Eager for Cameron Crowe’s latest rock and roll offering on Showtime, I thought I would reach out to my buddy Matt Frankel, Lord of the Vale in far off Montclair, New Jersey, for some back-and-forth on “Roadies,” the new 1-hour series. The resulting email chain is found immediately below. Enjoy our arguments both serious and ridiculous, and bear with some inside jokes:
Editor’s Note: This exchange occurred prior to the 4th of July weekend and the sad announcement on Sunday of the death of legendary film director Michael Cimino (“The Deer Hunter.”), who is referenced in the dialogue.
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Matty, you and I have been Cameron Crowe fans longer than we’ve even known how to pronounce M. Night Shyamalan. But like M. Night, Crowe’s level of quality has dropped off considerably since very strong films like “Singles,” “Jerry Maguire,” and of course, “Almost Famous.” But the other night, I witnessed evidence that suggests to me that just as he found his rock roots with Almost Famous, so too might he have with “Roadies,” an hour-long new series on Showtime.
Roadies, as the title suggests, focuses on the crew — the people who set up the stage, conduct the sound checks, drive the tour bus, and other things that go unheralded while the band soaks up the stardom. The pilot episode to me captured some of the same spirit as “Famous,” and includes some strong performances and sets up what might be a good cross-section of relationships and drama going forward.
Let’s start with the fact that Luke Wilson is cast as the Tour Manager. Now, there’s no real Emmy nomination coming — Luke Wilson once again plays Luke Wilson. The great advantage of this is — who doesn’t love Luke Wilson? I want to be friends with the guy! So he’s the somewhat overwhelmed tour manager with that sparkle in his eye and he seems to have the respect of his crew. Matching wits with him? Carla Gugino of course. Am I ever NOT going to have a crush on Carla Gugino, who only seems to get better with age? She plays the married production manager who has to maintain a relationship with a far off husband also on tour, but with the enviable tour of Taylor Swift. Luis Guzman is the soulful bus driver – Luis Guzman, Matty. Again, great casting.
But I think the strongest storyline and most well cast character is that played by the unfortunately named Imogen Poots, the lovely British/Irish ingénue (she’s an ingénue, Matty!) who we’ve seen a few places on screen in the last several years. As “Kelly Ann,” Poots is determined to leave the tour after that night’s show to attend film school. Of course, in dramatic fashion, at the last minute, inspired by the band’s promise to shake up the play list, she realizes she can’t leave rock and roll and stays. It is at this moment that I realize she is the character that Cameron Crowe has cast as himself, and I’m pretty sure her “POV” will be critical to the series.
Anyway – I’m going on and on explaining this – but of course you probably saw it yourself. I really enjoyed it – from the staging to the secondary characters, to that sentimental “heart of rock and roll” embodied in Kelly Ann. Curious about your take?
Todd, as a long-time listener, first-time caller, of Todd Flora’s America, I am truly honored to be asked to participate in this valuable discourse.
Before we begin on the self-indulgent, incomprehensible new Cameron Crowe joint, let’s take a step back so I can first clarify my views on the filmmaker.
You and I have known each other for over twenty years now, but time and perspective have changed my impressions of this man’s career.
Yes, he wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
And yes, he directed one of the most iconic – 1980s movie scenes in “Say Anything,” with Lloyd Dobbler professing his love for Ione Skye by holding an “In Your Eyes” playing boom box over his head in the middle of the night. Btw, for those of you not familiar, a “boom box” was a contraption that one lugged around to hear music when not in a car, elevator, or at home. And while we are on the subject of Say Anything how about a ‘lil love for Ione Skye? While I was forever traumatized to see her later prancing around naked in “Four Rooms” with Madonna, and have not seen or heard much of her since, it should be noted that I was totally in love with her when I was sixteen years old.
Getting back to Crowe, my opinions of him have evolved since we were in our early 20s right out of college. In fact, I would put him on my list of Most Overrated Directors – which also includes his mentor James L. Brooks and also Jonathan Demme.
I did not want to admit to these feelings for some time, but now – after the worst string of three films in modern history – Elizabethtown, We Bought a Zoo and Aloha – I feel comfortable sharing these deep thoughts. These films are beyond terrible.
What I find fascinating, after these duds, is that Crowe is still even allowed to work.
Think about it! He was somehow allowed to title a film….
“We-Bought-A-Zoo.” Need I say more?
Meanwhile, Michael Cimino is in some crappy, rundown Italian villa, drinking Chianti Classico, mumbling to himself about United Artists.
I do get it. Crowe wrote for Rolling Stone when he was at nine years old. He was there to witness the hey-day of Rock and Roll. He gets Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen to write songs for his film’s score. He has the coolest personal catalog of music and hand picks the songs for his films. He casts his friends, like Eddie Vedder, in his films. He was in hotel rooms with a famous rock star and stole the phonebooks to remember the moment. I get it. He is awesome, but come on…he is not a great as we thought he was back in the early 1990s.
For me, Crowe’s success is few and far between….
- Fast Times
- 80 percent of Say Anything
- A couple of great scenes in Jerry Maguire, though not the whole movie. My biggest issue with Jerry Maguire was that Tom Cruise never seemed to like Renne Zellweger. He just needed an assistant. Though that opening sex scene of the film is indeed a masterpiece
- A few cool parts to Vanilla Sky
That’s it. When Crowe get his American Cinematheque award, that’s all they should show in the highlight reel.
And yes, I was not a fan of Almost Famous. Again, a couple of good scenes, “I am a golden god!” and the bus scene, but that is for me.
If I was honest, I think the only real influence Crowe had had on my life is that thanks to Singles, I now remember to say, “bless you” after my wife sneezes.
So that brings us to Roadies… Where do I begin?
Throughout the whole first episode, I did not see any resemblance of a plot line. I had no idea who these people are. There is no explanation at all about anything. What are these people doing? Yes, they all look busy. There seems to be all this drama going on. They are all citizens of this cool, man-made, arena-based city. What I found most hysterical was how lived-in this arena-like city looked. Every room, every alley, every stairway, every hallway had all these tchotchkes all over the place. Isn’t the whole point of a tour is to be nimble because they travel from city to city?
Yes, I get it, these are the important folks who serve behind the scenes for our rock gods. I heard about all them from Jackson Browne.
Carla Gugino is a production manager? Good to know! I had no idea from watching the show.
That British/Irish ingénue (Kudos, Todd), what is her actual responsibility on the tour? And I am still confused, is she also the same person who zips around on her skateboard? Or is that yet another Kate Hudson wanna be?
Any real plot lines were contrived and stereotypical at best. The ugly, terrible corporates who are looking to make money! The idealistic lovers of rock and roll, who work to be part of something special and celebrate the soul of music making! Oh please!
Watching the show I could not help but blame Crowe’s rocker wife, Nancy Wilson. I imagined Crowe moping around the house, contemplating his recent failures, worrying about his next project, with his wife encouraging him to just “get back to your roots.” Thanks, Nancy!
A few minor points –
1.) Reg Whitehead’s Shakespearean soliloquy is a must see! The show is worth seeing just for that one scene so you can tell people you witnessed the single strangest moment ever on television.
2.) Not sure if anyone noticed, but a couple of years ago when he was regulated to doing AT+T commercials, Luke Wilson did not look himself and gained significant weight. I wonder how he got the weight off?
3.) And Todd, a really important editor’s note, I think it is completely unfair for you to provide a positive review about a show that stars Carla Gugino, without mentioning your complete obsession with her. Yes, you did mention your crush, but we all know it was far more than a crush and I believe – in this case – your feelings for her must have swayed your normally strong judgement.
Look forward to episode 2 on Sunday.
Matty, your response was what I would describe as “beautifully violent,” as if Quentin Tarantino himself took control of your keyboard. So much for which to respond. First — I’m really surprised you hated it! Second — I have known you since September of 1994, and yet I somehow didn’t know you disliked “Almost Famous?!” Is … that even ALLOWED among guys our age? Well, my arteries have hardened a little … but I think I can get over it. Actually, I didn’t even realize you were that lukewarm about Cameron Crowe. But ok.
Before I counter, let’s focus on things for which we can agree:
- Ok, Ok. Carla Gugino will always be on “my list.” How could she NOT be? Ever since she and Alison Elliott (talk about disappearing acts — The woman from the very sad but highly lauded “The Spitfire Grill”) waited in line behind me to see “Primal Fear” (where America would discover Edward Norton), I have had a case of the Carla. Ours eyes even met for a split second. How many people can claim that?!
- We Bought A Zoo — only good thing about it was the cute little daughter. She was adorable. But the movie wasted Damon’s talent and saw ScarJo provide NOTHING of value at all. That awful dentist who shot the lion would have made a more believable zoologist. So yes, point there.
- Elizabethtown was indeed a national embarrassment, and sadly for his sake, I’m not sure what kind of career Orlando Bloom can have as “just a guy.” He seems to need costume roles to succeed. In the spirit of confession, I am pretty sure Erin and I actually paid to see it in the theater … we must have skipped the reviews.
- A sincere thank you for bringing back the term “Boom Box,” and explaining what it is to my legions of “Millennial” readers (still to come) who would probably look at one with the same confusion the “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer” would view a smart phone.
Now, some points of contention:
- You seem to be suggesting that “Roadies” is perhaps unoriginal because there are stereotypical characters? But I don’t think Cameron Crowe and company are trying to say they invented insights on arena rock bands any more than Michael C. Hall would say he invented serial killers. You’re there to enjoy the ride, and the setting and the people are the people of rock, whose nomadic lifestyles even may put those of professional political operatives to shame. We all think we want to be doing what they’re doing … but do we? We’ll find out. So I’m intrigued.
- You also contend that there is little to no plot. First, I disagree — the plot is the trials, tribulations, and I hope a few celebrations among a tight-knit roadie crew on a U.S. tour. Second — I think you have to remember it was the first episode of what is likely an 8-12 episode season. This isn’t a 2 hour movie. Plots can reveal themselves. This episode was our “meet cute” with each of the characters. Let’s give it some time. Maybe it WILL end up disappointing.
- Kelly Ann, from whom you suggest we need a more specific job description (why?), is indeed also the character that rides around on a skateboard. I think that’s a device to remind us that even though she is our protagonist who is serious about changing the world … we can’t take her TOO seriously. It also creates a little movement on screen, and helped in catching the stalker.
- Nancy Wilson and Crowe divorced six years ago … perhaps this is one of his problems?
I’ll look forward to your rebuttal.
Thanks for the update on Nancy Wilson. That is important to know.
I am heading off to the Berkshires, so I need to make some quick point and then I need to bolt…
It’s not that Roadies is unoriginal, it’s just that it is pointless. The show is if you crockpot filled of three ingredients…Almost Famous, Live on the Sunset Strip, and Suddenly Susan….
You actually make my point when you describe the plot. That is not a plot it’s a pitch, a blurb you read in the description.
As far as enjoying the ride, I do not see how that is possible, unless you like a car that is made of shit, full of shit, and riding on a road made of shit – with the window and sunroof open. I am do not enjoy that.
As for your last point, that it is the first episode…I totally agree, which is why I am going to give it one more episode.
Admit it, you just wanted to throw “Suddenly Susan” in there for no reason!
Matty, enjoy the 4th in the Berkshires. Thank you for “guesting” with me on this one.
America — thanks for reading. I guess we’ll see where the “Roadies” takes us (I’m already sorry for that).
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