Watch: Showtime’s Roadies From Cameron Crowe

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p16-19750-adv01_roadies_s1_pr_releasead_300“Life is a Carnival” (pilot episode)
In A Word: Roadworthy

Alas, one really can’t fully consider Showtime’s Roadies, which officially premieres on June 26th, without bringing up HBO’s Vinyl, even if the two series set in the music business are very different beasts. Without getting too locked into metaphors, suffice to say that while Vinyl is a cartoon rat up from the sewers of early 1970s Manhattan, Roadies is a lovable shaggy mutt that maybe tries just a bit too much to please its TV viewing master.

(Spoiler alert: This review reveals key plot points in the series pilot.)

The creator of Roadies, former and still occasionally active rock journalist turned film director/writer Cameron Crowe, took us backstage before with Almost Famous, his 2000 semi-autobiographical movie that has weathered the test of time to become one of the definitive portrayals of rock music life. Sure, it’s an antecedent for Roadies. But what the show most reminds me of from Crowe’s oeuvre is his sweet 2011 movie We Bought a Zoo.

That’s because Roadies is, well, also – the only best word for it – sweet. And about family, love and dysfunctions, albeit in this case the kind of family that forms from shared work and passions. Plus… again, well… yeah… a tale about a zoo and its sometimes wild and strange denizens.

(Okay, who can argue with an hour of free TV from a premium paid cable channel? Check out the pilot.)

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The pilot, aptly titled “Life is a Carnival” after a song by The Band, sets the stage nicely if maybe a wee bit too evidently: We meet the road crew of the arena rock act the Staton-House Band as they set up for a show in New Orleans. But it is an ideal way to introduce an ensemble cast and launch a robust cluster of storylines for the coming season.

It’s a gang you can’t help but like, especially the primary characters of tour manager Bill (played by the, yep, likable Luke Wilson) and production manager Shelli (played by the, yep again, likable and quite fetching Carla Gugino). I was also glad to see one of my favorite contemporary character actors, Luis Guzmán, as the road crew bus driver. IMDB lists him as only in the one episode; hey Cameron, you gotta dial him back into the mix!

Sure, some things in the pilot are perhaps a bit too predictable. Yes – specific spoiler alert – we don’t want young lighting rig monkey Kelly Ann (who skateboards her way around the bowels and back passages of the arena), played by the adorable Imogen Poots, to leave the tour for film school in New York City. Yes, there’s (maybe a bit too) obvious romantic and sexual tension between Bill, who needs to outgrow his taste for young road poon, and the married Shelli, which will surely bubble up as the series rolls along.

Roadies 1

Lest I be misunderstood, my criticisms are as much basic observations as anything else. After all, I am a big fan of Crowe’s work. And not just Almost Famous, which for anyone who became a rock journalist in the 1970s as I did is nigh on impossible not to love. Seeing Elizabethtown just a few months after my father died was a healing balm, for instance. And I have long wondered why he gets just a bit too much stick from film critics. Maybe because he transcended from those who don’t, criticize, to those who do? And do well, I might add.

However much the set-up may be obvious, if it plays out down the line into a great series, all is good. I already like how the show will have a featured song for each episode and real working bands as opening acts for the Staton-House Band (and want to see what develops in that realm, as the group only shows up at the end of the pilot. But they’re bound to be better than Vinyl‘s The Nasty Bits.) And I cannot wait for Rainn Wilson as a pretentious rock critic. Skewer our shared pursuit, Cameron!

And hey, ain’t nothing wrong with sweet and likable as long as it doesn’t cloy. And in the Roadies pilot, it’s kind of nice to see cynicism set to the side in a business that can get as ugly as the music game. And the only way Roadies doesn’t feel real is that lack of cynicism and ugliness. The humor is gentle, but I got some nice laughs. And there ain’t nothing bad about nice if it’s done right.

Besides, if you’re gonna hop aboard the bus and set out on tour with a crew of misfits and oddities, you’d better like ’em. And I’m ready for the ride, actually near salivating at the prospect of the next episode after the show makes its real debut about 10 days from when I write this. Because the pilot has that certain something that makes me say: Long may Roadies run.

Roadies officially debuts on Showtime on June 26th.

Rob Patterson

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