‘Roadies’ Season Finale Review: “The Load-Out”

Roadies 20

On the season finale of “Roadies,” everyone came together one last time to say goodbye to a friend- and the overall tour- and determine where they stood and where they all went from there, in the aptly-titled “The Load-Out,” so named after the song by Jackson Browne, who both co-starred here and performed said song.

Indeed, quite a few performers put in an appearance, as well as a performance, on the finale, including Eddie Vedder, Robyn Hitchcock, Nicole Atkins, Gary Clark, Jr., as well as returning guests like Lucius and Jim James. It was the perfect send-off to what may well end up being a one-and-done first season of the show, and you know what? If that proves to be the case, I can live with that.

On the plus side, there were no real cliffhangers, save the last-minute return of Reg (Rafe Spall), which was no big deal- and no real surprise, either. Honestly, I’m just glad they refrained from his running into the venue and finding Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots) and grabbing her in a passionate embrace and kissing her while they twirled to some gloopy-but-well-chosen ballad as the music swelled and the credits rolled. Better to leave some things unsaid.

Episode 110

All in all, this was easily one of the best things Cameron Crowe has done in some time, even if it was only moderately successful, both in the ratings and critical department. Still, if anything, the show held steady in the ratings, and those who stuck with it seemed to really respond to the show, much more so than the year’s earlier music-driven drama, “Vinyl,” so prospects are probably 50/50, which is better than average, at least, in terms of its chances.

Crowe, of course, cut his teeth as a teen reporter in the music industry, touring with some of the luminaries of rock, from The Allman Brothers to Led Zeppelin to Fleetwood Mac and many more where that came from, an experience which he previously explored in semi-fictional form in what is still, for my money, his best work to date, the multi-Oscar winning “Almost Famous.”

He then segued into writing and directing, first writing the teen comedy classic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” before taking the reins himself for films like “Say Anything…” and the similarly music-driven “Singles,” before embracing more mainstream works like “Jerry McGuire” and “Elizabethtown.”

Alas, he took a few wrong turns here and there along the way, resulting in the critically-lambasted likes of “Aloha” and the underrated, trippy “Vanilla Sky.” Many also pinpoint Crowe in particular for perpetuating the whole unfortunate “manic pixie dream girl” trope, of which he is still somewhat guilty of here, what with Kelly Ann’s overall persona.

Episode 110

That said, he did at least attempt to rein in some of his worst tendencies, whether at the behest of genre puppet-master and co-producer J.J. Abrams or because of the steadying presence of co-writer/producer Winnie Holzman, of the much-beloved cult series “My So-Called Life” and “Once and Again,” while still exhibiting some of his best, as in his peerless soundtrack selection and knack for a quirky turn of phrase.

Yes, “Roadies” could occasionally be a bit on the cloying side, but for those who toughed it out, you got such top-tier turns as the award-worthy one by, of all people, stand-up comedian Ron White, as the wizened old roadmaster Phil, who turned in one for the ages with what was almost certainly the best episode of the entire season, “The All Night Bus Ride.”

Oh, maybe I’m a little prejudiced on that count, being a Southerner all my life- who among us could have resisted an episode centered around Phil’s early days on the road with the original line-up of Lynyrd Skynyrd? And I’m not even that much of a Southern Rock fan, mind you- my tastes lean more towards the alternative rock spectrum, but still…you’ve got to respect your roots, am I right?

Roadies 21

There was also memorable guest starring turns from Rainn Wilson as a loose cannon music blogger who went completely off the rails on drugs- though I think we all could have dealt without seeing him naked, lol- and especially Joy Williams, formerly of the alt-country outfit The Civil Wars, who turned in a first-rate performance as the former girlfriend of one of the lead band-members.

I especially loved the scene in which Williams laid into the lead singer of the Staton-House Band, having held onto to years of being known as “that” Janine- aka the source of inspiration of many of the lead singer’s most-beloved songs, including the song bearing her name- and who was none too happy about it.

Her comments about not being some idealized version of herself- as she was essentially portrayed in his songs- was wonderfully on-point and no doubt spoke volumes for those who have been in such a position over the years. It was a great turn by Williams that bodes well for any acting future she might want for herself.

Episode 110

After that, it’s no wonder the show resisted the typically demure Kelly Ann doing the same thing shortly thereafter with a bitchy photographer who tried to crush her dreams. Indeed, it was proof positive that Crowe might have learned a few things over the years after being on the wrong end of critics’ lists for some time as of late.

Indeed, for those who hung in there, we got to see some honest-to-goodness character development and it wasn’t always predictable- though sometimes it was, admittedly, to be fair. For instance, Kelly’s rant was completely true to her character, in that it wasn’t really so much a rant as her quietly-but-forcibly standing up for herself in a way that avoided the usual pitfalls of such a scenario; much as the more full-fledged one by Williams did the same while still being a full-throttle version of the same thing.

In other words, Janine’s rant was full-on because it was wholly earned- she’d had years to work her way up to this conversation and mull it over and get it all just right, and there was no doubt she meant every word. Kelly’s, on the other hand, was more of a reflection of who she was- no pushover, but not ashamed of what she was, either.

Her “take that, bitch” moment was instead personified by her taking the perfect photograph amidst the chaos of the scene at hand, as if to punctuate the quiet storm of what she’d just said. That’s some well-done staging right there, all around.

Episode 110

Where the show faltered more was in the more typical beats, such as the “will they or won’t they” momentum of the main leads, Bill (Luke Wilson) and Shelli (Carla Gugino). While perfectly-cast in their respective roles, and just fine, performance-wise, we all knew the answer to that question practically from the beginning of the series- of course they would.

That’s why their relationship didn’t quite work, while the one between Kelly Ann and Reg worked like gangbusters- with them, we weren’t quite sure. Lest we forget, Reg was legitimately charmed by the aforementioned (and more gratifyingly age-appropriate) Janine, though he ultimately proved to be a pawn in her long-con game- which was a brilliant touch, BTW.

Though we might have assumed they’d end up together, the show never quite went there, instead keeping us guessing by throwing a host of obstacles in their way. This worked just fine for Reg and Kelly Ann, but not so much for Bill and Shelli, though they were also likewise more age appropriate, which is good. I think it’s because they were predictable almost every step of the way, while Reg and Kelly, not so much.

Roadies 3

Unfortunately, as much as the show had going for it, it certainly had it’s downsides as well: many of the characters, for instance, were far more one-note that the ones I just mentioned. Say what you will about the cliches of Bill and Shelli- at least they were well-defined.

The same could not be said for a lot of the other members of the crew, though some credit should be given to those who managed to make the most of underwritten roles, such as Branscombe Richmond, as the “spiritual advisor” Puma, who was nonetheless able to steal a scene while barely breaking a sweat.

Sometimes even just in passing, such as when Puma made the drive-by comment “It’s a typo” to Reg in a wonderfully dismissive fashion, as if to say “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Great moment, even if the character was a bit cliché and sort of the show’s not-so-thinly-veiled variation of the whole “magical Native American” trope.

Not to accuse the show of being racist, mind you- I honestly don’t think it was meant that way. If anything, one can always count on Crowe to have his heart in the right place, even if he all-too-often wears it on his sleeve. Still, there are worse things in the world than to be sweet-natured, especially in this all-too-cynical world we live in, where it’s more common for people to tear each other down than try and build them up.

Episode 110

I also dug Wes (Machine Gun Kelly), the affable roadie-turned-“manny” to “devil child” Winston (Ethan Michael Mora), who, in one of the show’s best subtle jokes, was the kid of the most-Zen rock star imaginable, Tom Staton (Catero Colbert). One really got the sense that Wes cared for Winston, to the point of turning down a sweet gig with the dreamy Halsey to stay behind for the kid’s well-being, even if only for a few more weeks.

A lot of that was the actors’ inherent chemistry together, which was charming even when it was at odds, character-wise. That’s saying something, as- at first at least- I was fully prepared to hate them both. I mean, on paper, it sounds horrible: a grungy-white-rapper-turned-actor and a cranky kid bond on the road in lieu of his somewhat absentee father, who’s never there even when he is.

And yet, it worked in the end because the actors- and the writers, for that matter- earned it along the way, instead of playing it safe. I mean, if your heart didn’t melt a bit when Wes had Halsey play-act with him deciding to “turn her down” to stay behind and care for Winston, I’m not sure you have one. It was kind of adorable.

Episode 110

I did feel a bit bad for Oscar nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”), who made more of an impression with few words on “Game of Thrones” as a “Sand Snake” than she did in her entirety here as the lesbian sound-grrrl with a baby on the way. She wasn’t bad in the role, just sort of there, you know? Ditto the usually personable Luiz Guzman and Finesse Mitchell, who were likewise given thankless roles.

I will give Peter Cambor some credit for making something out of nothing with his role as the never-met-a-shower-he-liked Milo, who managed to eke out a few notable moments for himself almost in spite of his underwritten character, notably on the episode “The City Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken,” where he got a shower of a different kind, finally.

So, yeah, there were hits and there were misses along the way, but in the end, the show worked a lot of it out, much like the characters themselves. As such, viewers had to have a little patience, but for those who stuck with it, it did pay off in the end, with the emotional ride we got in this finale, which encapsulated everything that was great and troubled about the show in one fell swoop.

Episode 110

On the one hand, we had some great character moments and fun bits- Phil’s final state being the best of them, if more than a little creepy- plus some undeniably great music. One of the things I loved most about the show was the way it steadfastly refused to play favorites, music-wise.

One look at the listings of the show’s soundtrack over the season is proof positive of that: it runs the gambit of left-of-center classic rock choices to sweet R&B oldies to middle-of-the-road alt-rock to stealthy, cream-of-the-crop pop music to a genuinely exciting group of newcomers that I was happy to see featured in a much wider audience than they’re likely used to, i.e. Lucius and Halsey.

Episode 110

On the other, we had the predictable conclusion to Bill and Shelli’s story, which, at the very least, was conveniently wrapped up on one episode, so if the show does get renewed, we can at least look forward to that being out of the way. Sure, we’ve still got Reg and Kelly to deal with, but I’m good with that, as they had fantastic chemistry when they were together- even if Spall occasionally caused the usually steadfast Poots to slip into her actual British accent here and there, notably when she was playing drunk.

But if this is it for the show, it was a fun ride while it lasted, and I predict it will do just fine on Netflix or wherever it ends up, streaming-wise, as an ace binge-watch, at the very least. The ending was just final enough that you don’t really need more, really, so I can live with it if it doesn’t get renewed.

If so, then my advice would be to tighten things up and maybe pare down the cast just a hair, with some of them maybe making glorified cameos instead of appearing for the full season. All the better to focus on the ones that do work, you know? Beyond that, for God’s sake, don’t lose the music, and try and keep the camaraderie intact and you’ll be golden- if not necessarily a Golden God. (See what I did there?)

Episode 110

What did you guys think of the season finale of “Roadies”? How about the season as a whole? Would you like to see it renewed? What was your favorite episode? How about your favorite moment? Or character? What was your least favorite character? Or moment? Did it get you into any music you wouldn’t have otherwise? Is Crowe back on the right track? Sound off down below and let me know what you think and thanks for reading!