Review: In ‘Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,’ Denis Leary Is an Aging Rocker

16 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll': Denis Leary ‘can’t go on stage after swallowing half bottle of vodka’.

Leary plays an aging, washed-out former rock bad boy who suddenly discovers he has a grown daughter named Gigi who wants to follow in her old man’s footsteps. LOS ANGELES – It’s going to be all “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” when Denis Leary takes on the role of Johnny Rock in a new FX series about a middle-aged rock ‘n’ roller who almost made the big time in the ’90s. In “Rescue Me,” he cast himself as the perfect antihero: a fearless New York firefighter with post-traumatic stress disorder who was also an unregenerate bad boy (hard living, alcoholic, sleeping with his sister-in-law). It doesn’t take much to get him weighing in on the Clash record that means the most to him (“London Calling”) or the merits of John Lennon’s final album (loves him, hates it).

But, just as success was within his grasp, his band, the Heathers, broke up the day its first album dropped, because Johnny was caught in bed with the lead guitarist’s wife. In his new series, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” beginning Thursday on FX — the first show he’s both created and starred in since “Rescue Me” ended its seven-season run on FX in 2011 — he plays an even more archetypal role: the out-of-control rock musician. To research the role, Leary, who was in a band when he was 17 and wrote a three-chord song called “Chainsaw Love,” read bios of all the greats like The Who’s Pete Townshend, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, and the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, to get a straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth look into the debauchery that comes hand-in-hand with the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle “I can’t go on stage after swallowing half bottle of vodka, I just can’t,” says Leary, who admits that some of the stories are just amazing. “But I’ve seen guys do that and then go out in front of a full arena or a football stadium and just play an unbelievable show.” Leary knows of what he speaks because there actually was a point in his life when he considered music as a career, rather than comedy, back when he was attending Emerson College and a member of the Emerson Comedy Workshop, but also playing in a band. “One night I said, ‘I think I want to be a lead singer in the band with you guys.’ And they were like, ‘Dude, then you have to quit school and quit acting and quit everything else and just be a lead singer, because it’s all in or not,'” Leary told FOX411. “And I was like, ‘I’m not f—ing doing that. Through five of its 10 episodes, the show is largely a comic argument about whether cocaine, pills and vodka are a crucial part of the creative process or a soul-sucking impediment to happiness and competent fatherhood.

It’s followed on FX by the second season premiere of “Married,” starring Judy Greer and Nat Faxon as a credibly married couple who are challenged trying to keep the spark glowing. However the argument plays out — my money’s on sobriety — what’s most noticeable about it at this point is how mild and inoffensive a show about the downside of debauchery can be. That’s a lot of work.'” “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” begins 25 years after The Heathers’ breakup when Johnny is broke and no one will hire him as a musician.

But then a talented young singer named Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies) shows up with enough money to cut a record, and — surprise, surprise — she wants The Heathers to be her band. But now he’s having a blast playing one on his new comedy, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” for which, as with his previous series, “Rescue Me,” he not only serves as leading man but also creator, executive producer and writer (as well as having co-written the songs). On Leary’s best-known shows, Rescue Me and The Job, he had a collaborator to help refine his stand-up style of funny into a bigger, better structure for TV.

Leary plays this time around is Johnny Rock, former lead singer of the Heathens, of whom great things were expected — one of the first things we see is a droll cameo by Dave Grohl, who earnestly says, “Honestly, if it weren’t for the Heathens, I don’t think there would have been a Nirvana.” But Johnny’s clashes with his bandmates, particularly the guitarist, Flash (John Corbett), blew up the Heathens, and as the show starts he’s a footnote, grousing about artistic integrity while considering a job in a Bon Jovi tribute band. Leary plays Johnny Rock, leader of a rip-roaring New York band called The Heathens that released one album in the early 1990s, then collapsed in a heap of crazy excesses and raging egos. She’s willing to pay if he agrees to stay clean long enough to turn out five songs, and pretty soon Johnny, Gigi, Flash and the other former Heathens are ensconced in a downtown loft, making music and battling their demons. In the second episode, his daughter has that discussion with him and he has to defend why a guy like him has to have certain chemicals to write.” To give the series an authentic feel, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” has a number of real-life rockers making guest appearances, including Joan Jett, the Foo Fighters’ David Grohl and Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli. If you’re over 50, like the show’s main character, and you have some inkling of how pop music works, you might adore it. “This is the face of a 50-year-old rock star,” sneers Johnny Rock (Leary) when confronted with the suggestion that he’s old and out of touch.

Gigi’s voice is his ticket to persuading The Heathens (played by John Corbett, John Ales and Bobby Kelly) to reunite, with her as lead vocalist, for Johnny’s last chance to get his band on the charts. And Johnny’s rants about the importance of drugs and alcohol to his process are usually worth a chuckle. (“Bowie’s been drug free since ’78.” “Talent free too, bro. ‘Let’s Dance’? The punch lines about old age and booze repeat themselves, and one setup after another ends in an easy reversal, with someone suddenly dropping the argument at the prospect of money or pills. Sure, he can summon rock-star looks, even now at 57: In person, he is tall, wiry, radiating energy and sass, with a thatch of great hair. “But, dude, performing like a REAL rock star was waaaaay harder than I thought,” he discovered the night The Heathens in their vintage-’90s incarnation took the stage of Manhattan’s Irving Plaza ballroom to shoot “archival” footage of the band back in its prime. “You take it for granted, whether it’s Steven Tyler or Iggy Pop or any other lead singer, how (flipping) cool they look,” he tells a reporter visiting his Lower Broadway production office. “They can take control. Leary is trying to do something here that gets at the raunch and joy of the rock lifestyle but also offers a serious consideration of its consequences.

The upshot is Johnny takes up the challenge and that means reconnecting with his old crew, including Flash, drummer Bam Bam (Robert Kelly) and bass player Rehab (John Ales). Cause otherwise everyone would look at Pete Townshend!” Luckily, he — like Johnny — has powerful backup: A series co-star who can rock the rafters as well as hold her own in the improvising style Leary likes in his actors.

Gillies, who sizzled as a goth-affecting performing arts student on Nickelodeon’s musical drama “Victorious,” more than fills the bill here: “a real lifesaver,” Leary calls her. She also furnishes a necessary dose of estrogen. “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” echoes Leary’s “Rescue Me,” which, from 2004 to 2011, rallied a company of tight but combative Alpha Males — New York City firefighters — and their women, who were anything but the weaker sex. Corbett has some good moments in the pilot, when the focus is on Flash’s smugness (he’s now Lady Gaga’s guitarist), but his character is dulled out after that. By the fifth date, there were picayunish arguments like ‘Who drank my Gatorade from the refrigerator?’ ‘I took one sip, man, I had to swallow some pills!’ “Every band I’ve known has this same vibe, this disconnected, sloppy set of energies that converges on stage and is probably the thing that makes the band great.

And at one point Johnny observes, “Every time I hear a Radiohead song I feel like I’m failing the SATs all over again.” As often with Leary’s humour, especially when he’s flying solo, the material wanders all over the place. Leary and Chris Phillips) but doesn’t bring much else to the character of Gigi — she doesn’t have the comic chops of the rest of the cast, and looks flat and tight in comparison. We had 15 more cities to go, and it just got funnier the longer we went.” EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. There may be just enough humor in the show to keep you engaged — a good Richie Sambora joke, a funny effort to come up with a new variety of rock ’n’ roll death. (“Helicopter?” “Stevie Ray Vaughan.” “Drowning?” “Jeff Buckley.”) But it’s just as likely that there will be enough dull, borderline maudlin discussions of self-sabotage and Johnny’s fear of success to drive you away. A song he writes while sober produces this reaction from Gigi, “Dad, that song sounds like something Sting would write if he was living inside Sarah McLachlan …” Actually, in truth, the full joke refers to Sarah McLachlan’s lady-parts, but you get the gist.

Some have worked splendidly, from This is Spinal Tap to the series Saxondale, in which Steve Coogan played a former roadie for big-shot rock bands who in late middle age runs a pest-control business.

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