Can Roadies be saved? Throughout its first season, the Showtime series has found moments of real grace and insight — enough to suggest that on any given week, Cameron Crowe and his writers might produce something genuinely special. The material's there. The characters, the cast, and even the premise are just fine. But after last week's colossally misjudged twist and this week's complete whiff of an episode, it's hard to think of Roadies as anything other than a disappointment.
"Carpet Season" hits a new level of lousy. The two previous worst episodes — "The Bryce Newman Letter" and last week's "Longest Days" — flopped because of an obnoxious character or scene, which dragged down story lines that otherwise weren't so bad. But this week? When the episode isn't exasperatingly awful, it's boring.
Directed by Julie Anne Robinson (from a script credited to David Rosen), "Carpet Season" finds the Staton-House Band and its crew in Seattle, where they … well, they don't do much. The primary plot involves the arrival of superstar rock photographer Abby Van Ness (played by Rosanna Arquette), who drives everyone crazy with her self-serving demands and haughty disdain. That's supposed to be the episode's big drama, while everything else stays in a lower key: Bill continues to quietly pine for Shelli; Wes weighs an offer to join this week's musical guest, Halsey, as a combination crewman/guitarist; Bill, Reg, and the newly returned Phil track down SHB fan/archivist Mike Finger to retrieve all the tour items he secretly stole when he left the Denver stop.
That final subplot comes closest to being something worthwhile. Mike Finger is a likable character, and he brings a sweetness and enthusiasm that represents Roadies at its best. And Phil adds a growly gravitas that's been missed since he was fired by Reg back in episode one. But in the wake of the Janine fake-out, it's a bummer to see another seemingly nice person prove to be duplicitous and selfish — even though Mike's betrayal is decidedly milder. It doesn't help that Phil's rehiring is never properly explained, or that Reg, the series' most consistently engaging character, gets fewer lines and business than usual. As the sequence at Finger's house plays out, we witness a few poignant moments of Bill looking through band memorabilia and remembering why he loves his job. But didn't Roadies hit those beats two episodes ago? He already dug through his own souvenirs back in Denver.
Similarly, there's nothing new to report from the Bill/Shelli affair. This episode takes its title from something Bill says at an AA meeting, where he describes himself as "a carpet salesman" and confesses that he feels like he's his best self with Shelli — and that he worries that he'll be in trouble when "carpet season" ends and she's out of his life again. But he can't really act on that revelation because it's her birthday, and she's too preoccupied trying to find the present her husband hid somewhere in the arena.
The love story is just a space-filler, really — as is the Wes/Halsey flirtation, which never develops narrative momentum or tension. (It serves the dual purpose of parking Wes somewhere away from the other characters and giving Halsey a reason to sing her songs.) As far as actual narrative interest goes, what's left in this hour is the Abby Van Ness brouhaha. And boy is that story line some hot garbage.
I don't understand why Roadies keeps bringing in characters like Abby: an excessively abrasive irritant whose behavior is so far outside the bounds of realism that it throws the tone of the show out of balance. I guess these folks are supposed to be … funny? After Bryce Newman and Janine, it's starting to feel like Crowe is just settling old scores with all the people who crossed him during his career as a rock journalist and filmmaker.
Abby is even worse than Bryce, if that's possible. During her day with Stanton-House, she brags about her rock-and-roll bona fides, belittles Kelly Ann's artistic ambitions, and orders the band to pose in a pretentious "death of rock" tableau. As she's doing all this, her assistant cackles with undisguised glee at how her boss keeps pushing everybody around. It's just bizarre. It's impossible to buy Abby as the kind of person who'd be asked to spend 15 months photographing Prince (and, she claims, record an unreleased album with him). She's so terrible, it's tough to believe anyone would spend 15 minutes with her. Like a lot of Roadies' broader characters and moments, this celebrity-photographer story just doesn't make sense.
When Abby's photo shoot ultimately descends into mayhem, Kelly Ann steps in to take a good shot of the Staton-House Band's revolt. When she does, Abby smiles a little, suggesting that maybe her rudeness was partly an act — all staged to provoke an honest moment for the camera. If that's the case, it wouldn't be out-of-line with the larger statement the show strains to make, about how art thrives in times of stress. Along those same lines, Bill reads some of the lyrics that Chris House has been writing on his drunken post-Janine bender, and he's somewhat dismayed to find that they're "incredible." All else aside, a thoughtful conflict lies at the center of Roadies between the human desire for stability and rock's need for chaos.
Under Crowe's watch, the subtleties of this idea get steamrolled. The show wants to say something about what we expect from our favorite artists, but it makes that point inadvertently, in form more than content. Week by week, Roadies has become a case study in how the promising ones can let you down.
- Crowe has lived in Seattle, and he set one of his better movies (1992's Singles) in the city, which makes the blandness of "Carpet Season" all the more baffling. There's very little that's distinctly "Seattle" about the episode's locations or the story elements. Even Bill's morning speech feels perfunctory, as he lists off some famous local musicians: Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Mudhoney, and Kenny G (cited only because he's sold millions, which perhaps says something pertinent about Roadies' values). I did appreciate that Phil jumped in to add Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson — the latter of whom is Crowe's ex-wife and the mother of his children. It was a rare personal touch in this otherwise half-hearted episode.
- "Carpet Season" gets off to an odd start, with Bill and Kelly Ann having a rambling conversation whilen standing outside the tour bus near a traffic accident. I found their scattered, manic chitchat about cannibalistic birds and metaphorical road-trips to be charmingly quirky, but as the episode played out, it became clear that the entire hour was much of the same — just a bunch of disconnected words, killing time during a dead stop.