Review: One week after its worst episode, ‘Roadies’ gives us its best

Senior Television Writer
07.17.16 21 Comments

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A few quick thoughts on tonight's Roadies coming up just as soon as I really like jazz…

In my initial review of this show, I alluded to the dire nature of last week's episode, “The Bryce Newman Letter.” Noel Murray and Mo Ryan did an excellent job of pointing out the many things that went awry with that one, and if a show with a creator I respected even slightly less than Cameron Crowe put out an hour like that, I'd be a cloud of dust with motion lines getting the hell away from it. Instead, I decided to give Roadies one more shot to see if “Bryce Newman” was an aberration, and was rewarded with easily the best episode of this young series in “The City Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken.”

Neither Crowe nor Winnie Holzman do cruel all that well, which is one of the many reasons “Bryce Newman” went so sour. Both of them are much more comfortable, and simply better, when there's a real generosity of spirit and some sense of mystery or fun to the proceedings, and we got a lot of that in the story that provided the episode its title. When Reg makes the mistake of saying “Cincinnati” aloud, he triggers a wave of interlocking road tour superstitions inspired by The Who's tragic 1979 concert appearance there, which allows the show to provide its clearest picture yet of the peculiar cultures and traditions of being on a road crew. I'm in general a sucker for stories about this kind of thing (the Sports Night episode where the studio was haunted by the ghost of Thespis is an all-time favorite), and this was a well-executed version of it, featuring not only a lot of local color – plus Jim James from My Morning Jacket doing an excellent Who cover – but the first time since the pilot that Reg didn't come across as a complete buffoon. If the show wants to make Reg and Kelly Ann into a thing to root for, it first has to stop letting him be a caricature of an oblivious suit and let him be smart and interesting enough for her to genuinely want. He makes a bunch of mistakes here, but also reveals himself to be clever enough to understand the power of superstition and the importance of keeping the crew happy. And he successfully stole a dozen eggs without breaking them!

Bill and Shelli's own road trip suffered from the lack of chemistry between Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino, which isn't going to stop being a problem until the show stops making that the subtext of every story featuring the two of them. Still, it was an entertaining and occasionally dark glimpse into what Bill's life was like before he sobered up, and Shelli's quest to find something to eat made for a good running gag, even if Ron Swanson would disagree strongly with her assessment of the strip club buffet.

Overall, this feels like it could be the moment when a new series figures out how to actually function as a TV show. That idea is harder than it seems, especially when your show's created by someone who's never done TV before, even if he's working with veterans like Holzman and the Bad Robot people. Still, “The Bryce Newman Letter” aired seven days ago, and this kind of extreme deviation in tone and quality isn't uncommon for a show at this stage. Roadies could go either way at this point, but “The City Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken” has bought it some time with me as I wait to see if it sinks or swims.

What did everybody else think? Four episodes in, how you feeling about Roadies overall?

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