His career in the movies faltering in recent years, Cameron Crowe decided to follow the footsteps of many of his contemporaries by moving over to the welcoming waters of premium cable television. His new Showtime series ‘Roadies’ is just about the Cameron Crowe-iest thing that ever was.
From the title, you probably guessed that the show is about the roadie crew for a (fictional) touring rock band. Basically, it’s Crowe’s ‘Almost Famous’ moved up to the present day, but with a focus on the people who work behind-the-scenes for the band rather than the band itself or their non-professional hangers-on.
The show has a large ensemble cast, fronted by Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino as Bill and Shelli, the Tour Manager and Production Manager respectively. What exactly the distinction between those two jobs may be is not made clear in the first episode. Slightly behind them in prominence is Imogen Poots as Kelly Ann, a young lighting or electrical technician or something (she does a lot of stuff in the episode, so I’m not sure what her actual job is) who keeps insisting that she’s leaving the crew to attend film school, though nobody believes she’ll actually go.
Other prominent characters include Luis Guzmán as Gooch, the tour bus driver, and Rafe Spall as Reg Whitehead, a douchebag British accountant who knows nothing about music but has been sent by the tour promoter to tighten the crew’s leash and cut way back on their expenses. Everyone instantly hates Reg, especially the idealistic Kelly Ann, who started her career as a roadie out of pure love for the music, man, and has no patience for bullshit corporate materialism. Naturally, Reg immediately falls in love with her.
The premiere has a lot of activity but not a lot of actual plot. It’s all about atmosphere and the details of backstage life for the crew. On the eve of a tour date in New Orleans, the roadies must set up the arena while dealing with technical problems, personality clashes, conflicts with corporate management, and an adorable stalker who breaks into the lead singer’s dressing room and pleasures herself with his favorite microphone. The latter feels like a natural extension of Kate Hudson’s groupie character from ‘Almost Famous’ if she were just a little more overtly psycho and had been rejected by the band rather than embraced by them.
Reg fires a grizzled veteran roadie who everybody else loves, which causes the man to pull a gun and cause a big scene. This is played for laughs but probably shouldn’t be, given that this show is airing (and takes place in) a time when gun violence and mass shootings happen practically every day. Likewise, a gag in which firecrackers go off at the start of the show, scaring everyone into thinking the sound is gunfire for a moment, is remarkably tone deaf.
A running joke about Kelly Ann’s pretentious student film, which is described as a montage of cathartic scenes of people running in various movies, culminates in a kind-of limp payoff when Kelly Ann has one of those moments for herself and decides not to go to film school.
Through all of this, pretty much every single character repeatedly intones about how the crew is a family, and the importance of family, and how no bonds are stronger than family, and blah blah blah blah family family family family. That’s supposed to be a theme, in case you didn’t get it. I also counted at least three speeches about the necessity of loving the job you do.
Unlike ‘Almost Famous’, the fictional music group (called The Staton House Band) is kept almost entirely off-screen. We glimpse them briefly at the end of the premiere, but never get to hear any of their songs. On the other hand, their opening act is the real band The Heart and the Head (most famous for the single “Let’s Be Still”), who do get to perform one song on camera.
Episode Verdict / Grade: B
The show is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be from the promo ads, no more and no less. It’s an assemblage of colorful and adorable characters doing lovable and quirky things, played to a soundtrack of Cameron Crowe’s favorite iTunes playlist. It’s warmhearted and gently (though not raucously) funny, but also a little annoyingly treacly and preachy – fortunately, not enough so to make me turn it off.
Judging by just the first episode, this doesn’t feel like it’s one of Cameron Crowe’s best efforts, but it’s also certainly not one of his worst. I’ll watch again to see how it shapes up.