We gave it a B-
Making fun of the biggest cliché in music—sex, drugs, and rock & roll—has almost become a cliché itself. You can find a Spinal Tap-style mockumentary lampooning the hedonistic lifestyle of practically every genre, including punk, gangsta rap, and boy bands. The average viewer knows enough about the rise-and-fall trajectory of VH1’s Behind the Music to laugh when The Simpsons, South Park, and countless other shows spoof it. So if you’re going to create yet another comedy about a dysfunctional rock band and have the audacity to call it Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, you’d better hope that show does one of two things: Either it puts a new twist on the same old jokes, or it delivers the best old jokes you haven’t heard since 1992.
Sadly, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll does neither, but, like the band it follows, it has a certain washed-up charm. Creator and star Denis Leary plays Johnny Rock, singer for the hard-partying New York band the Heathens, who sounded “like the Who f—ed the Clash” during their ’90s peak, according to Afghan Whigs singer Greg Dulli, who pops up in the pilot with Dave Grohl. The Heathens were just about to break big when guitarist Flash (John Corbett) found Johnny in bed with his wife, and the band split up the same day their debut album dropped. Twenty-five years later, they reunite when Johnny’s daughter, Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies), pays the Heathens to serve as her backing band. The rest of the story will sound familiar. The band holds an intervention for Johnny. They stage a reunion concert that goes awry when old grudges resurface. They end up in New Agey therapy, just like Metallica did. All the band needs is a mud shark to complete its rock tropes.
If anything saves Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, it’s the geek cred. With a career that started on Broadway, Gillies has the vocal power to hold her own against these mulleted dinosaurs. And the band sounds great, with Dulli playing on the Heathens recordings along with ex–Del Fuegos guitarist Adam Roth and ex–Ozzy Osbourne drummer Charly Roth. The Heathens’ fights capture all the fun of rock snobbery, whether they’re arguing about history’s most over-the-top backstage riders or trying to find any rock couples whose love survived the band. When Leary lets them just nerd out on rock for rock’s sake, the show is a blast. When he tries to impart some treacly message about the power of family, his show begs for its own spoof. Can you imagine Eddie and Wolfgang Van Halen bonding over something as earnest as that? Rock’s fiercest debates have always been about authenticity. If you’re going to satirize the genre, even the fakest band has to seem real. B–