FX has a penchant for creating comedies with unlikable protagonists. It worked for It’s Always Sunny and Louie, and to a lesser extent Married. This time around, the series is surrounding an unlikeable lead with a fairly likable cast in order to bring in a few eyeballs. The new comedy is the musically inclined but annoyingly titled Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, starring none other than Denis Leary.
A few years ago, Denis Leary signed on to Rescue Me playing a troubled and self-centered firefighter living in the post-9/11 world. Now, he’s heading to FX to play a very similar character with a different background. This time around, Leary plays Johnny Rock, an aging one-album wonder who decides to get the band back together in order to support Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies), the daughter he never knew he had, who came from bum-fuck Ohio to try and make her dreams of stardom come true. Johnny’s not really the type to help people, so it’s a good thing he’s broke and his daughter has cash to spare.
Honestly, the setup is pretty solid. Johnny Rock has an ego the size of the moon coupled with a drug problem that causes problems with most of his former bandmates, especially his lead guitarist, Flash (John Corbett), who now plays in Lady Gaga’s band. Louie’s Robert Kelly and John Ales round out the band as Rehab and Bam Bam, respectively. Obviously, there’s a lot of testosterone in this series, and since most of the dudes involved are no-collar musicians, there’s plenty of unfiltered bro talk in the first five episodes. Early on there’s a conversation about pussy that would put all the other TV talk about genitalia to shame had we not already gotten that excellent dick joke at the end of Season 1 of Silicon Valley. Corbett and Leary, too, both excel at their respective parts, creating a believable friendship that is always marred by the insanity of briefly being famous together, and the problems that came from their band The Heathens’ ultimate downfall.
The major problem is that Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll doesn’t really know what it wants to be yet. The half-hour format would imply a sitcom, but there are far too few jokes and too many serious moments regarding friendships gone bad and sometimes even attempted parenting to call it a total comedy. The genre-bending experience also includes lengthy musical segments, as Gigi tries to prove she has the stuff to be famous.
Elizabeth Gillies, of Nickelodeon’s Victorious fame, has a nice voice, but the music in the series isn’t exactly something audiences will tune in for, even if Corbett and Leary have been known to dabble in music in real life. TV has changed a lot over the last decade, and there are a lot of shows that can’t be shoehorned into one genre or another. But all of the various pieces still need to fit together to make a cohesive whole, and Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll isn’t there, yet.
This could change with time. If the show cuts back on the lengthy musical moments and stops spending 90% of its time name-dropping the likes of Thurston Moore and the Afghan Whigs, instead choosing to focus more on the relationships and the jokes, FX could have a winner. After all, there are a lot of fans out there who are rooting for Leary to have another big TV win, and playing a curmudgeonly former rock star who has to take a backseat to his daughter is a pretty clever jumping off point. For now, though, I think the best thing I can say about Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is that I wouldn’t not watch it if it were already playing on my TV.
Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll was co-created by Denis Leary and Jim Serpico, and features Leary, John Corbett, Elizabeth Gillies, Elaine Hendrix, Robert Kelly, John Ales and Josh Pais, as Gigi’s manager. There are also cameos from people like Dave Grohl and Joan Jett, which should be a treat for rock fans. You can catch new episodes when they premiere on FX beginning on July 16 at 10 p.m. ET. Find out more over at FX’s site.