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Roadies - "Life is a Carnival" - Review: "Almost Famous 2.0"

Roadies Season 1 Episode Guide
1.01. "Life is a Carnival" - Review!
1.02. "What Would Phil Do?" - (Airs June 27)
1.03. "The Bryce Newman Letter" - (Airs July 10)
1.04. "The City Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken" - (Airs July 17)
1.05. "Friends and Family" - (Airs July 24)
1.06. "Lost Highway" - (Airs July 31)

Roadies 1.01 Life is a Carnival" - Review:
Directed & Written by Cameron Crowe

Cameron Crowe is a director with an extremely mixed track record. One one hand, he has Almost Famous, which is an excellent movie about music which Roadies has its roots in and is probably among my Top 25 all time favourite movies. Unfortunately though the rest of his filmography hasn't quite lived up to that high standard, because although both Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky have been watchable films, they haven't really been great ones, and Aloha was just downright awful and not just because of the controversial casting of Emma Stone. However Roadies has a lot of things going for it. For music fans it serves as a nice counterpart to the recently cancelled Vinyl on HBO, offering a slightly lighter outlook than Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger's series. Here we also have a pretty good cast that the show brings to the table as well, featuring the likes of Luke Wilson, Carla Gugino, Imogen Poots and more, but whilst not everything can find the right note it's off to a pretty excellent start, making use of a great soundtrack to keep that uplifting, upbeat feel that the show provides.

This show actually puts our characters in good, and happy moods as opposed to that of 90% of other cable television dramas. When you have each and every cable TV show trying to compete to become the grittiest on air something like Showtime's Roadies comes along as a pleasant surprise. If you've seen any Cameron Crowe movie before you'll sort of know what you're going to get here, and if you haven't then you should go and watch Almost Famous and thank me later. Here we meet three main characters, Kelly-Ann, Bill and Shelli, who are played by Imogen Poots, Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino. Kelly-Ann is a smart and talented young woman who's about to leave because she's been accepted into film school, and has sort of grown out of life with the band. It's clear that none of these characters are perfect because Bill, an experienced tour manager is suffering from his own problems and Shelli is suffering from the consequences of spending too much time away from her husband.

We open with Bill who is sleeping with a young, 22 year old woman named Kimberly, a daughter of a promoter-rep in a hotel room where he is interrupted by first the room service and then Shelli. Shelli and Bill start talking about business and the Staton-House Band that they both work for, with the woman who he slept with still naked in the room. This is all the introduction that we'll get with these two, and one tour bus ride, and a usuage of one of my favourite songs, Bob Dylan's Tangled up in Blue later, we find the crew crowding around in the middle of an empty stadium on stage in cheer. This crew is soon joined by Kelly-Ann, who skateboards in backstage. We get to see the inner workings of the stadium being set up for the tour, and it doesn't take us long to learn that she could be on her way out of the group.

The group are dealing with problems of their own though and there's a looming threat of a new "British" financial tour manager who's actually from New Jersey. Whilst Puna, the head of security, is assigned to not let a woman named Natalie Shin backstage, we learn that Kelly-Ann needs to bail out her twin brother Wes. Wes has been fired by Pearl Jam (not the only real-life band referenced in the pilot, Shelli's husband is working with Taylor Swift), and needs a job in New Orleans. However Kelly-Ann is pretty down herself right now, and feels like the music is getting pretty boring right now and could do with a change in pace.

A change in pace is what the band is soon going to get because Puna is unable to stop Natalie Shin from sneaking into the band and wants to steal a laminate from a crew member, achieving this by seducing him. We learn that The Head in the Heart are opening for Staton-House Band, and they are also another use of a real band that we get to see in the pilot. Things are looking pretty great before the build-up, but the team's spirits are dampened by their new financial advisor Reg. Reg likes "Queen" and much to the team's amusement, "The Mumford and Sons," warning that Phil should leave the band because he's under investigation. Demonstrating a great lack of tact from Reg, Phil promptly reaches for his gun, claiming that he's not going anywhere. You can see why Reg wants him off the team, but a potential crisis is averted thanks to Puna. We then see Reg and Kelly-Ann get into an argument when she undercuts his speech, and it's safe to say that Reg isn't having the best first day working for the band.

Despite the fact that Reg later decides that he wants Kelly-Ann to stay, and regardless of the efforts of a surprise party from Bill, she heads off on her skateboard, saved from Natalie thanks to Puna's intervention. As she's about to leave, Kelly-Ann decides to actually change her mind when she learns that the band are deciding to change up their routine and their set-list on the night. Kelly-Ann is surprised to hear that they're going to be playing "Jeanine" a song that she hasn't heard them play before. This prompts a change of heart for her as she decides to run back to the stadium. For me, this was probably the most effective scene of the episode as it really worked, and hit a great emotional impact that did just what it needed to, making use of some famous running scenes in multiple films.

And to quote Bill, "Something is in the air," indeed.

Whilst not a perfect episode then, Life is a Carnival was still one that showed plenty of promise for Showtime's newest series. The use of the soundtrack here was great and I loved some of the moments in this show, it does have its problems. Whilst the performances from Poots and a couple of others, the conflict at the heart of the show is a bit too familiar, and the characters are still pretty bland overall. But I'm sure that's something that the series can easily change going forward.

What did you think of Life is a Carnival? Will you be watching more episodes of Roadies or was one enough for you? Have you seen Almost Famous before and if not do you intend to? What was your favourite song used in the pilot? Let me know in the comments below and check out the next episode of Roadies next Sunday on Showtime.

Overall Episode Verdict: B
+Imogen Poots' performance.
+A cable show that isn't super depressing.
+The music.
-Some characters need work.
-Nothing we haven't seen before.

Soundtrack (with Youtube Links):
1. Taildragger - Link Wray
2. Tangled Up in Blue - Bob Dylan - Song of the Episode!
3. Don't Wait - The Duke Spirit
4. Isoprene Bath - Reptar
5. Generator 1st Floor - Freelance Whales
6. Jump Hi (feat. Childish Gambino) - Lion Babe
7. Get Free (feat. Amber of the Dirty Projections) - Major Lazer
8. I Wish I Was Sober - Frightened Rabbit
9. The Wild Life - Outasight
10. Wrong Club - The Ting Tings
11. All We Ever Knew - The Head and the Heart
12. Lurker - Steve Gunn
13. Falling In Love At a Coffee Shop - Landon Pegg
14. Into Your Heart (feat. Hunz & Mosaik) - Futurecop!
15. Loudmouth - Ramones
16. Paralyse - Polarheart
17. Given to Fly - Pearl Jam
18. 30 Days In the Hole - Humble Pie

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, The 100, The Americans and Person of Interest. He reviews Black Sails, Hell on Wheels, Murder in the First, Narcos, Preacher, Roadies, The Shannara Chronicles and Veep for Spoiler TV as well as books, films and games for his own blog The Fictional Hangout and contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic.
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