The somewhat angry, tirade persona that is Denis Leary has scattered himself across the mediums of stand-up, film and television over the years. Perhaps more recently better known for the FX drama Rescue Me (where Emmy came knocking three times but never resulting in a win). Now comes Leary’s brand new gig, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll also on FX where he plays the lead, a washed-out rock star. Rather than being cavalier, the comedian here perhaps comes across more mocking of himself in character, not too far an unflattering portrayal from David Brent of the UK original version of The Office.
The “sit-com” opens in kind of rock-documentary format, around 1990, where Johnny Rock (Leary) is snorting what might well be washing detergent instead of cocaine. Pretty funny. He is the turbulent lead singer of The Heathens, a rock band very much almost famous had they not disbanded immediately after the release of their only album. The title’s components blatantly the ingredients for this through the lead singer’s destructive exploits. Twenty-five years on and Johnny is jobless and almost hopeless when he is confronted by his now adult daughter Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies) – the product of one of Johnny’s reckless encounters twenty-plus years earlier.
She is brash, and has a bit of cash, demanding her own vocal talents be combined with the old band’s song-writing abilities. Penance for all those years of Johnny not being a father is not quite the sale, but Gigi is smart and up-front, and knows how to make a deal. Johnny, then, attempts to strike up the bond with former The Heathens guitarist Flash (John Corbett), who has clearly aged better, is more refined, in wisdom, appearance, and sartorially. There’s still hostility from Flash towards Johnny (who slept with his “chick” back in the day) – “You sound like my ex wife” Flash remarks to Johnny’s plea, to which he responds “Hey, I was with you twice as long as she was.”.
The humor revolves around those kind of bitter retorts. And funny this is, you just won’t be rolling around on the floor. There are relatable jabs at privileged celebrities like Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian, which are not so much insults as satirical observations. Even the opening footage has a snippet of Dave Grohl claiming The Heathens were an influence on his music career. This is Spinal Tap this is not, but the shallow and self-aware comedic tone is there – though here in a much too breezy and self-parody way for it to be classed as arrogant or showy.
The pilot, running at not much longer than twenty minutes so mercifully short, get’s on with the show. What it also achieves is that it does not go over-heavy on the presumption that Gigi can’t actually sing (because lo-and-behold she fucking can), so when she does demonstrate her vocals the impressed reactions are appropriately subdued. While watching I was not always aware this was comedy, but there are enough one-liners to make it so. Johnny is compared to music greats David Bowie and Bryan Adams on separate occasions, but not in the flattering way he is easy to assume, but rather that he could be mistaken for their father and grandfather respectively. And an early scene when Johnny is being questioned about having sex with the intended of a band member, he denies it – “You did not sleep with Simone?” and his realization in response: “Simone was his fiancé?”
For me, though, my loudest laughs came from the reunited band taunting Johnny about how best to refer to his daughter’s tits and ass – to his hilarious shame. Terms such as chesticles, pooch, and C.T. rolled off the tongues so continuously you can’t help but be amused by this male juvenile back-and-forth. Never really sure while viewing how much exactly I liked this show, I guess it could well be a wait-and-see how it turns out – like many times you discover new music, it may require more attention for it to grow on you. So far so good.