The key to a good mock rock-umentary is that you must LOVE your subject. Christopher Guest loves folk music. Tenacious D (along with Guest and Rob Reiner) love metal. The Lonely Island loves hip hop and R&B. Bret Mckenzie and Jemaine Clement love pop music in general. The love translates into what’s most important: the songs are actually good.
I’m not convinced the creative team behind Gemini Rising knows this because it’s lacking in both love of its subject matter and music.
The spoofed genre this time around is progressive rock, or prog-rock. In 1974, our fictional band, Gemini Rising, went into the studio to record their second album. Then, evidently, disappeared (whether they hooked up with Eddie and the Cruisers remains to be seen). We pick up with the band brain-storming in the woods somewhere with their manager Bernie Breck. They quickly hit the studio, but things don’t gel between the new piano player and the lead singer.
Robert Mckenzie is the hot headed front man who struggles with his art, his girlfriend, Sandy, and his guitarist brother, Richard (the Mckenzie brothers). The series covers various moments in the band’s life. They attend a photo shoot with faux-famous photographer, Aleister Holt Pierce. They share a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner that begins with an introduction to their wanna-be revolutionary friend, Chet (pronounced Che) and ends in Robert having a bad acid trip. They attend a spiritual self help seminar with a touchy-feely guru called “The Unicorn” where Bernie pops up with the wrong musician sending Barry, the drummer, into a tailspin.
All of these scenarios end with Robert losing his temper in some way. Some set-ups (an amphibian revolutionary, a blind/blonde mix-up) are there but they just don’t deliver.
The stories unfold in the standard fake documentary style (unseen interviewer, jump cuts) and are surprisingly flat. The lack of music in this series is glaring. It’s supposed to be about a rock band. There are little bits of songs that aren’t amusing or remotely memorable. The members of the band lack dimension. You don’t really feel like you have a desire to watch them. Instead, I had a desire to watch Almost Famous, or at least The All-For-Nots.
Bucks County natives and co-writers Gina Andreoli and Chris Marston supply a framework that feels improvisational and probably is considering many scenes just ramble on. This does allow for some natural performances, however.
Righteous Jolly (Greatest. Name. Ever) is good as Richard and Stanley D. Jacobs is effective as Bernie Breck. As cinematographer and production designer, respectively, Marston and Andreoli nail that 70’s period look. Although, the final “lost footage” effect isn’t as convincing as, say, Italian Spiderman. In addition, the episodes run long and feel that way.
I’m going to assume that the filmmakers’ inspiration leans toward the Cristopher Guest school. Even Guest’s brand of barely-there humor can sometimes try your patience. Even so, it never falls below the level of amusing. This is an extension of knowing their subject implicitly.
“But, the band is SUPPOSED to be bad,” you say. Right, so are the Flight of the Conchords and the D and everyone else I’ve mentioned. They’re so bad, they’re good. I know this is a delicate idea that can make your head explode, but it’s true. That’s why it’s so hard to pull off.
In the beginning of the Thanksgiving episode, Richard brings a copy of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway for all to listen to. I don’t feel the love in this episode, I feel the ridicule.
I’m a fan of prog rock despite its air of goofiness and pretension. I love Genesis. I love Rush (Neal Peart!). I love The Moody Blues. I love Yes. Hell, I even loved the experiment that was Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe.
Genesis produced Peter Gabriel AND Phil Collins. And, yes, young ones, Collins actually could rock before he turned into a purveyor of light-pop and Disney tunes (Peter, you are forgiven for that Wall-E song). Don’t believe me? Listen to anything before Invisible Touch. Progressive spawned alternative and if you think My Chemical/Fall Out/Good/All American/Charlotte/Boy/Romance/Rejects haven’t been influenced by The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, you are sorely mistaken.
If I’m wrong and the creators of Gemini Rising do love their subject, then they need to do me a Valentine’s Day solid and make me feel it. Give me a full song. Keep it entertaining. Keep it funny. Keep it dark.