A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Vinyl is a series set in the record business in the 1970s. Drugs play a very big part in this drama: Characters buy them, sell them, give them away, do them on-screen to cement business deals, steady their nerves, or curry favor. Cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and various types of pills are used, shown, and talked about very frequently; characters also smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, chugging from liquor bottles and beer cans. A messy murder takes place on-screen; the murderer and cohorts then dispose of the body. Expect cursing, including frequent use of four-letter words ("f--k" and "s--t" mostly) but also vulgar words for body parts and sex, particularly oral sex. Women are used as bargaining chips in business, as are drugs. Scantily clad women seem to be a business perk and are treated as disposable; a man threatens sexual violence toward a woman. Characters act unethically or trick each other to get ahead in business.
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What's the story?
Set in the gritty 1970s rock subculture, VINYL centers on Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), the big cheese at American Century Records, who's desperate to bring his past-it company into up-to-date relevance in hopes of selling it to a European conglomerate -- or at least to keep making a living. When a deal with Led Zeppelin goes south, so does a plan to sell American Century. Finestra's looking for something new, something fresh; he thinks he may have found it when A&R assistant Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) hooks him up with proto-punk band the Nasty Bits, but the new punk scene may be nastier than the band. Meanwhile, at home, Richie's wife, Devon (Olivia Wilde), a former Warhol muse, is now the picture of suburban wifely motherhood, staying home with the kids while her husband roams the streets, the backstages, and the studios of New York, restlessly searching.
Is it any good?
Created and produced by some big names -- Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter, Mick Jagger -- this drama does for the record business what Casino did for the gambling game. In a defining moment in the show's pilot, Finestra explains how the record business works to an outsider, taking him through the finer points of how an artist gets conned by the record company, which ends up making money if records succeed or even if they're flops. It's an electric moment in a show full of them; rock fans and celeb watchers will get a similar thrill seeing personalities from Robert Plant to Andy Warhol portrayed on-screen.
But in between those bright spots, the show's action can get a little wearying. We're sure Finestra is working and pulling and striving for something; he sweats and snorts monster lines of cocaine and yells at associates and bangs on tables in search of it. But somehow it's hard to see exactly where all this passion is coming from and what it signifies. Nonetheless, fans of the era will be riveted as touchstones are brushed across: the Factory, the Mercer Arts Center, the Brill Building.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why this drama is set in the 1970s. How would it change if it were set today? How has the music industry changed since the 1970s?
Rock and pop music from the 1970s plays constantly in this show. How do the songs chosen comment on the action -- or not? Listen carefully as you watch.
Shows about business tend to focus on "glamorous" businesses -- record companies, movie studios, fashion houses. Why aren't there more shows about offices or retail businesses?