The concept feels all right: It’s Denis Leary doing for the gravitational forces of the rock-and-roll milieu what he did for the bonds between firefighters in FX’s “Rescue Me.”And it would certainly seem as if Leary, whose scathing pop-cultural critiques first bubbled up in the form of comedy routines and his association with MTV eons ago, would know a thing or two about backstage excesses and artistic torment. But the flashy
“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” is bizarrely lacking in verisimilitude, particularly where the music is involved, which bogs down the
show’s funnier jokes and moments.
Leary stars as Johnny Rock, the former lead singer of a band called the Heathens, which imploded on the eve of their major-label
debut in 1990. After several failed attempts to revive his career, Johnny is reduced, 25 years later, to considering gigs
in bands that cover the songs of his more successful peers: Not Bryan Adams. Non Bon Jovi. Stung.
Then the 21-year-old daughter Johnny never knew, Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies), shows up ready to spend her trust fund (provided
by her successful mother) on becoming a rock star and offers to pay her father to write her some songs. Johnny and his manager,
Ira (Josh Pais), persuade his former Heathens bandmates (John Corbett, John Ales and Robert Kelly) to reunite, and it turns
out the daughter can really sing. With the Heathens on backup, observers in the studio start nodding in rhythmic approval,
like Reuben Kincaid seeing dollar signs on “The Partridge Family.”
What makes no sense whatsoever here is the music — and it’s no trivial lapse in detail, traceable to creator/star Leary himself.
Despite real rock stars (Dave Grohl, Joan Jett) speaking to the camera in mockumentary testimonial, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll”
fails utterly to nail down Johnny Rock’s genre: Were the Heathens a hair band? Was Johnny a lite-rock balladeer? Was it punk?
Playing himself, the Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli says the Heathens, in their brief heyday, sounded “like the Who f----- the Clash.”
If only. With this vague sensibility and some outdated ideas about the music industry, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” becomes the very
thing Johnny claims to loathe most: It is inauthentic and forgettable.