‘Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll’ Pilot Recap: “Are You Anybody?”

Four years after ‘Rescue Me’ went off the air, Denis Leary returns to the FX network with a new series. Although ‘Sex&Drug&Rock&Roll’ is a half-hour comedy rather than an hour drama, the show was obviously tailor-made for the actor. Can the actual product live up to the seemingly perfect pairing of premise and star?

Leary plays Johnny Rock (his self-chosen stage name, obviously), a washed-up, aging rocker who came very close to stardom in the late ’80s/early ’90s with a band called The Heathens. Unfortunately, the group fell apart before their big break due to all the usual reasons you expect would cause a rock band to fall apart: booze, drugs, cheating with each other’s women, petty backstabbing, you name it. (The pilot episode opens with a pretty keen parody of a “Behind the Music” special.)

In the present day, Johnny’s a pathetic has-been. While he tries to keep up the lifestyle of a rock icon (including excessive drug abuse), he’s broke, nobody remembers him, and he can’t get a gig. Just as he hits rock bottom and agrees to do sessions with tribute cover bands (funniest group name: Jon Non Jovi), an unexpected visitor comes into his life. It seems that he has a daughter he never knew about, the product of a one-night-stand with a groupie. She’s 25, she says she can sing, and she wants his help launching her career. (I guess she’s never heard of ‘American Idol’.)

Johnny is skeptical. He doubts the girl, named Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies from the Nickelodeon kid’s show ‘Victorious’), really has any talent – but what she does have is a lot of money to throw around. She’ll pay very well for his services, on one condition: He needs to get the old band back together, which means mending some seriously broken fences. Hardest of all to convince will be Flash (John Corbett), who’s now the very successful lead guitarist for Lady Gaga.

Nonetheless, Johnny does his groveling and gets everyone in a room together, fully expecting that the girl will stink, they’ll pat her on the head and take her cash, and never speak to each other again. Lo and behold, for all her arrogance and overconfidence, Gigi burns with real talent that none of them can ignore. What the hell will they do now?

Episode Verdict / Grade: B+

From that description alone, it should be pretty obvious that the show trades on a whole lot of clichés that you’ve seen a thousand times before. What’s sort of refreshing is that it acknowledges that and undercuts them whenever it can. Gigi isn’t looking for an emotional reunion with the father she never knew. This is purely a cynical business transaction for her. Likewise, Johnny finds her more of an annoyance and a burden than a blessing. We’ll have to see how that dynamic changes in future episodes.

‘Sex&Drug&Rock&Roll’ fits very comfortably into Denis Leary’s skill-set. It’s no ‘Rescue Me’, but the humor works and the cast has good chemistry. A bit where the other band members rib Johnny about how much they all want to have sex with his daughter is really funny, especially when she walks into the room and plays along, much to Johnny’s annoyance.

I liked the premiere. The show should be worth watching again.

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