In the US: Thursdays, 10pm, FX
What is the American Dream? To succeed? To be rich? To be famous? To have an enduring legacy? To do well by your family or community?
Arguably, it varies and has varied over the years and one of the main themes of FX’s lukewarm but amusingly titled Denis Leary comedy, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, is that not only has it changed, it can change for individuals, too.
Leary plays Johnny Rock, the lead singer of a 1990s rock band. The band never made the big time, having split up the day their first album was released, and 25 years later, Rock is penniless and still living with one of his backing singers, while his co-writer and band guitarist John Corbett (Northern Exposure, Sex and the City) is still estranged from him but playing for Lady Ga Ga.
Then into Rock’s life comes one of the band’s few fans, Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies). She’s an aspiring singer and wants to reunite the band to back her – and for Corbett and Leary to bury their differences and write her some new songs, with Leary relegated to a songwriter credit. Not only has she got plenty of money to entice them with, she’s also a pretty good performer.
The big catch? Gillies is Leary's estranged daughter – and Corbett has a thing for young women…
Much of the humour, if it can be described as such, in Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is about how the nature of ambition and fame have changed and change with age. When the band was young, they wanted to be famous for producing good music and to get all the sex and drugs they could. Now they’d just like to have some money to buy things with and to be remembered at all. Except now, to be famous, you have to be like Kim Kardashian or Lady GaGa and that, rather than the Beatles, is something people aspire to be.
There’s also the impending competition between Gillies and Leary, with the feisty, focused, sexting- and social media-aware Gillies liable to become more famous than Leary ever was and certainly now is.
The rest of the humour is standard Leary japes: swearing, pratfalls, taboo subjects (eg trying to French kiss someone who turns out to be your own daughter), group teasing, the occasional diatribe about the state of the world and so on.
And not much of it lands on the funny bone. Some does and you can see most of it in the trailer below, but it all feels as tired as Leary’s band, like it’s going through the motions. There’s a slight element of misogyny to the show, too, although to some extent that’s because of its setting and the show does a decent enough job of undermining it. All the same, you’ll probably feel a bad taste in your mouth as you watch the episode.
There’s also the horrifying inclusion of actual singing. True, Gillies is a singer in real-life, making her Broadway debut when she was just 15 and enduring 50+ episodes of Nickleodeon’s performing arts sitcom Victorious. But if she’d sung for just 10 seconds longer, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll would have been cast into the same bin I consigned Nashville and Empire. Tough on music, tough on the causes of music, me.
I do have a fondness for Leary from his stand-up days, but as with Rescue Me and the rest of his TV work, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll just felt like a sitcom written by someone who knows his star is waning and is desperate to keep doing encores until he can’t do them any more.