Roush Review: Roadies Embarks on a Rocky Musical Trip

Matt Roush
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Katie Yu/Showtime

Plenty of heart—perhaps too much—has gone into the creation of Roadies, Cameron Crowe’s romanticized seriocomedy about the funky traveling circus behind the scenes of a rock ’n’ roll arena tour. Sex and drugs are a given, but the preachiness can be a real buzz kill when pretentiously overamped acolytes spout on and on about changing the world with the holy endeavor of their musical pilgrimage before “life just cheats you out of your dreams.”

That soliloquy is one of several delivered by junior techie Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots), an aspiring filmmaker whose should-I-stay-or-go dilemma in the pilot episode is one of the most clichéd set-ups imaginable for introducing a large ensemble cast. (Spoiler alert: She stays, which you could predict from the moment she announces, “I have to find my own voice.”)

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Every stop on the Roadies road trip presents its share of episodic crises, with opening acts bolting and lusty stalkers sneaking backstage, but there’s not much urgency to any of the action. Still, there are reasons to dig the ride, including the endearing lead performance of Luke Wilson as Bill Hanson, the sheepish Peter Pan of a road manager. He tries to keep morale up while bedding young conquests in every town, to the disdain of the always-foxy Carla Gugino as Shelli, the tour’s prickly production manager.

They’re good company, but the show does them no favors by saddling them with too-familiar storylines and contrived adversaries like Reg, the British bean-counter (Rafe Spall finding some charm in a charmless character), who abruptly joins the tour to “protect the brand” and its bottom line.

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It’s not a good sign when the third episode is the most insufferable of those previewed, featuring a typecast Rainn Wilson (The Office) as an obnoxious rock-critic blogger who for some reason is invited to a stop on the tour to be fawned over—though invariably is duped by roadie-style pranking.

Not a moment of this feels true or real, or even amusing, and when guest artist Lindsey Buckingham admiringly observes, “This tour is like a Fellini film crossed with an episode of The Monkees,” you might actually want to see the show he’s describing. Unfortunately, Roadies has a way to go to achieve that level of surreal abandon, not to mention satisfaction. Can it find its own voice to avoid the fate of HBO’s one-season-and-done rock debacle Vinyl? That will require some significant fine tuning.

Roadies, Series Premiere, Sunday, June 26, 10/9c, Showtime.