22 Sep How They Could Have Fixed ‘Roadies’
Full disclosure, I wanted to like Roadies a lot more than I actually did. I tried really hard to stick with the show despite its inconsistency from week-to-week, but after an uneven first season that saw no real growth in viewership, Showtime seemed to echo my ambivalence and cancelled the series altogether. With Almost Famous writer, Cameron Crowe at the helm, I thought Roadies seemed poised to pick up the pieces left behind by the cancellation of HBO’s subpar rock ‘n roll drama, Vinyl and finally fill the music void in television; it just didn’t happen.
It would have been one thing if Roadies was a total dumpster fire of musician cameos and over sentimentality, but the show always felt like it was on the precipice of really taking off. I mean, the framework was definitely there: a show about the unsung heroes of the live concert experience with J.J. Abrams’ magic touch, Luke Wilson in a lead role that gave him plenty opportunities to deliver heartwarming monologues, and Carla Gugino playing the no-bullshit production manager of the tour. The potential was really exciting, but Roadies stumbled through a majority of its 10-episode run.
At the heart of the show, Roadies was a solid representation of the music-lifer mentality. Sure, there are real-life roadies out there who probably view their craft as more of “just a job”, but for these characters, working for The Staton-House Band was a higher-calling. Maybe it’s a bit cheesy, but I viewed the serenity in the writing as one of Roadies’ strengths; that wasn’t their problem. For me, it was more about some of the storytelling decisions the showrunners made along the way that prevented some episodes from landing with audiences in an impactful way. It wasn’t a bad show by any means; and with a slight alteration in the their approach, I absolutely think they could have fixed Roadies.
Firstly, Roadies needed to build around its strongest characters and let its supporting cast develop over time. Throughout the course of season one I often struggled with the question, “why should we care about these people?” Roadies tried to give its audience a little piece of every crew member in each episode, but didn’t spend enough time with any one of them in particular for us to truly relate. Rather than getting a deep-dive into Bill’s (Luke Wilson) messy past of partying and sleeping around, we were often given small morsels of ambiguity instead of the juicy character building details we needed to form an opinion about him. The same goes for Shelli (Carla Gugino), whose conflicting career path and marital issues weren’t really explored, so much as they were tied up in her slow-played affair with Bill. Then we had Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots), who seemed to be the most magnetic and likable character but was constantly shit on throughout the story; and the band itself, who were part of the mythos of the show initially and later portrayed as total buffoons hoping the crew can save them.
While these characters should have been at the forefront of the show, they instead gave way to some less essential and forgettable ones. When you really think about it, did Milo’s (Peter Cambor) crush on Kelly Ann and abandonment of his fake English accent add anything to the show? No. Did Rick (Christopher Backus) and his relationship with the stalker Natalie (Jacqueline Byers) progress the narrative at all? No. Hell, I’d even argue that they could have cut Reg (Rafe Spall) completely out of the show after season one and just put the band’s financial woes on the backburner. I understand his presence helped counterbalance the business side of music with the art, but was his weird dynamic with Kelly Ann anything but frustrating?
Next would have been to keep the show a little more contained. In terms of plot, Roadies had a lot of balls up in the air at the same time in its one and only season. There was the will-they-won’t-they dance of Bill and Shelli coupled with Bill’s old demons, Kelly Ann’s constant existential crisis, SHB’s financial issues and impending breakup, the death of a crew member, and several other prominent storylines to grab hold of. Roadies decided that they were playing the long-game from the pilot, and as a result, the show felt far too serialized for its own good. Every new development was already leading to the next and the show could never quite get out of its own way. They’d create these beautiful, authentic moments while telling their story — like the real Jeanine (Joy Williams) not matching the perception of her in the song or the Staton House superfan telling Kelly Ann why he intentionally keeps his distance from the band — only to discredit them later to move the plot. It turned out Jeanine was the atomic bomb she’s portrayed as in Chris’ (Tanc Sade) song, and the superfan was secretly stealing potential merch and hoarding it in his house.
Roadies was at its best in the pseudo-bottle episode, “The City Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken.” To summarize, a large portion of the crew had to drive 100 miles in the opposite direction on their off-day to undo a curse on the tour after Reg says “Cincinnati” on the bus. It’s silly, but the construction of this episode served as a much needed change of pace for the show, and also put a majority of the characters in one place forcing them to interact. Very simple and highly effective.
Lastly, and most importantly when it comes to a show like Roadies, would be to let the music do the talking. Even with all of Roadies struggles and growing pains, the music direction in the show always stuck out. The soundtrack was a modern blend of indie rock and pop music, and the performances the show got out of its guests generally outshined the plot and dialogue (and for those who dismissed the show because it wasn’t quite “rock ‘n roll” enough, trust me, indie rock is the least corny of the possible options for an arena-level band in 2016 unless you wanted dad-rock or metalcore bands popping up). The Head and The Heart, John Mellencamp, Lucius, Eddie Vedder, Nicole Atkins, Gary Clark Jr., Jim James, and even Halsey all deliver with their performances, and I say the more music the better. It’s a prime example of the idea of “show don’t tell,” which was often lost in the writing of the show. Roadies served its narrative best when it was able to intertwine these performances with the right scenes rather than trying to spell out every little detail for the audience.
It’s a shame Roadies didn’t get a second season to iron out the kincks and find itself as a TV show. I would have loved to see a version of this story that’s less goofy and more charming, but even with all its flaws, Roadies was a unique voice in today’s TV climate. It always had its good intentions; but in this era of prestige television, good intentions aren’t enough to get renewed.