Shock Volume Doesn't Quite Reach 11 in Leary Rock-Star Comedy

Denis Leary tries to turn up the shock volume to 11 in his new FX comedy about an aging rock star who hasn’t had a hit in 25 years.

The new show is called “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” a title constructed as one continuous word, perhaps in an effort to encourage its promotion via social media. Or maybe not, since the show’s Twitter handle is @sdrr, not @sex&drugs&rock&roll.

In Episode 1 – premiering this Thursday (July 16) – the show veers into the kind of language FX has long been known for – shattering taboos that were once common for commercial-supported television concerning various slang words referring to female body parts.

In Episode 2, Leary jokes about the assassination of John Lennon and the Holocaust. The former subject arises as Leary’s rock-star character – Johnny Rock – is being ordered to quit drugs and alcohol cold turkey. The requirement that he be clean and sober is part of a contract he signed to write four songs for a new, up-and-coming female singing star who happens to be a 20-year-old daughter he never knew until recently that he had helped to conceive.



So Johnny argues that the best songs in rock history were written by artists when they were under the influence. Among those he cites is Lennon, who Johnny says became ineffective and unproductive as a songwriter after he quit drugs. “He’d gotten so boring,” he says in the show, “that if Mark David Chapman hadn’t shot him, Yoko probably would have.”

Later in the episode, when a bandmate informs Johnny that he has written a 29-part “song cycle” about the Irish potato famine, Johnny says to him: “You’re Jewish – shouldn’t you be writing about the Holocaust?”

“The Holocaust …,” the bandmate says dismissively. “It’s got such a History Channel vibe now.”

No jokes were heard in the two episodes about 9/11, but that might be because Leary’s last show for FX, the drama series “Rescue Me,” was all about 9/11 – particularly its effect on a New York firefighter named Tommy Gavin, played by Leary.

As a comedy, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” is lighter in tone than “Rescue Me,” but Leary gives basically the same performance. He delivers his lines in the same stammering befuddled way in which he played Tommy Gavin – which isn’t altogether a bad thing since Leary has a hard-to-define charisma on the small screen that makes him compelling to watch, despite the relative strength or weakness of the material he’s playing with.

On that score, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” is a mixed bag. When I watched Episode 1 (on a DVD provided by FX that contains five episodes), the notes I wrote included this pointed comment: “This show is terrible.” I recall writing this opinion when I realized that the episode was less than 30 minutes long, but at the time seemed interminable.

Episode 1 is the series’ “set-up” episode, in which Johnny Rock’s back story is told and the show’s characters and situations are introduced in the style of a documentary – something of a cross between those old VH1 “Behind the Music” specials and “This is Spinal Tap” (to which “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” will be widely compared in reviews that will be published on-line and in print later this week).

If you’re a viewer, the experience of watching Episode 2 is an improvement on Episode 1 because the exposition is over with and the show moves from “docu-comedy” to an actual TV show.

And Episode 2 plays like a long joke – a set-up consisting of Johnny Rock’s attempt at sobriety followed by a “punchline” at the episode’s conclusion.

Be forewarned that “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” is a very adult comedy – the type of TV show that was once considered unsuitable for children (although I get the sense children today are exposed to situations and language of the type seen and heard in this TV show all day long – on the Internet, on TV and in their communities).

The f-word is even uttered on this show a couple of times but censored (not with a bleep but with momentary silence). It’s probably just a matter of time before this taboo also gets tossed out the window.

“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” premieres Thursday night (July 16) at 10 Eastern on FX.

1 comment about "Shock Volume Doesn't Quite Reach 11 in Leary Rock-Star Comedy".
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  1. Katherine Cohen from E-Poll, July 13, 2015 at 1:25 p.m.

    July 16 = premiere, not June. Thanks for the review.

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