Things are only getting even messier at American Century

By Leah Greenblatt
March 07, 2016 at 02:25 AM EST
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Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO
S1 E4
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Goodbye, Buck Rogers; we hardly knew ye before ye coke-addled brains were bashed in, lo these many episodes ago. But as tonight’s hour opens on the funeral service for our late, greatly muttonchopped friend, we do learn that his real first name was Francis and that he was a fine patron of Jewish philanthropy. Richie wouldn’t know that, though, because he’s not there; he’s busy beating a pillow to death with a tennis racket in his therapist’s office and picturing poor Buck’s skull.

Of course that’s not the reason he gives the good doctor and a disturbed-looking Dev: “Someone in the company really f—ed with me in ways that I didn’t anticipate,” he claims, trying to cover his freakout. “I didn’t get how much it brought up s— about my father and everything.” And yet he, Richie, is such a martyr to mental health that he has agreed to be here instead of at Buck’s service. (Dev punctures that righteous balloon real quick; “He refers to Buck Rogers as ‘that psychotic dipwad,’” she tells the therapist). Then Richie says he feels better after the pillow-beating actually, which also doesn’t please her: “I don’t want him to feel better. I want him to feel worse.” She says she’s royally pissed that her husband has broken their drug-free agreement; he screams, “Mea culpa, okay?” This marriage counseling thing is going awesome!

Meanwhile, all the American Century executives who did show up for Buck’s sendoff are heading back to work in the company limo and Zak (Ray Romano), who’s still got two black eyes from his Richie headbutt, is wondering who the dude was who was feeling him out at the service because he thought he was Richie. Was he a debt collector or something else? They’re all pretty fed up with this post-PolyGram mess except A&R head Julie, who reminds them all how lucky they still are to be in the record business, which, lest they forget, comes with all the perks — limos and ladies and unlimited velvet trouser suits — a dumpy middle-aged guy could ask for.

Speaking of velvet suits, it’s also the kind of business where an artist like Hannibal (Daniel J. Watts) can walk through the door at any moment in gloriously afro’d slo-mo, doing his best Sly-not-Sly and trailing a Family Stone-style posse. He wants pastries and champagne for breakfast, and Richie has clearly already had some vitamin C because he is animated. There’s more powder where that came from, but Hannibal also wants to check in with him; is he running the label into the ground? Why did he lose a deal with Dusty Springfield? Can he handle his business? Richie’s got another gram and some groupies to answer that question.

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Meanwhile, Zak is still smarting from being excluded from all this; he’s at a diner eating undercooked flank steak and wondering why he’s spent eight years cleaning up after Richie, “like the asshole behind the elephant.” Richie even told him he has no ear for A&R, just promo. What he does have, he says, are connections with radio DJs in every state. “I’m a relationship person. Richie Finestra, he’s got a relationship with himself.”

Somebody at HBO was generous enough to pony up for the rights to play Pink Floyd’s “Money” so we can learn that American Century didn’t get The Dark Side of the Moon, and also that Skip (J.C. MacKenzie) is financially screwed when his buy-back shenanigans for the new Donny Osmond record go wrong. Back at the office, there’s more chaos: Richie is promising to get Hannibal a real live leopard (“Like a baby one?” “Yeah, you can’t get ‘em old, or they’ll eat your face off.”) while Robert Goulet shows up to complain about his Christmas album’s lack of original material, the Nasty Bits are still languishing in the waiting room, angry and ignored, and Lester comes in to confront Richie about his old demo. He thinks it’s just Richie wanting to make a fool of him and assuage his own guilt for Lester’s unfulfilled promise. “Ten years, and this is what you come up with?” he demands. “Yeah man, that’s it! That’s all I got. You don’t like it? Get the f— out,” Richie roars. And then Lester lights the reel on fire and drops it in a garbage can, and the flames spread so fast that the overhead sprinklers turn on and Richie starts screaming, which turns into Janis Joplin howling “Cry Baby” inside a flaming jail cell situation…because why not work the metaphor.

NEXT: Dev’s thinking divorce

Dev, meanwhile, is taking her anger all the way to divorce court, or at least checking out the preliminaries. But things with the female attorney are not going smoothly; she’s pushing back on almost every point until the lawyer finally tells her, “You’re not getting divorced, Mrs. Finestra. You just wasted an hour of my time generating a card to play in the next fight you have with your husband… You love your husband, sweetheart. I wish you didn’t because he sounds like a real asshole. If I’m wrong, fill out the questionnaire.” And, check please.

Now, look who’s bonding on the street with the neglected Nasty Bits — it’s Lester, who pauses on the way out from his dramatic pyro moment in Richie’s office and decides to take frontman Kip (James Jagger) and the band out for a little info-session afternoon cocktail. Do you know the difference between mechanical and songwriting royalties? Well, you don’t need to because Lester is now officially Nasty’s new manager, and within hours he’s back in the building to help them sign a (renegotiated) contract, which ranks about 11th on the list of crazy things happening in Richie’s world today. Anyway, these two get back to screaming at each other until they settle the deal (Richie to Lester: “I’d offer you a drink, but you’re an asshole”) — and then they start talking about the music playing that night that Richie first ran into him again. Lester says it was a guy called Kool Herc, a.k.a. the man who will one day be known as the father of hip-hop, and Richie’s obviously curious. Will he become one of the first white record label guys to hook into that scene? Maybe.

Alice Cooper may have let Clark (Jack Quaid) keep his head in episode 3, but he’s still the world’s most hapless A&R guy and clearly has no idea how to save his job by finding the right kind of new act — or even successfully jack one from his co-workers. He should probably be at the Hannibal show, where at least he could be enjoying the party and stepping in to stop Jackie Jervis (Ken Marino), Richie’s shady rival from last episode, who is not so subtly creeping on the competition. Sharp-eyed Century assistant Cece (Susan Heyward) clocks what’s happening in a hot second, but she can’t stop it because Hannibal’s already on stage in his red leather jumpsuit, and have we ever seen this many up-crotch camera shots?

Cece calls Richie from the show to warn him, not knowing that he’s busy being detained by a pair of NYPD detectives (yes, again). First they just want to chat about Robert Goulet — they’ve got album title ideas, if he needs them — but then they get down to it: Buck Rogers’ last living phone call was to Richie’s house in Connecticut. And what does he have to say about that? Whomp.

Now we’re with Goulet in the studio where he’s recording the original song he fought for, a string-laden holiday postmortem (“Oh, fa-la-la-la-la-la, goodbye to gingerbread”) that is such a massive bummer it makes Zak want to drown himself in a bucket. Skip is still doing everything he can to dump those unsold Donny Osmond records, and the Nasty Bits are celebrating their contract and sealing it with a kiss — that’s Kip and Jamie Vine making out on the fire escape.

Dev doesn’t even get a chance to tell Richie she spoke to a divorce lawyer when he calls to say he’ll be out late with Hannibal, so she’s goes back to scrubbing dishes in the Connecticut dark and sobbing and finally smashing the sink and the kitchen window with a frying pan. (Remember when she said no to the couch and the tennis racket earlier in the episode? Regrets, she has a few.) Anyway, between them, these two really know how to raise the premiums on property insurance.

Besides, it turns out that Richie’s not even out with Hannibal; he’s at some dim club watching a group of shabby older guys wrap a low-key jazz set. Why is he there and not snorting spangles off a Hannibal groupie in the champagne room? You win $10 if you guessed that one of those old guys is his dad. Dad seems like kind of a dick in the brief moments we get to meet him. (Apple, meet tree.) But Richie needs a favor — more specifically, an alibi for the night of Buck’s murder. Will he get it? Only grumpy Pops Finestra and next Sunday’s episode know for sure.

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Vinyl

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