In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime
In the UK: Mondays, Amazon Prime
Although the theory of ‘the auteur’ is eminently quibblable, it’s fair to say that you can spot the work of Cameron Crowe a mile off. Whether it’s Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Elizabethtown or We Bought A Zoo, his work is usually characterised by an indie sensibility; a central male-female, potentially romantic relationship; quirky dialogue; a focus on music; and a lot of heart but not much brain. You won’t get very far through Roadies, Showtime’s new series about those unsung heroes and heroines of the live music industry, before proclaiming it as possibly the most Cameron Crowish piece of work that Cameron Crowe has ever done.
Crowe’s never been one for putting plot above character, so it’s a little hard to say what Roadies is actually about, other than that it’s a show about roadies – and the first episode is an introduction to all of them. The ostensible focus of the show are Luke Wilson (Idiocracy, The Royal Tenenbaums, Legally Blonde, Enlightened), the tour manager with a failed marriage and who now sleeps with women literally half his age, and Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Threshold, Wayward Pines), the production manager with a failing marriage and who doesn’t sleep with anyone. They have such The Thin Man chemistry together and obvious devotion to one another, everyone who meets them thinks they’re married – except they’re not!
However, Crowe seems more interested in Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later), the young roadie who’s heading off to film school because she’s stopping believing in the music. If only she could recover her faith. Most of the first episode follows her around as she slowly rediscovers that faith thanks to all her fellow roadies, who are all a motley bunch of amiable characters: Ron White, the old hand who may have murdered two people but all the bands like; Keisha Castle-Hughes (Game of Thrones, The Almighty Johnsons, Whale Rider), the lesbian; and Peter Cambor (The Wedding Band), the guy from New Jersey who worked with Elvis Costello for a while and got stuck with his accent. There’s also Machine Gun Kelly, a roadie for another band with a strange relationship with Poots, which gets explained at the end of the first episode (spoilers, sweetie).
Crowe’s one real concession to plot comes from Rafe Spall (The Shadow Line, I Give It A Year), the semi-menacing English finance guy who used to work in sports and ‘real estate’ so doesn’t really get music, but who’s been sent over to make some budget cuts. Who’s for the chop? Probably not Poots, judging by the other age-inappropriate, Crowe-typical relationship that gets thrown into the mix. Probably no one, in fact, as Spall gradually learns that it’s love and people, not numbers, that keeps everything working backstage and you remove a piece of that bizarrely intricate puzzle at your own risk.
That first episode is in many ways lovely and heart-felt, albeit a bit saccarine and divorced from reality, with obvious love for music and people oozing from every scene – even for Spall and the creepy stalker girl who wants to do odd things with microphones (Jacqueline Byers). The trouble with auteurship, though, is that unless you’re Aaron Sorkin and prepared to consume superhuman amounts of cocaine to write a classic script every couple of weeks for umpteen years, it’s not something that can transfer over easily from film to TV.
The result is that even though Crowe directs the first two episodes, he hands over writing duties to others from episode two. Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life) is the first to pick up the slack, but although she’s good in her own right, she’s not up to being Cameron Crowe. The result is faux-Crowe and a little bit painful to watch without his heart-on-a-sleeve gushing. It doesn’t help that Wilson pretty much checks out after the first episode, even if everyone else is working hard, particularly Spall whose role switches from menacing to comedic from the second episode. To be fair again, Wilson does give a near-perfect performance as someone who’s coming down after smoking heinous amounts of weed, so there’s that one small concession to reality, at least.
If you like Cameron Crowe, it’s worth watching the first episode at least, as long as you consider it as a one-off short movie. Watching any more than that would be intolerable. You can watch a trailer below, and if you’re in the US, you can watch the first episode for free here.