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Showtime's Cameron Crowe-directed 'Roadies' never gives the audience a chance to bond

June 21, 2016 Updated: June 22, 2016 at 12:18 pm
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photo - Luke Wilson as Bill and Carla Gugino as Shelli in "Roadies."
Luke Wilson as Bill and Carla Gugino as Shelli in "Roadies." 

"Roadies"

Cast: Luke Wilson ("Old School," "Enlightened"), Carla Gugino ("San Andreas," "Night at the Museum"), Imogen Poots ("Need for Speed," "The Look of Love"), Rafe Spall ("One Day," "Shaun of the Dead"), Keisha Castle-Hughes ("Whale Rider," "Game of Thrones"), Peter Cambor ("NCIS: Los Angeles"), Ron White ("Blue Collar Comedy Tour"), Luis Guzman ("The Count of Monte Cristo," "Boogie Nights"), Richard Baker aka Machine Gun Kelly ("Beyond the Lights")

Airs: The series premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday on Showtime

The premise: "Roadies" is the first original television series from creator, executive producer, writer and director Cameron Crowe ("Almost Famous," "Jerry Maguire"). The series looks at the world of rock through the eyes of a committed team of roadies and the cohesive unit they've created while touring for the arena-filling rock group The Staton-House Band.

Highs: Every workplace has its own unique subculture, and in the world of "Roadies" that workplace is filled with interesting characters who all share a passion for music. For them, music isn't just something you listen to in the car on the way to work. The characters in this series live and breathe music, particularly that of The Staton-House Band.

Viewers never see the band play or hear any of the band's songs; that's not the point of the show. "Roadies" focuses on the community that acts as the support system for content creators. There are no characters who long to get onstage. These are all people who are happy being a part of something bigger than themselves, which is pretty unique.

Leading the group of diverse personalities are Bill Hanson (Luke Wilson) and Shelli Anderson (Carla Gugino), the tour and production managers. They're the inadvertent parents to a ragtag group of overly dramatic free spirits. Milo (Peter Cambor) speaks with a British accent even though he's from New Jersey. Wes (Machine Gun Kelly) is a great guy and makes a mean espresso, but is also a bit juvenile. In his job as a "manny," he teaches his young charge how to use a butterfly knife. These roadies don't mean any harm; they're just a fun- loving bunch.

But what ties everything together in "Roadies" is music. This series always comes back to that. Since The Staton-House Band doesn't make any of their own, the show relies on real music from actual artists. Each episode has a "song of the day," putting a spotlight on up and coming acts. The backing soundtrack is loaded and features everything from Pearl Jam to Bob Dylan. And the series even has guests musicians. In the three episodes I watched, Lindsey Buckingham, Reignwolf and The Head and the Heart were all featured. They didn't just have a quick cameo; each group had short segments that highlighted their music.

Lows: While "Roadies" has a number of good set pieces, they don't quite mesh together to make a cohesive program. Much of that is due to its meandering first two episodes. In the premiere, so many characters are introduced you'll need a flow chart to keep track of everyone. Then when you do figure out the name of each person, "Roadies" makes some of them a nonfactor. We see respected character actor Luis Guzman early, then he disappears. Ron White plays a great chief roadie named Phil, and then he gets fired and is only seen briefly thereafter. And then other roadies talk about him for two straight episodes! The audience never has a chance to bond with Phil, so his absence carries no weight. "Roadies" toys with your connections to its players.

Perhaps most troubling is the character of Kelly Ann, played by Imogen Poots. I've seen Poots in other work, so I know she's a fine actress, but unfortunately Crowe doesn't give her much to work with. Along with Bill and Shelli, Kelly Ann is meant to be a mainstay of the series. But instead of being the voice of honesty among a crowd of immature Peter Pans, Kelly Ann comes across as a stereotypical millennial - self-righteous, disillusioned and much too serious. She's the Debbie Downer of the road crew.

Grade: C+: After two episodes of sloppy storytelling, I had serious concerns about "Roadies." Then I watched episode three. Personalities started to finally develop, a hilarious guest stint by Rainn Wilson provided plenty of laughs and this series finally started to show its potential. Even Kelly Ann lightens up. We see her watching a YouTube video called, "Am I Too Serious?" Ha! Maybe like any good band, "Roadies" just needs some time to find its voice.

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Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.

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