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'Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll' review: Denis Leary hits the wrong notes

Denis Leary portrays Johnny Rock in a scene

Denis Leary portrays Johnny Rock in a scene from, "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll," premiering Thursday at 10 p.m. on FX. Credit: AP / Patrick Harbron

THE SERIES "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday night at 10 on FX

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Johnny Rock (Denis Leary) is an aging rocker who once flirted with -- among other things -- greatness, as lead singer for a New York headbanging band called the Heathens (think: The Ramones). The years have gone by, the fans dispersed, but his pharmaceutical and alcohol habits remain unchanged, while his longtime girlfriend and band member, Ava (Elaine Hendrix), has stood by him. One day he meets a young woman and talented singer, Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies), who wants to reunite his band, although other than Ava, its members -- Flash (John Corbett), Hector Bam Bam Jimenez (Robert Kelly), and "Rehab" (John Ales) -- have long since scattered. Gigi -- Rock is surprised to learn -- is his daughter.

MY SAY "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll" smells suspiciously like a vanity project that sat on Leary's shelf for a couple of decades -- a series treatment filled with old jokes he couldn't bear to part with (but maybe should have) and a persona he fell in love with (and maybe shouldn't have).

Those jokes -- a cascade of 'em in the first couple of episodes -- are pointedly offensive, even by Leary standards. But the setup is the much bigger obstacle. The music references are relics from the last century, and no one seems to have the slightest idea about the music scene in New York right now. (Dave Grohl, who makes a brief cameo, is about as close as it gets). Without that vital context, there's no grounding, and without grounding there's no sense of who Johnny Rock really is -- a drug-addled wash-up whose struggle to regain relevance in a new world is sad but at least funny? Or a stick-figure sitcom cliche who actually still lives by the hoariest of credos -- sex, drugs, and rock and roll?

What emerges here is only the latter. (I watched the first five episodes.) For some longtime Leary fans, this may be baffling and dispiriting. He's a genuinely talented guy who knows how to build nuanced, flawed and interesting characters -- "Rescue Me's" Tommy Gavin, of course -- but Rock never even comes close. Maybe in the next five episodes?

In the meantime, count this Leary fan -- me -- disappointed.


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