Season 1, Episode 4: “The Racket”
Directed by S.J. Clarkson
Written by Debora Cahn
* For a review of the previous episode, “Whispered Secrets” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “He in Racist Fire” – click here
This episode opens on Otis Blackwell (Gregory Bastien) singing “Please Help Me Find My Way Home”, crooning in lights, surrounded by colours. Only we morph into a scene at a funeral for the dead and gone Buck Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay). In the pews watching on sit a few of the American Century Records crew, such as Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) and Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie).
Meanwhile, Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale) and Devon (Olivia Wilde) are having couples counselling. Except using a tennis racket to smash a pillow, prescribed by their doctor, gives us edits of Richie from the couch to the memory of smashing Buck’s head in savagely. A great bit of writing and editing combined. “I don‘t want him to feel better, I want him to feel worse,” Devon makes clear to her therapist and Richie.
On the way back from the funeral, Zak, Julie (Max Casella) and the others chat about the situation at their label. Everyone’s worried. For his part, Julie sticks on Richie’s side; out of loyalty or the need of a job, that’s another story. Then there’s Richie snorting coke, ordering everyone around. Zak gets more and more pissed off with everything that’s going on. “Bunch of whiners,” screams Julie after the bitching gets too much for him. One great mention: Julie is headed into the studio with Mr. Robert Goulet (Matt Bogart).
Cut to the ACR office. Hannibal (Daniel J. Watts) shows up to fanfare, and a bit of racist leaning dialogue from a trying-too-hard white guy stating there’s “ribs” and all kinds of food for them. Only they’re “vegetarians now” so the white dude says: “Get this shit outta here.” Hilarious moment. Afterwards, Richie does his best to make Hannibal and the crew feel at home. In other news at the office, Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) and Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) butt heads a bit, as the latter is trying to work his ass off and sign an act; Jamie’s beating him with The Nasty Bits so far.
Devon skims through a bunch of photos she took, specifically the mess Richie left, the guitar through the television. She resents Richie for going back to their old life, the one they agreed to leave behind, and that she gave up her old life, essentially, for nothing.
Over at the office, VIP-treating Hannibal, Richie attempts to spin him and his label as the best of the lot. He does give a good sell, maybe a bit of a hard one. Either way, people love to party with Richie, especially when he busts out a nice load of cocaine for them to start railing. A nice jazzy record goes on. Despite his faults, Richie knows damn good music. They vibe and get high. So Richie’s not particularly dedicated to doing better for his marriage. He’s more concerned with business than his relationship, the love of his life. And then there’s the fact Hannibal, as well as others, look at Richie (and ACR) in a different light because of the non-sale of the label. Richie does good for now, though. He knows what Hannibal digs.
In the midst of all that, Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) arrives to see Riche. As do The Nasty Bits. Yet even though Lester arrives later than them, he goes in first. “Welcome to American Century,” Lester tells the boys: “Get ready to take it up the ass.”
Zak and Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne) each reminisce, as well as lament, their time at American Century Records. They don’t like how Richie treats them. All the same, even if they’re decent at their jobs, they don’t fit well with the music business. Rock n’ roll Richie does, faults and major flaws aside. “I‘m a relationship person,” Zak declares – then complains about his steak being “too rare” and sends it back. Moment full of irony there, as he bitches saying Richie is only all about himself. Found it worth a chuckle.
Then there’s Skip. He heads down to a factory pressing records. There are problems with some of the shady shit they do at ACR. Turns out there are issues with one of the latest shipments. Will this bring legal troubles? You can be sure it’s nothing good. God damn Donny Osmond.
With Curtis Mayfield playing over the scene, Richie receives Lester Grimes, as Hannibal still kicks around, then Goulet shows up with questions. So many things happening at once. At least Hannibal finds himself busy with the beautiful black secretary in Richie’s office. In the lobby, The Nasty Bits aren’t happy with waiting around so long, and Jamie has to fund their dinner.
Lester’s not happy with the tapes. He can’t sing anymore and it hurt him. In front of Richie, he burns the tape and tosses it in a wastebasket. This starts a little fire that sets off the sprinklers. Janis Joplin (Catherine Stephen) shows up in another one of those cutscenes, singing her heart out.
Busy with a possible divorce, Devon talks to a lawyer. That’s what the pictures are doing now, serving as evidence of Richie’s unstable nature, his drug abuse, et cetera. The conversation gets out of hand for Devon and she ends up with a lot of advice from the lawyer, plus a big charge. The lawyer says she’s not getting a divorce apparently. We’ll see about that.
The Nasty Bits and Lester end up chatting, drinking at a bar. He has lots to say about signing with a studio, all the downsides of the supposedly glamorous life. He’s almost hellbent to destroy any further acts from signing with Riche. Wouldn’t you be? Raw deal for Lester. He explains the royalties and “all that shit” which end up going to the label, everything the artists who are dying to sign contracts don’t know or understand.
Richie gets ready then has to go sign The Nasty Bits. Or try, anyways. Much of what Lester warned begins to happen. Lead singer Kip Stevens (James Jagger) then introduces their new manager: Lester fucking Grimes. “You two go back, don‘t ya?” Kip asks with a tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Skip’s not having much of a good time. At a store, he finds his Donny Osmond marketing isn’t going so hot. Their old operation does not fly anymore. It’s slipping through their fingers and Skip doesn’t feel too calm.
In the office, Lester battles it out with Richie. He’s not pleased with Lester, for the office burning up, gold records damaged, as well as the demands he is making for The Nasty Bits. An offer gets laid on the table. But the conversation turns to the young man whom Richie heard at the club in the first episode, where he finally encountered Lester again; the turntable guy from Lester’s building. Maybe Lester might become the manager for his early hip hop DJ act? Hopefully so.
Bit more friction at the label. Clark runs afoul of Marvin (Ephraim Sykes), claiming there’s talk that he’s only a token black guy, to bring in black artists, “the brothers” and all that. Is Clark playing games? Trying to find an angle in on keeping/securing his job? The record business is getting ruthless.
Hannibal runs into the sleazy Jackie Jarvis (Ken Marino), who puts a negative spin on anything Richie-related. He claims to be a “fan” of Hannibal’s music, no matter what label the band is on. Big show, and backstage Cece (Susan Heyward) the secretary watches on. Will Richie make it in time? Perhaps another brick in the wall of ACR’s mausoleum, unless things turn around. Their negative look could definitely be their downfall, especially with people unhappy working there.
Plus, Richie gets word of Jarvis at the show. While he snorts more coke in the low light of his office. Always something. And at his door, up show some detectives. Neither of them appear too impressed with Richie, though, they seem to dig Robert Goulet and want to know more about his latest Christmas album. Richie’s presence was expected at the funeral, casting suspicion on him. All the while, he has flashbacks of Buck, both alive and while being killed. The editing again is awesome here. Things get dicey for Rich, being the last number called from Rogers’ place the night of his murder. Uh oh.
Bit of Goulet in the studio recording his holiday songs. Although, Zak and Julie sit in the back, disgusted with how low they’re supposedly stooping. Then Skip is across town offloading a ton of Donny Osmond records in some building, somewhere. All the wheels of ACR turn rusty and with a ton of grease. Richie spins out of control, wondering what’s next to fall apart. The Nasty Bits celebrate with Jamie upstairs outside the office, punking it out on the fire escape drinking. Everybody’s in their own little pocket, troubles abound. Even the good situations are lined with an ominous tint.
At home, Devon gets a call from Richie. She tries to tell him about the divorce lawyer. He doesn’t hear anything, though. He only says he’ll be home “tomorrow” and hangs up. She goes back to scrubbing dishes in the dark, nearly scrubbing right through a pan. He treats her terribly. When will Devon finally break completely? Soon enough, no doubt. Right afterwards she starts hammering the window with the pan until it breaks.
Down the basement steps somewhere, Richie heads through a dimly-lit hallway and into a club with jazz playing, smooth and beautiful. Sitting there playing the trumpet, as it turns out, is Vince Finestra (David Proval) – father to Richie. They sit at the bar together. “You still dry?” asks Vince. Richie replies no, then some attitude comes out of dear old dad. There’s clearly bad blood there, too. They obviously don’t have a great relationship, which comes out in their conversation. “I need an alibi,” Richie tells his father.
Nice close to this episode with Nina Simone singing “Sinnerman” over the credits. Can’t wait for the next chapter, “He in Racist Fire”, so stay tuned with me next week.