Record mogul Richie Finestra needs a post-PolyGram plan — and maybe a good defense lawyer
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Welcome to awards season! No, not that silly little trophy show airing tonight on some other network; we’re talking about the producers’ banquet that opens tonight’s episode, hosted by a jerk named Jackie Jervis (Ken Marino) who sounds like a bad Catskills comedian but is apparently just a fellow producer who thought he was invited to host a roast of all his colleagues. (“Pioneers! Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clarke, those are pioneers, okay? The putzes in this room? I guarantee you not one of you have been west of 10th Avenue.”) The nicest guy in the record business eventually moves on, of course, to a crack about Richie’s fallout with PolyGram, then throws in a tacky Jew joke, because why not? He’s already said something fantastically racist about Motown head Berry Gordy.

But Richie hardly has time to linger over the insult because all he sees is the empty placecard next to the night’s guest of honor: Radio man Frank “Buck” Rogers, who is not here to shake hands and eat his chicken cordon bleu because, as you may recall, he was bludgeoned to death and buried in a shallow grave (or more like rolled in a blanket) back in the first episode.

And it turns out there’s one person in the world who didn’t know the PolyGram deal was off: Mrs. Finestra, who greets the news by grabbing a glass of chardonnay off a passing tray and taking a big eff-you swig. Richie tracks down his old mentor Maury (Paul Ben-Victor) in the men’s room to tell him about the NYPD’s recent visit, but Maury dismisses it as a mere fishing expedition and denigrates Richie’s renewed dreams for the label on his way out, with a little more casual racism thrown in at the mention of his old client Lester Grimes because, well, that’s just the kind of charm we’re getting in this episode so far. Richie, though, goes to visit Lester, who is now working as a super and wants nothing to do with Richie’s pitch to release the old demos they recorded back in the day: “You’re talking about me in the past tense.” He blames Richie for the fact that his voice is gone, which is partly fair but may be a little on him, too — trying to strangle a mobbed-up record-label enforcer in the street in broad daylight could have ended up a lot worse than a crushed windpipe.

Devon’s keeping busy with some kind of dance fundraiser with the local Stepfords in Connecticut, and back at the Brill Building, Richie basically has to do a line every time he thinks about Buck Rogers. Which is often. But he’s got a roster to maintain, too, and label deadweight to cut, so the top guys gather to decide who stays and who goes. (Donny Osmond, Johnny Winter, and Grand Funk Railroad, yes; Lobo, Status Quo, and Terry Jacks, adios). His partners are still royally pissed at him for nixing the deal without their input, so Richie suggests a Christmas album for a fast cash infusion.

While Lester’s uptown watching the birth of beat-matching, or something like it, junior A&R guy Clark (Jack Quaid) is in the studio babysitting soft-rock duo England Dan & John Ford Coley and trying not to slit his wrists when he runs into Alice Cooper in the hallway, there to record some vocals for his buddy Todd Rundgren. Alice has the no. 1 album in the country but he speaks fondly of Richie, and Clark sees an opportunity to pitch him on a solo deal. Get it, Clarkster!

Meanwhile, the Nasty Bits are doing their best to learn a Kinks song, as promised, but nobody’s happy about it: Julie (Max Casella) still thinks they blow, Jamie (Juno Temple) thinks they’re losing their own sound, and the band just looks depressed. It’s almost a relief when the lady who owns the space comes in and calls the cops on them. (It looks like she’s played by Lena Olin, which means there’s probably more of her to come, or at least I hope so — the woman has a goddamn Oscar nod). Later on, Devon and Richie are in bed, and post-coitus seems like a good time for Devon to tell her husband how itchy she is to get out of her gilded cage and be in the mix again. She could work part-time at the label, she suggests; he says she should start her own theater company or Warhol Factory in Connecticut (because that’s just what Greenwich is clamoring for: mylar walls, atonal rock bands, and injectable amphetamines).

NEXT: Buck’s body turns up

Guess who drops by the office the next day for a little light blackmail? Yep, it’s our Buck murder buddy, Joe Corso, pitching his ladyfriend as Richie’s next big act, a gift from one friend to another — “particularly friends that have a unique, shared history together.” Plus, “She f—s like a dolphin.” He’s not actually the first guy to say that. And while we’re all guessing, who do you think is across town, doing something right for once? Clark, pitching Alice Cooper at a party and maybe even winning him over. (The New York Dolls’ Johnny Thunders: not so much.) If that means playing golf, drinking whiskey straight through breakfast, and wearing Alice’s massive snake like an infinity scarf, then that’s what he’ll do.

Things go less well at the House of Finestra when Richie balks at a $10,000 donation for Devon’s dance thing and adds insult to injury by basically waving the whole thing away. “They’re not a troupe, okay?” she replies. “The Girl Scouts are a troupe. This a group of world-renowned artists who escaped the goddamn Iron Curtain because I promised them sponsorship!” She’s furious, not just about the money, but moreso over his dismissal of what he seemed so supportive of just days ago, pre-PolyGram blowout. “This is what I had. This is what you threw at me, like a child. ‘Go play with your dance troupe, Dev.’”

Then Lester gets a nice (if not exactly subtle) fantasy sequence where his voice is restored and he’s a happy family man with a wall full of platinum records, not a washed-up super with a broken croak. And Devon does herself up pretty and pays a visit to Andy; she makes it seem like a social call, but what she needs is his signature on her portrait. “Do you want to sell it?” he asks. No, she doesn’t want to sell it, but she’s going to, for her don’t-call-it-a-troupe. She tears up, and he says he’ll sign that — and her dress, too. John Cameron Mitchell is such a nice Andy!

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Maury Gold and Galasso (a.k.a. the windpipe crusher) stop by the label for a quick visit, and Galasso offers Richie a bridge loan if he’s hard up. So if Richie wants to be back in the Mafia business, he could be. Most likely, he does not want. He might need friends in low places soon, though, because Buck’s body has been found by the cops, and Alice Cooper’s “I Love the Dead” is the soundtrack. Also dead: Clark’s dreams of signing Alice. It turns out the whole thing — the golf, the snake, the promises — was a long con; Alice actually loves his band, and he’s hated Richie ever since he stood them all up for a meeting years ago. Now poor Clark’s got his neck in Alice’s guillotine; and he doesn’t lose his head, but he maybe craps his pants.

Richie’s with Jamie and Jules for the Nasty Bits’ showcase, and Richie hates everything about the Kinks cover: “They sound like the f—in’ Shangri-Las. They’re oatmeal!” Jamie takes the blame, which doesn’t help at all, but throwing a beer bottle at the guys to get them to quit the song and play one of their own does — Richie loves them raw, and he gives the okay to sign them. He doesn’t stick around though; he’s got other things on his mind. Joe Corso calls to gives him a heads up that Buck’s body has been found. Joe’s not worried; it’s no problem! He just wants Richie to relax and to go listen to the sexy dolphin’s demo. Predictably, her rendition of “Danny’s Song” is terrible (or at least terribly mediocre). And Richie does not hold the world in a paper cup. His cup has bourbon in it, though, and he’s probably going to need it for whatever comes next.

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