Leave it to Cameron Crowe.
In “Almost Famous,” he had the wit and perspicacity to take groupies seriously – almost as seriously as the musicians they follow.
The only thing wrong with that movie is that it didn’t take groupies seriously enough. Crowe was smart enough to draw a parallel between a fledgling rock critic (based on Crowe) and a dedicated groupie, but not daring enough to understand that being a groupie is, in essence, the human condition. Far more of the human race can relate to being a groupie than being a star.
Now, on Showtime, we have Crowe’s next logical step in his film and TV investigation of rock culture in America: “Roadies.”
In some ways, it’s a comedown from “Almost Famous.” In other ways, it does exactly what the author of “Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire” ought to be doing in 2016: making a TV series about the people who actually create rock and pop stardom.
Not the moguls at the top – featured in all their ethical ordure in Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s “Vinyl,” which wore out its welcome as fast as any HBO series in memory after the terrific Scorsese-directed pilot – but the roadies who ensure that every tour stop is as good as it can be. We’re talking about the tour manager, production manager, electrician, sound mixer, “bass tech,” truck driver, security head. They’re the ones making sure that the Staton-House Band on “Roadies” cuts a wide swath through America’s rock arenas. Their work is no small matter when calamities and disorders pile up and get in the way.
The opening act is pretty good, but finally has to be jettisoned for stealing. So does the beloved tour manager, a legend in the business. A wildly unpredictable groupie has to be barred from backstage premises near the band. The lead singer’s young son has to be constantly amused and watched by his own personal “mannie,” lest his felonious tendencies make him a freelance horror from town to town.
The baby-sitting job is taken over by the electrician’s brother, who also happens to make rock ’n’ roll’s greatest (and, on occasion, most hallucinogenic) cup of coffee.
Nothing about “Roadies” begins to approach the level of “Almost Famous,” but it’s charming enough to make for destination Sunday night television, along with Showtime’s very different “Ray Donovan.”
In “Roadies,” Luke Wilson plays the womanizing tour manager, and Carla Gugino plays the production manager who has phone sex with her husband whenever she can steal 10 minutes from her duties. Sexual tension between the two makes for easy plot tics.
My biggest disappointment with “Roadies” after watching three episodes is that Ron White, the legendary old tour manager who has to be let go, disappears midway through the first episode and never returns as a major player in the series. As a major Ron White fan (my favorite, by far, of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour), I have been hoping for years for a show canny enough to make proper use of him. If they’d kept him around a while, this could have been it.
But what I find so endearing about “Roadies” is that it’s where Crowe has temporarily parked his hopeless rock and roll Romanticism – his belief in pop music as America’s secular religion.
Something, to be sure, needed to be the “Vinyl” antidote. “Roadies” is it.
What isn’t it is ABC’s “Greatest Hits,” a Thursday night concoction born on an Arsenio Hall Show when the producers asked The Temptations to perform with Boyz II Men.
The idea is that co-hosts Hall and Kelsea Ballerini put together pop music “stars” of today and yore to perform.
Pitbull performed with REO Speedwagon on Thursday. Kenny Loggins did “Footloose” and Rick Springfield did “Jesse’s Girl.”
Since the years memorialized were 1980-85, throw in Ray Parker Jr. doing “Ghostbusters” and Kim Carnes closing the show with “Bette Davis Eyes.”
Carnes is my age, still looks great and still sounds like Rod Stewart’s mother.
The whole show, complete with Jason Derulo doing Michael Jackson, was more than a little hallucinatory.
On the other hand, I’d love to see what would happen if Crowe and Aaron Sorkin wrote a series about all the backstage maneuvers involved in “Greatest Hits.”