a general admission stampede, no less) on December 3rd, 1979. Post-release, it immediately starts raining. The Song of the Day? (Oh, I’m sorry—did I not mention every episode has a “Song of the Day”? My apologies.) The Who’s “They Are All In Love,” played on acoustic by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, who is also on the bus for some reason.
The episode ends in typical “there is a light that never goes out” Crowe fashion, with extended scenes of people wryly smiling while staring into the middle distance. Ham-fisted, forced poignancy is front and center, as the man’s trademark demands. The juxtaposition of pseudo-pathos (i.e. paying tribute to the Who’s deceased fanbase) and complete and batshittery (i.e. showing Tater Salad floating in space) is what makes Roadies such compellingly bad programming. It takes the cake and shits on it. I am in awe of its un-self-awareness.
Episode Five: Friends and Family
Under the influence of Kelly Ann (a true fan who loves one thing and one thing only: the music), the band has taken to playing an untenably uncommercial setlist laden with deep cuts, including their legendary song, “Janine.” As fate would have it, that real Janine has heard tell they’ve been playing her song, and wants to get back in touch on their latest tour stop—Denver, their hometown. The roadies must to do everything in their power to prevent the group’s weepy lead singer from running into his former flame, the muse of his tortured verse.
Yet another late-era Tom Petty song is played interstitially, this one about being “back in town.”
The band’s archivist/biggest fan is named Mike Finger. And Mike Finger is also coming to the show. His name. Is Mike. Finger. Mike Finger has all the Staton-House Band rarities, including the KEXP session where the studio catches on fire! But he doesn’t want to actually meet the band. They live here. (He gesticulates to his head.) And here. (He gesticulates to his heart.) There, they’re always perfect.
Meanwhile, Shelli (Gugino) the tour’s production manager, is horny. She fucks who you think she’ll fuck, because of course she fucks who you think she’ll fuck—people fuck by proximity; she fucks the person most proximate to her. Speaking of who you think she’ll fuck, Bill (Wilson) makes his amends to his ex girlfriend. (See: the 11th Tradition of AA.)
The Song of the Day is “Maggot Brain” by Parliament, which contains the immortal line “for I knew I had to ruse above it all/ or drown in my own shit.” I will endeavor to do the same.
Episode six of Roadies airs Sunday, July 31 on Showtime.