Book Review: Strike Lightning by Steve Cole (Young Bond)

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Young Bond

Steve Cole’s 3rd Young Bond book Strike Lightning comes right off the heels of his second effort Heads You Die.  Cole took over the Young Bond series from Charlie Higson who ended his tenure with By Royal Command which details the events surrounding Bond’s expulsion from Eton.  The Young Bond books themselves are a truly ambitious undertaking.  For those who are unfamiliar with the series, it attempts to fill in the gaps of Bond’s childhood using only the meager details that Fleming included in the his Bond novels, particularly from the obituary featured in the novel You Only Live Twice.  The series has followed young James throughout the 1930s starting at about the point when he was about 13 with Charlie Higson’s SilverFin.

Now with this latest installment, we find James shortly after his first term at Fettes College in Scotland where he finishes his education according to Fleming. Right before Christmas Break, James witnesses the death of a fellow student engaged in suspicious mechanical experiments with a professor. James stubbornly refuses to accept the school’s official conclusion that the death was an accident inadvertently caused by James being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Joined by his Etonian school friend Perry Mandeville, James decides to investigate the murder of his young friend only to find himself in the middle of a high stakes international weapons smuggling conspiracy with the added danger of a secret weapon possibly falling into the hands of Nazi Germany.

I don’t want to give away any SPOILERS regarding the nature of the secret weapon, but it’s one of those things that requires a bit of suspension of disbelief.  In his postscript, Cole details about how such a weapon might have been realized in the 1930s, but even he admits it’s one of those things that while not entirely impossible would have been highly improbable for the period of time in which this story takes place.

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Maximilian Blade

There are quite a few antagonists for James to square off against but not all of them turn out to be who we think they are when we first encounter them.  This is the first instance since Higson’s By Royal Command I could think of where characters employ a kind of subterfuge to disguise their true motives.  The problem for young James is that throughout the book, he has to evade all these antagonists at various times because it would appear that they are all working together in a conspiracy with serious ramifications beyond the murder of his school friend Marcus.  First, there’s Dr. Randolph Whittaker, the science teacher who the students at Fettes refer to as Captain Hook because his hand had been blown off in The Great War.  James’s friend Marcus is killed in Whittaker’s experiment. Then there’s Whittaker’s 18 year old female assistant Herta, who tries to obstruct Bond’s inquiries into the events surrounding Marcus’s death. Both Herta and Dr. Whittaker appear to be using their positions at Fettes College to facilitate weapons research for a disabled owner of a weapons manufacturing company named, Maximillian Blade.  Finally, there’s Ambassador Grünner who appears to be procuring weapons for the Nazis.  All these characters intimidate, obstruct, and harass James at one point or another until James uncovers the truth behind their conspiracy.

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Ambassador Grünner

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Kitty Drift

Luckily, James has some help along the way. He enlists the help of Perry Mandeville, who we last saw at Eton before James was expelled. He also meets up with this book’s Bond Girl – Kitty Drift, a brash, smart, and socially awkward young woman who also happens to be a train enthusiast.  Kitty’s skill set comes in handy and her obsession with train schedules and a mysterious “ghost train” all come to the forefront to help James along the journey, a journey that begins at Fettes College in Scotland, takes him to the hamlet of Ruskie and transports him to The Hague in the Netherlands and finally to an area just south of Düsseldorf in Germany where you can imagine some most perilous dangers await.

At times, Cole offers up a very vivid picture of James’s innermost thoughts and feelings.  At the beginning, he starts to dwell on the fact that since his parents died, he hadn’t truly ever felt at home except for the times when “danger [is] biting at his heels.” James was a child orphaned at the age of 11, and since then his Aunt Charmian has seen to his upbringing, however, much of his time has been spent boarding between Eton and Fettes as well as with the thrilling adventures James has found himself in throughout these 8 novels in the Young Bond series. From very early on in the series, James developed quite a taste for danger and for using his skill set and ingenuity to save himself as well as others.  By the end of Strike Lightning, we see a bit of a shift in James’s thinking about the nature of war and weaponry.  Someone along the way had lectured him about how weapons can be just as much a deterrent to war as they are a tool in warfare itself. He’s told that “Weapons save lives,” but then he asks himself “Is that what I’m becoming?” For the first time, we see Bond briefly confront the realities of his future life as an agent prior to him even realizing what his fate has in store.  It’ll be interesting to see how Cole explores this in his next and final Young Bond entry Red Nemesis due out in the Spring of 2017.

Strike Lightning is a fast paced story with many chases, some actual spying, and many thrilling confrontations.  If you enjoy the series you’ll enjoy this entry as long as you allow yourself to suspend disbelief a little which usually comes with the territory anyway with Bond.

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Steve Cole at Fettes College

Steve Cole was very meticulous in his research for this book and he actually visited Fettes College to find out what life was like there for students in the 1930s.  The school put him in touch with some actual Fettes College alumni from the era and one gets a good sense of the authenticity regarding his descriptions of James’s life at Fettes at the beginning of the book. He also went to The Hague and visited the Hotel des Indes where a pivotal scene takes place so that he could accurately describe the sequence.

Here are my previous reviews of the books in the Young Bond series.

  1. SilverFin by Charlie Higson
  2. Blood Fever by Charlie Higson
  3. Double or Die by Charlie Higson
  4. Hurricane Gold by Charlie Higson
  5. Danger Society and “Hard Man to Kill” short story by Charlie Higson
  6. By Royal Command by Charlie Higson
  7. Shoot to Kill by Steve Cole
  8. Heads you Die by Steve Cole

Book Review: My Word is My Bond by Roger Moore

In 2008 Sir Roger Moore released his first book, a memoir entitled My Word is My Bond. The book is an enthralling tale that takes readers through his early childhood, his many years as a venerated actor with such prominent roles as The Saint and James Bond,  up through his present day role as an elder show business statesman and more importantly a celebrity ambassador for UNICEF.  Moore has often been described as a raconteur and this book lives up to that expectation. As a reader you feel like you’re seated with him at your favorite restaurant sipping wine as he relates colorful anecdotes of his long storied career as well as his early childhood. Born in Stockwell, his childhood was plagued by illness and having to evacuate his home town to live in Devon while the threat of bombing raids loomed over London. Moore paints a colorful portrait of his early life and career and provides a rather insightful view into the latter days of the Hollywood studio system where actors would be under exclusive contract to a film making studio and the heads of these studios wielded enormous power and control over the careers of the actors employed by them.

Moore is charmingly self-deprecating throughout holding no delusions as to his actual acting prowess.  One gets the sense that he sees himself as someone  who was extremely lucky having the right look and obtaining the right contacts, friendships, and show business relationships to mold his career over the span of decades. His one literary vice seems to be name dropping, and that is actually the one consistent flaw throughout the book.  Oftentimes an amusing anecdote is accompanied by several tangents where the name dropping can get irritating, but once you get used to it, it can get rather amusing.  Moore is also a self-confessed practical joker.  On his James Bond sets, he would often prey upon Desmond Llewelyn who played Q.  Knowing that Q’s dialogue was rather intricate and full of technobabble, he’d often get hold of the script and change Llewelyn’s lines hours before shooting forcing him to learn new dialogue.  On other occasions, Moore was a peacekeeper as on the set of The Persuaders a TV show where he costarred with Tony Curtis for 1 season as a mismatched duo who went on adventures.  When Curtis called the episode’s guest star Joan Collins the “C-word” Moore was called onto the set on his day off to diffuse the situation.

Upon getting the much coveted role of James Bond, he recalls:

I’d be the first to admit that I’d been living the good life in the previous year or so…. That was brought home to me rather curtly when Harry [Saltzman, co-producer] called me one day.

‘Cubby [Broccolli, co-producer] thinks you need to lose a little weight.’

Okay, I thought. So I started a strict diet.

The phone rang again. ‘Cubby thinks you’re a little out of shape.’

So I started a tough fitness regime.

Again the phone rang, this time it was Cubby. ‘Harry thinks your hair’s too long.’

‘Why didn’t you just cast a thin, fit, bald fellow in the first place and avoid putting me through this hell?’ I replied.

The stories he tells about making the Bond films are quite fascinating as a fan and Moore’s rather unique insight into this experience is always quite compelling and amusing:

Cubby and I visited Maurice [Binder, title designer for the Bond credits sequences featuring naked ladies ofttimes in silhouette] on his shooting stage one day and found him on his knees, lovingly spreading Vaseline over the private parts of one of his female nudes.  He said it was to keep her pubic hairs flat in front of the wind machine, so as not to incur the further wrath of the censor.

I turned to Cubby, ‘And I thought that was one of the producer’s perks?’

In a scene where Bond quips about Egyptian builders knowing full well that a representative of Egypt’s government was on set monitoring their every line, Roger suggested that he simply mouthed the line by moving his lips and not actually saying anything so that they could add the line later in post-production.  Many such stories are cleverly regaled throughout the book, however, when Roger doesn’t have something nice to say about someone he tries to keep it diplomatic by simply stating that he has nothing to say about them as is the case with Grace Jones his co-star on his final Bond film, A View to a Kill.  Jones reported took a large black dildo into the bed with her for their love scene, which seems to have perturbed Roger despite his penchant for practical jokes. At the same time, one gets the sense that he may have glossed over his failed marriages although he admits to sharing in some degree of fault for how they ended.  One of his ex wives spent many years denying him a divorce.

What drives the latter third of the book is his commitment to UNICEF, and we learn that despite his life of privilege Moore has done a remarkable job giving back to the world at large through his dedication to UNICEF bringing awareness to the struggle to help children in need around the globe. His major cause since he joined the organization in 1991 is to raise funds and awareness for Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) in many third world countries. It’s a preventable problem that can be resolved by simply ensuring that every household uses iodized salt to avoid all sorts of maladies and mental disorders. Moore frequently meets with heads of state on behalf of UNICEF to urge them to combat IDD in their poorest communities. Roger has led a fascinating life and he is to be commended for his commitment to UNICEF. He has received many honors for his humanitarian work, and in 2003 he was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II particularly for his work with UNICEF.  Roger Moore may not be everyone’s favorite Bond actor, but he’s lived a fascinating life.  Reading this book, you can’t help but develop a profound respect for the man. On his work for UNICEF he writes:

I’ve often been asked just how much UNICEF receives from the United Nations and why we need to raise funds.  The answer is UNICEF receives nothing from the UN, it is completely self-funded and that is why I – and others like me – go out banging the drum.  Of the money we raise, less than nine percent goes in administration costs around the world; the rest goes directly to the children

 

In the Shadows of the City

In the shadows of the city a young woman rummages through the bargain bins
Of libraries and bedraggled bookstores seeking solace as she prepares
To ascend to some far off distant land where the grit and muck
Of this world ring only a distant bell in her waking memory.
I wait at the gate with the west wind at my back gazing upon the horizon.
There’s a poetry in her every step as I see her stroll further and further away.
“Where is she off to next?” I wonder wishing I could see her off
Knowing I’ll never hold her close nor ever hold her hand.

The wind howls and the locusts sing their tune summoning me away.
They order me to leave my post at the gate and return my gaze to the city
Where the cracks in the pavement and the smell of urine on a subway platform
Compete for my undivided attention with the song of blasting sirens.
The moment I obey I know she’ll glance over her shoulder gracefully
And I know I’ll miss that moment and I’ll miss her brown bedroom eyes.
I return to the shadows of the city where the indigent barkers march
While the street sign graffiti tells me all hope is lost, dead, and buried.
I pause to wonder if a lifetime could truly be lived gazing into her beautiful eyes
Or basking in the light of her smile yet if she ever did look back before departing
I’ll  never know for sure nor would she ever know how much I wished to stay.

The Good Officer

Since we’re only a couple years shy of post-apocalyptic anarchy, I figure why not put on The Golden Girls marathon and zone out.  Besides, it’s the episode where they all go to a local mystery dinner and actors play out a murder mystery while the paying guests interact with them and help “solve the crime.”  I get a chuckle every time the detective introduces himself as Spade Marlowe. The other funny moment is when Blanche rationalizes her flirty behavior by saying “I’m Southern.”  When someone asks “what does that mean?” without a skipping a beat, Dorothy replies “It means her mother was also a slut.” It’s a whimsical moment that makes me laugh no matter how many times I’ve seen the episode.  Life is a bit like that.  There are predictable little moments we look forward to for no logical reason other than the comfort they offer.  I figure if I can string together enough little moments like that Golden Girls exchange maybe the last few years before the world goes to shit won’t be all that bad. The only problem is that TV sitcom episodes are souless things, and I’m not quite sure if I’m capable of truly connecting with someone who has a soul.  I’m not even sure I’ve ever even tried before.

Sometimes now I walk the beat and pass the junkies and pass the prostitutes and think to myself that maybe . . . just maybe they are the way they are because they’re all clued in.  Maybe they somehow got the message intuitively, subconsciously, or through brain radio frequencies.  They must know somewhere deep down inside that the end is near. They probably look at me in my uniform walking by and think I’m a fool who doesn’t know only I do.  Maybe they question the need for any law and order at all. Why not bring on the anarchy a couple of years or so early since that’s what’s coming after all.  Why have law and order now when it won’t be here in the future?  In the future it’ll be every man, woman, and child for themselves and those who lose their grip or can’t manage will wind up in a ditch or a gutter somewhere. Only the strong-willed will survive.  I’m sure they look at me and see me as some stuck up Sisyphus when I try really hard to be an Atlas carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I plan to stick through to the bitter end. Why not?  When my time comes it comes.  If people think anarchy suits them let’s see what happens when there are none of us cops around to protect them from the mob.

For tonight, however, I’ve got my couch and I’ve got The Golden Girls and at least in this moment I can put it all out of my head.  Some guys can’t do that.  They take the job home with them.  They know the same thing I know or at least they can sense it.  How could they not?  Leonard Cohen has the perfect song to describe it.  Fittingly, it’s called “The Future.” Like the singer in the song says, “I’ve seen the future / It is murder.”  Well, Cohen may or may not be pleased to find out he was right.  In just a few years, civilization as we know it now won’t exist. I’ve seen it.  I know it. I feel it.  Now, how was your day?

Months ago I was just like everyone else, but then I saw it.  I woke up smack in the middle of it.  I went to grab my badge and gun only they weren’t there.  In their place was a discharge form from the new government.  “We regret to inform you your services are no longer required.” For a second I thought I must be dreaming but then I turn on the news and it’s all but confirmed.  The anarchists have taken over our democracy and so the epic national destruction of our country began. I step outside and see looting everywhere. I see men who used to be beggars hurting children and running off with cheap electronics. “Give me Honda, give me Sony … So cheap and real phony.” You gotta love The Clash. I know I’m in law enforcement and I’m supposed to look down on punk music for its anti-authority anti-law enforcement propaganda, but I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the last real rock band that said it like it is.  Kids these days have Kanye … what a waste.  The Clash were real artists, they were men who wanted to make a difference with their music. Kanye is just a jerk who struck gold.  Well, all the wealth in the world won’t protect him when the anarchy comes. He’ll be one of the first to suffer the blade of the guillotine and I say good riddance.  If the world has to go to shit just so Kanye could shit his pants as his own fans cheer on his beheading so be it.  Like I said, I’ve got The Golden Girls right now so I’m not worried.

I know most of you won’t believe this.  You’ll think I’m just a cop who went postal. That’s fine with me if you don’t believe my story.  As I told you, I woke one day and I was there.  I was 2 years in the future and let me tell you a lot can happen in 2 years.  That first day in the future was a shock. I was scared to leave my apartment.  Every time I looked out the window there seemed to be shots fired in my general direction and there were riots that seemed to go on all through the night.  People were angry. No surprise there. People are always angry. I see it every day. I’m a cop. That’s practically all I see.  The next day, I grabbed my neighbor, Lenny who lived in the apartment next door.  His eyes were hollow, his skin pale, and his hair looked as if it had been indiscriminately ripped from his skull.  This guy used to look like Jerry Garcia but now he looked like a thin pale hobo who had been repeatedly brutalized.

I said, “Hey man what’s going on?”

He said, “You shouldn’t be here. If they find out you’re here, they’ll kill both of us.”

“Who’s they”

“What are you nuts? The anarchists have taken over this city, this state, this country.  It’s every man for themselves and the first group of people they hunt down are cops.  They know where you live. I’m surprised they haven’t come for you yet.”

“When did this happen?”

“It’s been happening for years but they completed their takeover just 3 weeks ago.  We were on the safe part of town.  Don’t you remember?”

“Maybe I was hit in the head.  I don’t know what happened so please just tell me.”

“You and a group of cops led the resistance and put up a barricade all across what used to be the 5 Points. You and your men were brave.  You fought but just about all of you perished.”

“I don’t remember any of it.”

“You bought us some time and I’m grateful for that, but now that the anarchists have penetrated the barricade, it’s a done deal.  It’s everyone for themselves.”

I sat and hid in my apartment for the next day or so.  I figured they must have looked here for me already and when they didn’t find me, they would have moved on figuring that I’d be crazy to come back. I dug out my old laptop from back in the closet and tapped into my neighbor’s wi-fi and all but confirmed the rest.  It was like the French Revolution or The English Civil War.  After the dismissal of law enforcement came martial law and the execution of anyone who had any kind of position of wealth and or fame.  They took particular pleasure in tormenting every Reality TV star they could find.  I don’t even want to describe what they did to the Kardashians. Executions became theater pieces streamed over the internet over Youtube and Netflix.  The soundtrack to just about every image seemed to be the R.E.M. song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”  Just about every meme and video played it as a celebratory anthem.

I watched what was going on and it didn’t faze me one bit.  Everyone talks about how humanity is such a fragile thing.  We’re all little snowflakes on our own private little journeys and all that crap, when really the true nature of humanity is chaos and cruelty and the human psyche can get accustomed to just about anything.  If I wanted to, I could surrender to the same urges as the people out there.  It would be so easy too. I can even understand why they do it.  In the absence of order, people will rationalize just about any kind of behavior. That’s why religion was so important to the history of human kind. Religion kept people from this.  If people believe there is a God watching their every move, they decide it’s best to err on the side of caution.  Somehow, the big secret was revealed therefore unraveling those checks and balances human nature placed upon itself.  The only “good” people who are left are those who choose not to submit to the chaos, those of us who never believed in the bullshit of religion in the first place, those of us who were always moral non-violent people because we chose to be and not because we fear retribution from an invisible man in the sky.

When I wake up back in my own time, my first instinct is to warn everyone, but they will all think I’m crazy so I just resume my life.  I man my post like a good officer, like a good soldier. I show up for roll call, I walk my beat, I get my collars, and that’s it. That’s all I can do until the day comes when none of that matters anymore. When the world goes to shit, no one will be left to care what parking tickets I wrote or if some girl was really driving while texting when I pulled her over. I laugh inside a little bit when they say they’ll fight the ticket in court.  Ha! Soon there will be no court but there will be no tickets either. I let them have their little victories.  They will all have their ultimate victory in the end and it’ll be a force to reckon with.  Maybe they’ll deserve it and maybe they won’t.  That’s how fate is.  It’s indiscriminate. It doesn’t care, but if I can string together just enough little moments to prove to myself that this life was worth something maybe it’ll counterbalance the indiscriminate nature of fate.

Maybe, I’ll ask Debbie out on a date for Saturday night. I met her at the deli and I must have said something to make her laugh and she smiled at me and we talked. She gave me her number and I held onto it, but then I had that little detour in post-apocalyptic hell and now it feels like ages ago.  Maybe she’ll say yes or maybe she’s forgotten who I was. Maybe she just liked the uniform, but at this point who cares.  All I can think of now are her eyes.  She has the kind of eyes that could make a man want to be all he could be just so he can prove himself worthy of her trust.  It’s hard to describe but in that brief meeting she was both inquisitive about me while giving off a studious vibe. I suppose that gets me every time. Anyway, if I can string together enough good moments where I can at least forget about the fate of humanity for a little while even if those moments are brief, perhaps this will all be worth it. Just like I put the job away in the back of my mind, I think I can compartmentalize enough to put the future I saw behind me too. After all, there must be enough things to laugh at, enough people to smile with, and enough clean air to breathe in to serve as fallback memories before everything falls asunder. If I could only feel her warm body close to mine, if I could only taste the sensuousness of her lips, maybe it’ll be enough to distract me from the ultimate fate of all humanity.  Temporary distractions are the name of the game and  some are more worthwhile than others.  For now I have my couch and The Golden Girls and all is right with the world.  Perhaps that will be enough after all. 10-4… Over and out.

Terence Winter and HBO Part Ways on Vinyl

On April 8th, fans of HBO’s series Vinyl were disappointed and shocked to learn that co-creator, showrunner, writer, and executive producer Terence Winter has been let go from his ongoing role in the series.  Terence Winter’s tenure on HBO goes all the way back to The Sopranos where he wrote 25 episodes and became an executive producer.  He then went on to create and write for Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s Prohibition era drama set in Atlantic City starring Steve Buscemi, serving as show runner and executive producer alongside Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg, and Sopranos alum Tim Van Patten.

Set in 1973, Vinyl stars Bobby Cannavale as Richie Finestra, a struggling record company owner driven over the edge by the frantic music scene who must deal with personal andvinyl-interview-terence-winter-hbo-theliptv-media-mayhem professional challenges including a haunted past in the industry, a fractured relationship with his wife Devon, and an unfortunate series of events that has led him to take part in a homicide.  Adding to all this is the chaotic atmosphere of sex, drugs, and Rock n’ Roll in the early 70s music scene.  The ensemble also features a very talented group of supporting cast members including Ray Romano as Zak, Richie’s partner and confidant; Max Casella as Julian head of A&R; James Jagger (son of co-creator Mick Jagger) as the leader of a proto-punk band named The Nasty Bits; Juno Temple as one of Richie’s assistants driven to move up in the company who becomes a champion of The Nasty Bits; and Olivia Wilde as Devon Finestra who struggles with her past as a former aspiring model for Andy Warhol having settled down with Richie to become a housewife and stay at home mother for their children.

The series has garnered some critical praise but has thus far failed to come close to achieving the ratings success of Winter’s previous work with the Sopranos or even on Boardwalk Empire.  The timing of his termination from the series is somewhat curious.  The show has already been picked up for a 2nd season, a move that came soon after the series pilot premiered on February 14th, and the upcoming season finale is scheduled to air on April 17th. It just so happens that the season finale offers what most likely will turn out to be Winter’s final screenplay for the series, perhaps even with HBO at least for the foreseeable future.  If that seems a bit odd it might be because Winter’s tenure with HBO began 16 years ago during season 2 of The Sopranos when he wrote for the show and became co-producer.  Since then, it seems that Winter has had a consistently active role in multiple HBO projects either writing screenplays, developing new projects, or acting as an executive producer and showrunner.

tumblr_m3gqnitZJ51rtg414o2_1280Winter’s Sopranos season 3 episode “Pine Barrens” remains a favorite among the fans, and while David Chase deserves much of the praise for the success of the Sopranos overall, Terence Winter’s writing played a pivotal role and it can be argued that his “Pine Barrens” episode set the tone for the way the series ultimately ended.   When asked about the fate of the Russian mafia henchman who Paulie and Christopher spend most of the episode tracking in vain, Terrence Winter responded:

“That’s the question I get asked more than any other. It drives people crazy: “Where’s the Russian? What happened to the Russian?” We could say, “Well, he got out and there’s a big mob war with the Russians,” or “He crawled off and died.” But we wanted to keep it ambiguous. You know, not everything gets answered in life”

It shouldn’t strike anyone as coincidence that even as early as season 3 The Sopranos team were consciously thinking about open endings.  Indeed, The Sopranos changed television in ways that many might now take for granted.  As the series went on, more and more emphasis was placed on thematic elements rather than plot; we spent more time with the ensemble cast in multiple character arcs; and the show marked a stark contrast from the episodic television dramas that had come before.

When The Sopranos ended, Winter went on to collaborate with Martin Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire for HBO, an ambitious period crime drama starring Steve Buscemi set in Prohibition era Atlantic City.

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Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire

The show received high critical praise but lower ratings in the later seasons combined with the high costs of production forced HBO to ask Winter to bring the show to a premature conclusion.  Boardwalk Empire ultimately lasted 5 seasons, and even though it never reached the cultural iconic benchmark set by The Sopranos, it still stands as a highly remarkable creative accomplishment for Winter. It brought to the audience a world where fictional characters within the show’s universe were able to interact and engage with historical figures in meaningful and oftentimes very fascinating and unexpected ways.  Boardwalk Empire presented an even greater creative challenge for Winter because he had to figure out viable ways for notable historical characters such as Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, and Lucky Luciano to interact within the universe of the show in a way that not only makes sense for the show creatively but also in a way that is representative of what the real person’s biographical history was for that time.  It’s for this reason that I believe that Winter along with the rest of Boardwalk’s creative team pulled off some magnificently brilliant work for this series.  Each season represented not only a year in the life of the fictional characters in the show but also a year in the life of the characters who had real life counterparts within that era of American history.  Unlike The Sopranos who were able to do whatever they liked to any of their characters, Boardwalk Empire had a responsibility to stay true to real life history only taking creative license when absolutely necessary.

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When it comes to Vinyl, there could be many reasons for the low ratings.   The show has yet to post a rating of over a million viewers for an episode, which Boardwalk Empire had been able to do even during the latter half of its run.  Some may say that the decline of Rock music in general may be indicative of the lack of interest in a show that is meant to summon nostalgia for this period for the audience. While it’s true that Rock has taken a bit of a back seat to Hip Hop and Country, I still think a show like this with its unique insight into the record industry should be of interest to younger viewers.  The question is whether or not younger viewers who have so many choices when it comes to scripted dramas will seek out a show like this.

The biggest disadvantage that Vinyl has for audiences who do actively seek it out is that it simply can’t do what Boardwalk Empire did when it cast real life historical figures as integral members of its ensemble. While the cameo appearances of iconic musical figures like David Bowie, John Lennon, and Elvis should be enough to make any serious music fan at least curious, this may also work against the show. None of these legendary characters could ever be integrated into the fabric of the show in any meaningful way for obvious logistical reasons, and even if they could integrate a musical icon or two into the show, the level of scrutiny would be enormous.

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Richie tries to get Elvis to come to his label

It wouldn’t have even been possible to include series co-creator and executive producer Mick Jagger into the show this season because the show is set mostly in New York and The Rolling Stones were touring Europe in 1973 supporting their Goats Head Soup album.   Besides, if you had Mick Jagger, Elvis, or John Lennon become a part of this show the way Al Capone became a part of Boardwalk Empire it would completely alter the entire nature of the show and divert attention and focus away from the fictional characters in the show.  Boardwalk Empire was able to achieve a balance between its fictional and nonfictional characters in a way that just wouldn’t be sustainable for a show like Vinyl.

It’s also possible that this new crop of fictional characters are either failing to resonate with audiences or perhaps taking too long for audiences to respond to.  Like any new series, Vinyl has had to contend with a few growing pains.  Bobby Cannavale is a brilliant actor who brings a very frantic charm to the role of Richie, but there are times when his self-destructive behavior becomes predictable.  Even though Cannavale is fascinating to watch, there are instances where you could tell where the show is taking him and when an audience is able to predict where the show is going it’s never a good thing.  The supporting cast has been equally impressive but earlier episodes failed to give Olivia Wilde enough to do.

Now that Winter will no longer be a part of Vinyl, HBO has called on Scott Z. Burns and Max Borenstein to run the show, which leaves serious doubts concerning the show’s viability.  There have been other shows that were able to succeed without a key showrunner or creator who developed them, but for an HBO series developed by Terence Winter to continue on without him seems a bit dubious.  Whether the new showrunners take the show in an entirely new direction than what Winter intended remains to be seen.  According to a previous interview with Winter, he had intended each season of the show to represent a year in the lives of the characters similar to how it had been done on Boardwalk Empire.

“The series will progress in time like Boardwalk did. So, we’ll probably move forward into 1974 when we come back; ’74 was the year that CBGB’s opened, it was the year that The Ramones kind of formed. The Vietnam War was officially over so you had a lot of guys coming back from that too.”

It should also be noted that for both Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl, Terence Winter hosted the “Inside the Episode” featurettes where he talks about each episode exploring the various themes he wanted to get across throughout the course of the show.  You can find them on HBO’s site or on youtube. They offer some insights into the creative team’s process for each individual episode regarding character arcs and various plot and thematic elements, which many will no doubt find interesting if you follow his shows.

Capture

The season finale for Vinyl is set to air on Sunday, Aprl 17th. The screenplay was written by Terence Winter, and as it stands it may be the final screenplay by Winter we will get to see on HBO.  Given his longstanding creative output with HBO, let’s hope that won’t be the case.

 

Sources for ratings and quotes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Boardwalk_Empire_episodes#Season_1_.282010.29

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinyl_(TV_series)#cite_note-BiancoS1Review-31

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_Barrens_(The_Sopranos)

Source for Winter’s remarks regarding S2 of Vinyl

‘Vinyl’ Showrunner Terence Winter Exits HBO Series, New Showrunner Named