Is Roadies Really Rock & Roll?

Roadies is an unusual show for Showtime. It’s a light funny ‘musical comedy’ that could slot easily into a midweek ABC lineup. Perhaps riding on the coattails of the super-successful Nashville, the show follows a motley crew of roadies on tour with a fictional band, the Staten House Band. The show proselytizes the love of rock music, and treats true music lovers to a string of cameos from current stars and historical legends. As a feelgood series, it turns its back on the trend of anti-heroes, instead presenting an ensemble of earnest, well-meaning characters who may be unwashed but have the purest of intentions.

But that’s about the only place where the show excels. For Showtime, Roadies doesn’t have the bite that’s customary for paid-cable shows. The characters revolve around each other’s hopes, dreams, yearnings, and identities, but few have a compelling drive. They blurt out their ambitions, then backtrack in the next episode. They rediscover some long-lost dream, then balk at the chance to realize it. They yearn hopelessly for one another, patient on the sidelines to be noticed even by their own spouses. These are not people who take control of their destiny, these are people who are subject to the whims of others.

These ‘others’, often, are the band members. Taking a rather tired page from the rock & roll movie handbook, the band is as narcissistic, capricious, and drug-fueled as you’d expect. Poolside executives pull the strings and the roadies are caught between their rock and the band’s hard place.

As a romp through the rock & roll landscape the show is fun, easy watching. As a serious drama worthy of its premium channel, it misses the mark. By a lot. Showrunner and producer Cameron Crowe and JJ Abrams revel in rock nostalgia but skimp on character and plot development. As a result, the characters play as ‘types’: the charming screwup, the wise older man, the uncool bean-counter. And if the characters are thin, the plotlines are even thinner: routine lineup changes, chaos of changing the playlist, a stalker superfan, a missing bandmember. The highlight of the season is when roadies have to rid themselves of a curse. But even there, the stakes are low and you find yourself not really caring what happens. There is no major tension, such as Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, about a highly-competent nurse and working mother hiding both a drug problem and extramarital affair.

The season ending you can see from a mile off, and the overlong wrap-up is way out of proportion for the event that prompted it. Perhaps the showrunners had a sneaking suspicion that Season 1 was it, and wanted to end the series on a high.

The show is middling in its portrayal of different groups. An endless string of young, beautiful, brainless, sexually available women sacrifice their modesty to prove the point that Bill (Luke Wilson) is a middle-aged stud. Elsewhere in the crew, women are largely painted with agency and autonomy.

A sprinkling of people of color keep this show from being a total white-out, which is good. For the first time in a while, Luis Guzmán plays a real character: the bus driver and crewmember who longs for his beautiful wife whom he rarely sees.

If for some reason Showtime renews Roadies for Season 2, don’t bother.

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