Unsung heroes are at the heart of Cameron Crowe’s rock-and-roll based TV series Roadies
Filmmaker Cameron Crowe might not be a rock god, but he has probably had more face time with the legends of vinyl than any man alive.
The writer-director drew heavily on this music-journalism background for the Oscar-winning Almost Famous in 2000, so it is hardly surprising that his first television show, Roadies, take us on a similar wild tour driven by his memories.
With an ensemble cast led by Luke Wilson (Old School, Enlightened) and Carla Gugino (Sin City, San Andreas), the drama – which begins tonight on OSN First HD – promises an insider’s look at the reckless, romantic, funny and often poignant lives of a committed group of roadies who live for music and their nomadic family.
It chronicles life on the rock rollercoaster as seen through the eyes of the behind-the-scene grunts, who set up the instruments and sound system for The Staton-House Band, a fictional arena-rock group.
Crowe’s own wild ride into the maelstrom of popular culture began as a teenage journalist for Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1970s, where he interviewed just about everybody who was anybody and hung out with many of the titans of rock on their tour buses. Even the late David Bowie took a shine to 16-year-old Crowe.
“I spent six months straight [with Bowie in Los Angeles],” says Crowe. “It was between [the albums] Young Americans and Station to Station. I kept notes on every aspect. There were no limits: ‘Watch me create, watch me produce, watch me sad, watch me happy’. He said: ‘You can do this story for whoever you want’. Everybody wanted it. It was great for my career.”
Crowe would go on to add actor, author, director, producer and screenwriter to his skill set, with films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Say Anything (1989) and, his biggest success Jerry Maguire (1996), on his CV – though his most recent big-screen effort Aloha (2015) – bombed at the box office.
Crowe, 59, who wrote and directed the pilot episode of Roadies – with an executive-producer assist from J J Abrams (Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Lost) – says he finds television has finally evolved into the perfect medium to tell his stories.
“It feels that way now,” he says. “When we started filming the show I had such a wonderful experience with everyone here. It made me love directing more than ever, and writing for these people. I’d grab them by the collar and say: ‘Do you realise how many stories we can tell?’ It feels really comfortable.
“There’s nobody clutching the table and saying: ‘Oh my god, it’s a story about people and relationships’. That’s a wonderful thing. It’s brought a real freshness to the process for me of telling stories. It feels quicker, and more passionate. And I feel protected.”
Wilson stars as tour manager Bill Hanson, with Gugino as tour production manager Shelli Anderson. For all intents and purposes, they are the parents of the crew.
“My character, Bill, gets to be like the cool dad,” says Wilson. “In the show, it really does become like a family. It’s like a cliché. I always think: ‘Oh, there’s got to be a better way to describe it’, but there’s really not.”
Rounding out the ensemble are: Imogen Poots as Kelly Ann Mason, a lighting rigger; Rafe Spall as financial adviser Reg Whitehead; Keisha Castle-Hughes as soundboard operator Donna Mancini; Peter Cambor as Milo, bass-guitar tech; and comic Ron White as Phil, King of the Road.
Guest stars include David Spade as Harris DeSoto, the star of a zombie “show-within-a-show”, and Rosanna Arquette, as a smug and intimidating photographer.
Also on board are comedian Marc Maron and legendary rockers Eddie Vedder and John Mellencamp as exaggerated versions of themselves.
Critically speaking, Roadies received mixed reviews and struggled to reach the charts. It struggled to find an audience in the United States and, at the weekend, cable-TV channel Showtime announced that it would not be ordering a second season.
Coupled with the failure of his last movie, it has no doubt been a tad humbling for Oscar-winner Crowe and Emmy-winner Abrams – a reminder that not everything they touch turns to entertainment gold.
Still, it is far from a total washout – the performances and production values were often praised even when the storytelling was not, so for anyone with a passing interest in the music industry, the 10-episode series remains a curiosity – and a missed opportunity – that is well worth a look.
• Roadies starts at 11pm on Monday, September 19, on OSN First HD
Published: September 18, 2016 04:00 AM