‘Pistol’ Review: FX’s Sex Pistols Show, Hulu, Danny Boyle Goes Sour
A few positives aside, this six-part series about the rise and fall of the founding punk band is drowned out by a familiar biopic rock cacophony.
There are few things rock biopics love more than characters who act like they know they’re in a rock biopic. There is an unspoken need for conversations steeped in the importance of music and change the world and do something realdelivered with absolute certainty that this ragtag group of upstarts are on their way to generation-changing fame.
The best that can be said for “Pistol”, the new six-part limited series about the rise of the Sex Pistols against the backdrop of the burgeoning English punk scene, is that creator Craig Pearce and director Danny Boyle have a clear and deep love for the band they bring to life. But as is the case with watching characters spring from the shared love of David Bowie or prophesying about the effect their art will have on a culture to come, much of “Pistol” feels like someone one describes the dream they had the night before: undoubtedly means something to those telling, but very little of it translates to their intended audience.
Trouble begins almost immediately, with Boyle and Pearce sprinkling in archival footage from Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee era, presenting the group through their most prominent target. Even though this approach didn’t seem like a wasteful effect, “Pistol” works so hard to reverse the story arc of the rise and fall of the rocks that he can’t help but stick to it. road course. Humble origins, breakthroughs by chance, unexpected successes, internal discord, regret for a broken promise. It’s all there, though he’s dressed in leather and safety pins and a handful of hastily scribbled anarchic symbols for good measure.
Far closer to “Bohemian Rhapsody” than “24 Hour Party People,” this show also has the fundamental problem of perspective, being inherently filtered through the perspective of the least convincing member of the group. Here, that means looking through the eyes of Steve Jones (Toby Wallace), a conduit for “Pistol” who’s flawed in every bad way. The opening episode positions him as a primary guideline for the Pistols, more than iconoclasts like Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), vocalist Johnny Rotten (Anson Boon), eventual bassist Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) or the champion designer Vivienne. Westwood (Talulah Riley). Jones’ memoir “Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol” forms the basis of this TV adaptation, which nonetheless turns his personal struggles with childhood trauma into a jumble of flashbacks that leave him little more than a mere case study in rock. excess.
It feels even more like a failure to see a show about the Sex Pistols – a quintessential “fake until you make it” rock story – fall back on so many story beats reserved for bands with a history of more conventional origin. Whether McLaren saw a legitimate spark in this awkward couple of clumsy musicians and surly singer, or whether he saw it as a coup to prove his bona fides as a master salesman, ‘Pistol’ needs that you believe in something. The first episode in particular unfolds like a grand self-fulfilling destiny without any of the steps along the way feeling revelatory or deserved.
It doesn’t help that in the preamble before the Pistols actually start playing and recording, the show is littered with an assortment of high-spinning classic rock needle drops, designed more to remind you of the end of the 70s only to invite you. These documentary clips, which come to include contemporary reporting on the rise of the Pistols and punk, work the same way. By the time the show enters three or four in the parade of painfully egregious nickname origin stories, all that’s missing is a giant Adam McKay-style asterisk chyron telling you “Yeah, it really happened .”
There’s an unmistakable trial energy to Boyle’s approach that is clearly trying to evoke the spirit of a Sex Pistols song when there are no Sex Pistols songs to play yet. So rather than the music and general ethos of this band feeling like a jolt in the system, it’s another example where something like “Anarchy in the UK” arrives predestined, without a hint of surprise or discovery. Banging frantically between exteriors and hot dates and late-night drinking sessions, “Pistol” often screams without having much to say.
That changes somewhat with the arrival of Boon, whose Johnny Rotten is one of the only “Pistol” elements that seems to come from the best version of this show. So does Brodie-Sangster – who does his best despite deceptively deep statements like “I don’t want to fuck you. I want you to fuck the world” – Boon adds deserved genuine human emotion behind the facade. If the Sex Pistols were an elaborate performance that stumbled into iconography, you believe it was possible because its leader had a real chaotic gravitational pull. Where much of the show seems inert as it is drawn into gloom or frivolity, Boon finds a way to exploit the fertile ground in between.
Pearce (a frequent Baz Luhrmann collaborator who also co-wrote on “Elvis”) strives to be more relevant by occasionally breaking away from the band himself and tracking the effect these guys have had on their fans. and their acolytes. In stories of runaways or buttoned-up employees who transform to embrace all that the Pistols stood for, “Pistol” nods to a greater understanding of what they meant to others. Yet even then, these changes are mostly cosmetic. “Pistol” eventually returns to a point where, inasmuch as the Pistols were revolutionary, their version of rebellion against the status quo became more of a canvas on which people can project their own anger rather than a more guiding principle. big.
This leads to including a number of people in this saga more for reasons of proximity than necessity. There’s a fascinating story to tell about Chrissie Hynde’s (Sydney Chandler) early life in London and her destinies intertwined with the rise of the Sex Pistols, years before The Pretenders existed. Here she is overlooked as Jones throws himself again and again, another in the collection of ancillary people who are cast aside in favor of the same familiar fame, strife and overindulgence of the Rock Biopic Checklist .
These are rhythms that “Pistol” ends up using to his advantage, but sparingly. The disastrous opening gives way to a more confident arc that places more faith in the Pistols’ performance than trying to artificially convey that spirit throughout the rest of this story. Every time Boyle manages to tone down the provocative faux visuals and let this group work as a group, that’s when “Pistol” comes the closest to capturing the energy he strives for.
These six episodes show how music and the path of infamy suffocated these individuals, quickly consuming the rest of their lives. There are few times where “Pistol” does not fall into the same trap. On the rare chance that this show finds an unaffected moment between these young men – as it does in a quieter moment with everyone on shore late at night on tour – you finally get the feeling that they are more just simple components. of something that will one day hold a stable place in the screen-printed t-shirt market. For most of the rest of the series, “Pistol” tries too hard to make the case for a band that never really needed help making an impression.
All six episodes of “Pistol” will be available to stream on Tuesday, May 31.