TV reviews: Vinyl, Mid Morning Matters, The People Vs OJ Simpson

Vinyl scene set at a New York Dolls gig
Personality crisis Ritchie Finestra loses his shit at a New York Dolls gig.

Sky Atlantic, January 15

Following Boardwalk Empire, Martin Scorsese is back directing the feature-length first episode of a grisly much-hyped HBO drama.

New York in 1973 qualifies as period drama as much as 1930s Atlantic City, but it’s obviously Scorsese’s own history too.

Set as punk and disco are about to explode in the city, Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale is superb as jaded and druggy record company exec Ritchie Finestra.

Desperate to get his personal life back to some kind of normality, Finestra hopes to get his marriage back on track by getting out of the music industry. To do so, he needs Led Zeppelin to sign to his record label American Century, that deal key to it then being sold off to German multi-national Phonogram.

As Zep’s infamously horrible manager Peter Grant, Ian Hart – last seen as a cuddly therapist in My Mad Fat Diary – is sensationally nasty.

It’s the kind of high-octane performance any TV show is lucky to have. That Vinyl gets an even bigger bastard makes it truly compelling.

It doesn’t require much acting from him, but vile shock comedian Andrew Dice Clay is unmissable as sleazy radio boss Buck Rogers.

Threatening to blacklist all American Century acts because its star Donny Osmond refused to sign an autograph for Rogers’ daughter, the corpulent Rogers uses his mock-outrage as an excuse to drag Finestra away from his birthday party on a long-haul flight to Rogers’ inevitably creepy mansion.

Historically, it’s complete nonsense: Scorsese tries shoehorning The New York Dolls and the origins of hip-hop into the same time frame as Finestra desperately tries to find the next big thing once the Zep deal looks in danger of collapse.

But the spirit of the time feels right, and nothing is impossible once it becomes clear that James Jagger – son of Scorsese’s co-producer Mick – can actually act.

Quite how someone of his lineage has managed to stay hidden for so long is remarkable. But Jagger Jr is as magnetic as his old man as the singer of rising punks Nasty Bits.

The dialogue crackles along, the fictional music is damn decent and the bloated excess of the days when the record industry had money is superbly recreated. Best of all is a gory on-screen death as graphic as anything in Scorsese’s canon.

You’d have to be the worst kind of prog-rock dullard not to get swept away by Vinyl’s scabrous excess.

John Earls

The People Vs OJ Simpson
BBC2, January 15

Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson
Cuban heel Cuba Gooding Jr shines as OJ Simpson

Billed as the next Making A Murderer, The People Vs OJ Simpson doesn’t disappoint. Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson leads the way as the highlight of an entertaining history lesson. of a dark time for the American football player turned Naked Gun actor who stands accused of murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson. 

More known these days for appearing at every awards ceremony available, Gooding’s portrayal of the footballer-turned-Naked Gun actor is simultaneously angry, charming and mentally unstable. 

Accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goodman, Simpson’s best friend is also one of his lawyers: Robert Kardashian.

Played by David Schwimmer, Kardashian comes across as a middle-aged Ross from Friends: understanding, but quite confused as to what side he should be on. He teams up with a flexible but scheming John Travolta as Simpson’s co-counsel Robert Shapiro, in an arch portrayal almost worthy of Pulp Fiction for his latest career comeback.

It’s from a time years before the Kardashians turned into America’s royal family, and Selma Blair shines as matriarch Kris.  So too does Sarah Paulson as angry prosecutor Marcia Clark, determined to have her day in court to bring down Simpson. 

The first episode doesn’t take long to jump straight into events from June 13, 1994, when Simpson gets a call from police, who find his ex-wife dead at her home alongside Goldman.

Simpson begins to unravel. Seemingly shocked that he might be suspected of the murders, he begins drumming up support from his entourage, but apart from Kardashian, they seem lifeless. In what should be a high tension scene, most are spare parts. 

Viewers who remember the case will recognise an arrogant Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) and one of Nicole’s best friends Faye Resnick (Connie Britton), two characters who define the trial of the century – worth keeping an eye on. 

Because of the infamy of the real-life case, spoilers aren’t especially a problem for a change, but what is important is telling the story with sensitivity towards the murder victims. In that respect and  most others, the show succeeds.

Pearse Corcoran

Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge in the second series of Mid Morning Matters

Alan Partridge’s Mid Morning Matters
Sky Atlantic, January 16

Back for a second series and the first fully commissioned by Sky, much has changed at North Norfolk Digital.

There’s a new station controller, Craig, who so impresses Partridge that “my brain was literally popping: pop, pop pop pop, pop pop.” Our man on air at 10am also has a new girlfriend, which means he’s become a stepfather. (“Yes, Colby, she’s your mother. But she’s also my bird.”)

But Sidekick Simon is also contractually obliged to return, meaning viewers can see Steve Coogan meet his perfect foil in Tim Key, whose eyes sparkle at the idea of being part of Partridge’s legacy.

Occasionally, it means self-indulgence creeps in. The second half is devoted to Partridge’s radio play A Chill Wind. It’s as duff as can be expected – but it’s just bad, rather than hilariously bad. For once, boredom is allowed to nestle in, albeit only for a couple of minutes.

The shorter extracts of their show are a reliable joy. 

Simon explains Jimmy Savile’s “Uh-hu-uh-hu” catchprase wailing as “maybe his body was trying to send out an alarm to warn people”. Partridge denies that he’s vain by remarking: “I don’t fancy myself. I’m not John Inverdale” and a debate about fox-hunting mentions that the Countryside Alliance are “What the National Trust would be if they grew a pair.”

Not quite vintage Alan, then. But an off-form Partridge contains more killingly funny lines than many channels’ comedy output for a year.

John Earls

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