Some thoughts on FX’s Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll

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One of the few benefits of taking the time to recover from my sprained ankle (which my recent trip to NYC put a toll on) is that I’ve been able to clear out the old DVR. Since I was traveling so much, it was hovering around the 75% full mark, which was giving me anxiety. I don’t like it to get that full, especially with the fall TV season right around the corner. Believe me, I need as much space on there as I can get. So while I spent most of my weeknights laying on the couch with my leg elevated, I was able to get around to watching some of the stuff that I’ve been saving for later – whenever later actually happened.

Mixed in among the comedy specials and film noir were all the episodes of the new FX show Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll starring Denis Leary. I’d been putting off watching the show as the reviews had generally been mixed and I was still suffering some Leary fatigue after his previous show Rescue Me. I like Leary just fine – I am looking forward to attending his Comics Come Home event again in Boston this fall – but Rescue Me got so ridiculous at the end that I wasn’t sure that I was ready for another series with him in the lead. One of the beefs that I had about Rescue Me was that in the end the stories became more and more about a bunch of beautiful women fighting over Leary and less about the comradery of the fire fighters. Leary was a writer and producer on Rescue Me (as he is on Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll), so he can make whatever kind of show that he wants, but toward the end of Rescue Me it began to feel more like wish fulfillment and less about a cohesive and believable narrative. I wanted banter between the guys, not women acting like lunatics to get with Leary’s character, who was no freaking prize to begin with. My fear was that if he indulged these impulses in a show about firefighters, it would likely be more of the same (or worse) in a show where he portrayed the lead singer of a rock band. I mean, the word sex is right in the title of the show. But after burning myself out on shows on Investigation Discovery, I needed to change things up while I was sequestered on the sofa as well as free up the space that the show was taking on the DVR. So I finally decided to give Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll a try.

And while I don’t think this is necessarily groundbreaking television, I actually enjoyed Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll quite a bit. It’s a fun ensemble cast and though it is early in the show’s run, Leary is far more self-deprecating in this show than he has been in other shows. More often than not, his character Johnny is the butt of the joke. As a failed rock star that has blown up every band that’s his been in, Johnny Rock is more a cautionary tale of what could have been rather than a rock God. The show focuses on Johnny reconnecting with his daughter Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies), who has come to NYC for her estranged father to help her break into the music business. This also forces Johnny to reconnect with his former bandmates Flash (John Corbett), Bam Bam (Robert Kelly) and Rehab (John Ales). Johnny is also in a somewhat stable relationship with Ava (Elaine Hendrix), which minimizes the opportunity for carousing. It’s ironic that Leary’s character on Rescue Me was far more of a “rock star” than the character that he plays who is an actual rocker.

The cast works really well together and they have good on-screen chemistry. They are a dysfunctional little family of misfits, but they are still something of a family and it is fun to watch these characters interact. There is a lot of baggage for these people to deal with and while the central narrative is Johnny and Gigi trying to navigate the father/daughter relationship that has up to this point been nonexistent, there are also some interesting dynamics with the other members of the band. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll captures what I liked best about Rescue Me – the conversations that the guys had at the firehouse when they were just hanging out. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is a straight up comedy, rather than a dramedy, and I think that plays to the strengths of everyone involved. Surprisingly, the music is actually pretty good as well; Elizabeth Gillies has a great voice.

I also like that the show is 30 minutes; not only did it make it easy for me to catch up on the season, but that feels like just the right amount of time to spend with these people week to week. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is fun and funny, but I don’t know that it could sustain itself in a longer format. The show is kind of silly and ridiculous, but it also makes me laugh more often than not. These are characters that it is fun to spend time with; while Johnny, Gigi, Flash and Ava may get the most screen time, they have done a fairly good job of also developing Bam Bam and Rehab as characters as well. I’m a big fan of Robert Kelly, so I’m always happy when he gets a particularly funny joke or story line. It’s also amusing to see John Corbett play such a vain guy; he typically plays such a nice guy in his other roles that it’s a nice change of pace for him to play a slight variation on that formula.

Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is a nice little diversion for the summer; it’s a solid comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously and has fun with the idea of a failed rock star. It’s still early, so the show could give into the same tendencies that Rescue Me ultimately did, but so far I’m enjoying the ride and look forward to new episodes. Seeing Leary in a role where he is a failed rock star that may self-sabotage and who must learn to connect with his daughter is a nice departure from some of his previous filmography. It’s been entertaining to watch all these comically flawed characters interact, and there is an inherent sweetness hiding underneath all the rock and roll. I did not expect to enjoy the show as much as I did and it’s been a nice addition to my summer viewing schedule.

Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll airs Thursdays at 10 pm (ET) on FX.

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