Denis Leary's "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" is sad & dated & raunchy & rough

And what is John Corbett doing in this bizarre throwback?

Published July 15, 2015 6:00PM (EDT)


As if to remind its viewers that there are terrible people, and then there are really terrible people,  directly following the second season premiere of "Married" tonight is the debut of the contortedly titled “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” written by and starring comedian Denis Leary. Leary plays an aging rockstar named Johnny Rock, brought back from obscurity by the discovery of a long-lost daughter who has both money and a vision of becoming a musical act in her own right. He is, as so many of Leary’s characters are, an alcoholic, womanizing slimeball; his first meeting with his daughter Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies) consists of him forcing a kiss on her at a bar, before she knees him in the crotch and informs him of her parentage.

“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” is about trying to find a way out of classic rock nostalgia. Johnny Rock’s band, The Heathens, is supposed to be a late ‘80s/early ‘90s band—“like The Who and The Clash had four kids,” as Nirvana and Foo Fighters member Dave Grohl says in a desperate, sad little cameo. But everything about The Heathens screams ‘70s—exemplified best by Johnny Rock’s desperate, sad little mullet. The pilot is full of sniping about Lady Gaga, which would not have felt fresh even five years ago; and when not griping about being out of cash, Johnny Rock and his bandmates debate for a too-long scene about what sexualized language they’re allowed to use about Gigi—“pussy” is out, and so is “titties,” but “chest area” and “vagina” are respectable.

To the show’s credit—and as further evidence of Leary’s skill at making himself the butt of his own humor—Gigi is clearly and obviously the show’s hero, a fantastic, throaty singer with enough attitude and gumption to knock several dissipate rockers into shape. But she’s barely a character, outside of eyeliner and black leather—a girl who seems to have no inner reflection about calling a man who sexually assaulted her when they first met “Dad,” for example. She’s mostly a walking plot device, one who brazenly flirts with Johnny’s frenemy Flash (the perplexingly cast John Corbett). Still, if the show were just about her, it would be kind of fun; Gillies is talented enough to sell her rock-star appeal, and character development could come a little later.

But “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” is about the men—about Johnny Rock getting sober and making some meaning out of his life, about damaged men finding a way to be whole again. There are some affecting moments with Johnny’s longtime backup singer and girlfriend, Ava (Elaine Hendrix), who is probably the most purely pathetic character on the show, being both in love with Johnny and in a career where youth and hotness are paramount. Fans of Leary’s show “Rescue Me” will recognize the crass humor, the broken-down men, and the working-class charisma of his characters. But where “Rescue Me” had the strong dramatic backdrop of firefighters after 9/11, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” merely has the dramatic backdrop of loud guitars and middling lyrics. The show is so abrasive I had to stop watching partway through the second episode; even though I individually appreciate Corbett, Leary, Gillies, and rock music, the combination in the show offered nothing for me.

“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” will work for you if “’Nashville,’ but for rock dudes” sounds appealing, if you like musical numbers of any variety or if you still can’t get over the ‘70s no longer existing. Or if you are very invested in seeing Denis Leary trying to sport a mullet. Otherwise, I can’t imagine the appeal.

By Sonia Saraiya

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