Richie doesn't get richer — but maybe gets his soul back — when he turns down the merger
Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO
S1 E2
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Do you smell a rat? Because that’s the first, furry face we see on screen this week, and even a garbage-eating rodent probably thinks Richie Finestra is kind of losing it. He’s doing coke-dusted karate kicks in the aisles at a Bruce Lee movie and hi-yah-ing like he’s still busting his way out of the rubble from the New York Dolls collapse we ended the series premiere on.

Here’s what Richie isn’t doing: showing up for the contract signing with PolyGram. Zak (Ray Romano) calls Richie’s wife, Devon (Olivia Wilde), at home, and she tells him he’s gone on a bender. “Well, I’m sure he’s fine,” Zak says hopefully. “Yeah, of course he’s fine. He’s always fine,” she spits back. “It’s everyone around him who gets f—ed.” Richie does make it eventually, looking like he just walked off the set of The Walking Dead, shouting his favorite Latin phrases (“Ipso facto! E pluribus unum!”), and refusing to sign on the dotted line because he “had a vision.” Telling his confused partners he wants to forfeit the sale and get back to his roots, he Bruce Lees two out of the three of them in the face, calls the Germans “Nazi pricks,” and strolls down the hallway to Toots and the Maytals’ “Sweet and Dandy.” It’s a real red-letter day so far.

In the type of scene-jump we’re getting used to, a line of cocaine becomes powdered sugar on pancakes, and Devon’s body is in a diner booth with her kids while her mind is in Andy Warhol’s Factory, flashing back to an ersatz Lou Reed (he looks vaguely…Irish?) crooning “Venus in Furs” with the Velvet Underground, and her first encounter with Richie. Before they’ve even been formally introduced they realize they both dig the Velvets, he follows her to the bathroom and flirt-chokes her. She slaps him; then they have sex against the sink. And that, folks, is what you call a meet-cute. In Scorsese-land at least.

Then Richie is back in the office in his Black Sabbath T-shirt and telling his A&R staff that they’re all fired — but that they also have two weeks to earn their jobs back if they can bring in talent: “I want new, fresh, fast, exciting!” One tie-dyed chump gets immediately sent back to Woodstock, and everyone else is scrambling; Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) is the only one who actually looks excited. She brings up the Nasty Bits again and says she wants to be their A&R rep, but Richie dismisses her: “You’re a secretary, and you’re a girl… You snatched the tape from my inbox, sweetie.” She stands her ground, though. “You want me to suck your dick?” she asks through clenched teeth. He demurs (“I’d be lying if I said the thought hadn’t crossed my mind”). “Then how the f— do I get ahead?” Good question. He finally says he’ll give her a shot, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s got a bindle for him in her bra. (Or possibly taped to her ribcage; either way, she pulls it out like coke-fairy magic).

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Meanwhile, Zak is going to have to find a new way to pay for all the top-shelf champagne and spinach quiche at his daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah, and Richie gets a visit from the NYPD. He thinks it’s about Buck Rogers (a.k.a. the deranged radio mogul whose dead body he helped dump in the pilot), and though it turns out to be unrelated, it still puts him into enough of a tailspin that he starts sobbing in Devon’s arms as soon as the detective steps out. Then we’re flashing back again to another Warhol scene, and we finally get to meet the wig behind it all: Andy, played as a sort of slyly acerbic elf by John Cameron Mitchell. He wants to give Devon a screen test, but the scene is mostly about watching Richie and Devon fall in love, minus the sex-choking.

Back at a Nasty Bits rehearsal, A&R head Julie (Max Casella) is not feeling the band’s vibe; “What I just heard sounded like five dogs with their cocks caught in a lawnmower.” But if they can learn a Kinks song he’ll let them play that and two originals for Richie. And Jamie? She’s demoted back to coffee fetching and not happy about it. Also, if you’re wondering, Zak has a pretty miserable marriage to go on top of that massive bat mitzvah bill; he’s one step away from swallowing a suicidal fistful of Valium, which may not be the solution he’s looking for.

Richie and Devon’s marriage still has some physical chemistry, though our hero ditches his wife just as they’re rounding first base and heads into the city to see an old friend: Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh), his first client and his first real betrayal. “We have to talk,” he says when Lester answers the door. And then…fade to black. Could Lester be part of Richie’s “new, fast, fresh, exciting” roster? We’ll just have to wait for next Sunday night.

Episode Recaps

2016 HBO series starring Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde, and Ray Romano
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