The pinnacle of last night’s Vinyl episode, and indeed of the entire show so far, might be the image of Richie Finestra, standing in his swanky corner office while a fire burns away in the trash can, sprinklers soak him, and he lets out a primal cry of “fuuuuck!”
Worst. Day. Ever. for Richie?
Yes, worst day ever — except for the day he witnessed a dude being bludgeoned to death and helped dump his body, but you know, in terms of normal bad days, this is the pits. Primal outbursts are the motif of the “The Racket,” which even features a Janis Joplin interlude to hammer that howling theme home. Tonally, however, the episode veers back into dark slapstick territory for most of its duration, moving at a brisker, less ponderous pace than previous installments. In laymen’s terms: I was less bored. I had heard whispers that the show improved around episode 4 and I wouldn’t say the uptick in compelling material is dramatic, but at least it existed. I’m actually looking forward to finding out what happens next.
“The Racket” features with what I assume is a primal therapy session in Connecticut. Thoughts immediately go to the Lennon-Ono clan, but whereas John and Yoko made Plastic Ono Band under the influence of this strain of psychology-thought, Richie finds himself merely beating a couch with a tennis racket and getting his feelings out. He should be at Buck Rogers’ funeral, but the fact that he helped with the whole murder thing is keeping him at home, and keeping him from telling the truth. Devon is too unhappy that her husband fell off the wagon to participate in the racket-smashing, and delivers a beating that is merely verbal. Don’t worry, by the episode’s end she’ll be as primal as she can be, smashing the window in with frustration — since the divorce lawyer she consults doesn’t think she’s serious enough to bring a case against Richie.
Back at the office, things are really moving and shaking with the talent. A big funk star, Hannibal, waltzes in with his very wandering eye — he likes Richie’s assistant CeCe — a very swinging’ entourage, and a need for Richie to win him back from the predatory competition, Jackie Jervis (an oily Ken Marino). So Richie falls all over himself to make the guy feel tops, from having Jamie order danishes to bringing “groupies” in for Hannibal’s exclusive amusement. So far so good, but it turns out to just be one of those days, because all this is happening while Robert Goulet is also outside, asking to record an original composition about the day after Christmas, while Nasty Bits waits in reception to sign their contract and Lester Grimes barges in, determined to have it out with his former manager. So many miniature dramas are transpiring at once that Lester somehow manages to walk right into Richie’s office, throw his old demos in the garbage, and set them on fire — getting primal on his old mentor-turned-betrayer. Thus, our pivotal moment with the sprinklers and the cursing and so on.
But Lester’s moment of getting even isn’t ending with a little satisfying light arson and destruction. He takes the disgruntled Nasty Bits out for a drink and talks to them about the biz and all the ways artists get suckered, and then comes back with them to the negotiating table to act as their manager. While hammering out the deal with Lester, Richie pries him about hearing D.J. Cool Herc spin his records, and gets a grudging, “You never stop hustling, do you?” from his old protegé. Oh my god, is Richie gonna go all Columbus over nascent hip-hop? The man has a legendary “golden ear” after all and I wouldn’t put it past the Vinyl creators.
All these artist-related dramas seems to have wrapped up semi-satisfactorily until Richie emerges, changed, coked up and ready to head out to the Hannibal show and counteract Jackie’s presence with his own charm, and is promptly stopped by two other homicide detectives. This time, the guys in blue want to know about Buck Rogers’ death — and also happen to have a million questions about Robert Goulet, as well as ideas for how the crooner should brand his Christmas album. Of course,
Sadly, with the inquiries into Buck’s death, fate for Richie is once more looking as dour and grim as Goulet’s original post-holiday song, which is depressing Richie’s colleagues so much they want to drown themselves.
Sidenote: It’s a bit strange to have a Robert Goulet character be so prominent given Will Ferrell’s impression to end all impressions, but this interlude still manages to be amusing. Also of note are several funny secondary plots, including poor Clark trying to sign an artist, any artist, so he doesn’t get fired (and being a bit racist and sneaky in the process), and Skip Fontaine desperately trying to fix his crooked Donnie Osmond record-buyback deal gone wrong. He ends up alone in an apartment chock full of returned records, which is perhaps his version of a primal scream.
The episode ends with Richie, also alone, entering a jazz club and talking to a crusty-seeming horn player. Within five seconds it’s obvious that Richie has gone seeking his own father (talk about getting primitive!), and what he needs from this hardened guy is the kind of favor you only ask when you’re desperate: an alibi.