Let’s put this out there right away: “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” is not a bad TV series. There’s nothing offensive or horrific that the show should be trashed for it. However, there’s not much to this show that’s worthy of a recommendation either. In many ways, the early episodes of this series are similar to the early episodes of its companion series, “Married.” Both have a strong cast, but struggle with how to use them. “Married” was able to pull itself together into a well-done comedy, but, through four episodes, “Sex&Drugs” fails to have a similar evolution, continuing to rely on humor that doesn’t quite click, while only occasionally developing its characters out of their initial types.
“Sex&Drugs” follows what happens after Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies, “Victorious), the daughter of Johnny Rock (Denis Leary, in his first major TV series since “Rescue Me”), known for his role in the band The Heathens (who broke up the day of their first album’s release), finds her father in an effort to become a famous recording artist. Her plan: bring The Heathens back together with her as the lead singer and her father only writing songs with the band’s lead guitarist, Flash (John Corbett, “Parenthood”). The band is rounded out by the drummer Bam Bam (played brilliantly by Robert Kelly, “Louie”), the bassist Rehab (John Ales, “The Nutty Professor,”) who mines a lot of humor from one-note material about the relative lack of recognition for bassists) and Johnny’s partner and backup singer Ava (Elaine Hendrix, “The Parent Trap”).
A lot of the problems of “Sex&Drugs” focus on one character: Johnny Rock. He’s portrayed in a similar vein to other man-children of sitcoms past, this time with rocker stereotypes. He does drugs, he flirts with women and he still attempts to take advantage of whatever fame he has at every turn. Leary, who also wrote every episode of the show, brings out the broader aspects of the character in both the writing and his performance to mixed results. Some of the jokes about his immaturity and incompetence as a musician do work, but they’re repeated with diminishing returns. The scenes he shares with Gigi in the post-pilot episodes, as Johnny struggles with his new role as a father, are actually quite good. They allow the character to play outside his previous definition, and it makes him immensely more likable.
Easily, the best aspect of the show is the music. Most of the songs are written by Leary, with musician Chris Phillips sharing credit on some tracks. These surprisingly competent rock songs that do a good job of emulating some of the better songs of the rock genre (the show positions The Heathens as the inspiration for the likes of Nirvana, though the songs don’t reach those heights). Gillies has a powerful rock voice, which shines in each of her songs. It’s great to see a show like this taking the energy to write its own music, which definitely helps in creating the world of the show.
Given Leary’s talent and the comic skills of the rest of the ensemble, there’s a chance that “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” could evolve into something better, to the point where it would be a weird but qualitatively compatible show with “Married.” But, for now, nothing in the show is particularly funny, nor especially painful; outside of the occasional joke or song, pretty much everything just exists, without making much of an impact.