In 2000 Cameron Crowe wrote and directed one of the most brilliant films of the new millennium, Almost Famous. Set in the 1970s, it dealt with a fifteen-year old raised by an ultra-radical mother, who finds himself working for Rolling Stone and covering a rock band, and the groupies that follow it. It was one of the most joyful films in an era that has essentially believed grim and great must be simultaneous, and even though I knew nothing about 70s rock and less about rock journalism, it has always been a delightful experience for me.
Now, more than fifteen years later, Crowe has grown older and a little wiser, and has realized, like so many great filmmakers before him that the future is in TV. And working in concert with TV veterans J.J. Abrams and Winnie Holzman, he has brought to Showtime a work not unlike Almost Famous. ‘Roadies’. Centering around a fictional music group, the Stanton House Band, Crowe has turned his attention, much like he did in Famous to the fringe players in the title, the people, according to Tom Petty in a quote seen before the Pilot, “that make the show happen.” The atmosphere is not unlike a family, with one of the more bizarre father and mother figures. Bill (Luke Wilson, never better) is the tour manager, trying to get the show working from place to place, suffering from high stress and sleeping with successively younger woman. Shelli (Carla Gugino) is the scheduler, dealing with a marriage that is constantly in chaos, and stuck with a very unusual relationship with Bill. Among the other characters are Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots) an enterprising film student who loves the band, her brother Wesley (Machine Gun Kelly) just fired off another tour, and a group of characters still in the process of developing.
Throwing all this into chaos is Reg Whitehead (Rafe Spall) the recording accountant trying to make sure the band stays relevant which to him means cutting the bottom line. His first act has been firing people, including a beloved head of the group named Phil, but its clear so far that he is far more out of his league than he wants to admit.
The series is rife with music, much of which I can’t identify. Even though the band is fictional, the majority of the opening acts are real. (Last week’s episode fatured Lindsay Buckingham.) There hasn’t been this good a use of background soundtracks since the early days of ‘Glee’. And the series has a sense of humor that grows on you with each successive episode, with last night’s episode focused on trying to win the graces of a vitriolic blogger (a delightful Rainn Wilson) an enormously funny treat.
There have been very few reviews of the series, and those that have are only lukewarm. And part of me can see the reason why. After nearly two decades of cable broadcasting where even the comedies have dark and bitter aftertastes — and Showtime has been one of the biggest perpetrators — here is a comedy where the majority of the characters are nice. Even the intense ones have pleasing notes to their characters. And considering how deeply cynical TV has become, is it asking to much to have a show that is just fun? I hope that there’s an audience for ‘Roadies’. We need more series like this and fewer ‘Ray Donavan’s.
My score: 4 stars.