When Denis Leary hit big in the early ’90s, he was as much rock star as comic: ranting in leather on MTV, taking the stage with a guitarist and a pack of smokes in No Cure for Cancer. So it makes sense that in his FX comedy Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll (premiering July 16), he plays a rock star who hit big at the dawn of the Nirvana era. But the effect is less comeback tour than dad-band performance.
Here, the acerbic Rescue Me star is Johnny Rock, onetime lead singer of the fleetingly famous Heathens, now a has-been. His luck changes, sort of, when Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies), a daughter he didn’t know he had, shows up with the idea, and the cash, to reunite the band–with herself as lead singer.
This sets up an old-man-meets-millennial comedy that feels cranky and creaky. There are jabs at David Bowie and Radiohead. There is an actual “Did I just say that out loud?” joke. In a show that leans so much on authenticity, the details feel off; the Heathens were meant to have been edgy in 1990 but sound more like a bar band.
There’s potential for a sharp sitcom about a man who’s stopped growing, if the writing didn’t mostly share his arrested development. Johnny fancies himself a rock lion à la Mick or Keith. But the refrain S&D&R&R sings is “Hey! You! Get off of my lawn.”
This appears in the July 20, 2015 issue of TIME.
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