With all due respect to Kroll Show’s “Adventures Of Young Billy Joel” sketch, no one has definitively told the Piano Man’s story on a screen. That’s a surprising thing considering the life that the Long Island icon has lived, penning dozens of classic radio staples, marrying Christie Brinkley, voicing Dodger in Oliver & Company. But with the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, you knew it was only a matter of time (or a matter of trust) before someone told the story of your mom’s favorite rock star. And now we’re here. Kinda.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Joel is teaming with MGM to produce an anthology series (they’re calling it an “arcthology”… whatever) based on his songbook. So think more of a Yesterday or Blinded By The Light kind of thing over those previously mentioned biopics. If this feels familiar, it’s because Joel previously adapted his works for Movin’ Out, a 2002 Broadway musical conceived by Twyla Tharp. There’s no word on if this will borrow characters or otherwise connect to that, however. This series will be called Scenes From An Italian Restaurant (and not Scenes From Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, which would be more appropriate, no?) and does not yet have a network home. In that there are 19,062 networks, however, let’s go ahead and peg the chances of this finding a home as “good.”
THR speculates about some of the hit songs that Joel will help reimagine for a visual medium (something he participated in during the ’80s with an impressive run of ultra cheesy but still breathtaking music videos). And sure, let’s get that Navy Davy gritty origin story and explore the nuances of working at Mr. Cacciatore’s down on Sullivan Street (across from the medical center). But also, let’s be real and consider some of Joel’s deeper cuts and less top of mind hits. Listen to the lyrics of “Downeaster Alexa” (a tale about a struggling fisherman in a depressed economy), “Allentown” (a tale about a depressed steel town), and “Leningrad” (a tale about a depressing Russian clown) and you’ll see… some sad sh*t, but also the potential for great and interesting television if its done right. Which means done in a way that embraces the medium, brings a little theatricality (like Rocketman does when it weaves Elton John’s songs into his life story), and isn’t too sacred or scared of reinvention.
As for why Joel is going this route instead of a more classically defined biopic, well, your guess is good as mine. For all the highs of his career, Joel has also endured rehab, marital woes, a 90 million dollar lawsuit against his former manager, and the decision to quit creating new material before completely losing his creative fastball. His life story could be nearly as compelling and award-worthy as Freddie Mercury and Elton John’s, but perhaps Joel isn’t ready to sit through the recreation of it all for the consumption of the masses, choosing to instead focus on the work and the world that he built across three decades as one of music’s biggest successes. Or perhaps this is merely the start of The Piano Manaissance, and more is still to come.