The Sex Pistols are still too chaotic for your TV screen

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The Sex Pistols legacy continues its tail in a figure eight, like a roller coaster, or a knot, or infinity. In 1977, they sang about a world with no future and instantly changed the tedious course of history, turning themselves into rock stars while claiming to completely destroy the notion of rock stardom. Now, nearly five decades later, the future keeps coming and you can buy a “Never Mind the Bollocks” t-shirt at Walmart, which isn’t even weird anymore. In their pseudo-revolt against mainstream culture, the Sex Pistols were swept into it, until their mythology was finally spat out and swirled around in the dark ocean of the information age, where it remains as boring or exhilarating as we need it.

Is there a more disproportionate myth/music relationship? The Sex Pistols packed all their mess into one tight album, 1977″Never mind the bullshit, here come the Sex Pistols“, then separate in 1978, leaving a ray of breath now known as punk rock. Their antagonistic petulance was innate, but it was the quartet’s impresario-manager, Malcolm McLaren, who helped shape it into something akin to an ideology. In his 1992 book “Dream of England“, rock journalist Jon Savage explained that “England is a very static society, with a strongly defined ruling class and a narrow definition of what is acceptable”, which allowed punk to become “a place where a lot of [the marginalized] meet, dreamers and misfits of all classes, to transform, if not the world, then their world.

Once McLaren heard all of these possibilities in Johnny Rotten’s sneer, he helped amplify them into something too chaotic to contain, forcing the Sex Pistols’ story to spill out into armfuls of books; a posthumous 1980 mockumentary, “The Great Rock’n’Roll Scam”; a 1986 Hollywood drama, “Sid and Nancy”; and a documentary that sets the record straight for 2000, “The Dirt and the Furyin which Rotten—now John Lydon—describes his band as a social inevitability: “The Sex Pistols should have happened, and they did.

“Pistol” from director Danny Boyle, a new six-episode drama series now airing on FX on Hulu, shouldn’t happen, but it does. Sentimental and Wikipedia-like, it portrays spooky visionaries as slightly idiosyncratic golden retrievers, perhaps to help Walmart shoppers feel more comfortable with their impulse purchases. In the spirit of the show’s banality, Boyle released a publicity statement describing “Pistol” as a kind of rebuke to competing prestige TV dramas: “Imagine stepping into the world of ‘The Crown’ and ‘Downton Abbey’ with your friends and shout your songs and your fury at all they represent.

But what did we expect? It makes perfect sense that “Pistol” was crafted more for bored “Downton Abbey” watchers than skeptics whose entire lives have been shaped by punk, especially since nearly every rock-and-roll biopic project -roll are doomed proposals from the start. I used to think I knew why: Even the coolest, hottest actors in the world will never be as cool as the heroes they’ve been tasked to portray, performers whose physical gestures are so deeply imprinted in our brain tissue that we know their dance moves better than ours. When you love music, disbelief cannot be suspended.

The cast of “Pistol” comes closer than most. The entire show is based on guitarist Steve Jones’ 2016 memoir “Lonely Boy,” and the plot wisely revolves around his background hustle, leaving actor Toby Wallace just enough room to be a charming protagonist. Anson Boon has an infinitely tougher mission to play Johnny Rotten, but he nails at least half of his subject’s zigzagging stage postures, which instantly makes him 10 times more respectable than Rami Malek making that unbearable (nevertheless Oscar-winning) impression. of Freddie Mercury a few years back. Yet there was a characteristic twinkle in Lydon’s eyes during the Sex Pistols era, a glint of malevolent mischief so magnetic and unknowable, punk as we understand it might not have happened without him. For all of Boon’s meticulous attention to detail, he lacks the glow, and so a vague lack of the proper orbital musculature blows an entire TV series down the hunting hole.

And no matter how close the cast gets to collapsing this strange valley, “Pistol” surfaces the deadliest rock biopic sin: making every band the same. It turns out that even the Sex Pistols, in all their nihilistic volatility, were just a few badass kids with big dreams, big hearts, and an uncanny knack for overcoming their differences by regularly delivering eloquent motivational speeches that real 21-year-olds predisposed to express. their confusion by noise is simply not capable of it. When the band hits the road, it’s a rowdy editing sequence. When it’s time to write a song, the music materializes from an energetic repartee. Why make this band, which didn’t talk or talk like anyone else, sound and talk like everyone else? Deep in the story, when Sex Pistols stand-in bassist and punk depravity mascot Sid Vicious – kindly played by Louis Partridge – mumbles something prophetic about dying at age 21, Rotten, as if he read the viewer’s mind, slaps: “Don’t say stupid cliches like this!”

The show’s most egregious scene takes place about halfway through the series with the band bursting into “Pretty Vacant” at the 100 Club in London on October 8, 1976, when, slowly, the song begins to fade. blur. The crowd continues to roar, but now everything is in slow motion, which makes the play more playful and less dangerous. Assorted fluids – bodily and drinks – trace sharp arcs in the air, like debris floating in the weightless cold of space. Eventually, the diagetic noise from the stage is replaced with soundtrack filler – a shimmering, rock vibe that glows with an aura of depth. We’re supposed to feel this is the Sex Pistols at their peak, and to signal the importance of this hallowed moment, the music this whole series is based on needs to be replaced with something akin to Coldplay.

Yet as I sit here and type how much I don’t like the big dumb Sex Pistols TV show, a voice from another corner of my brain shouts at me, “Don’t write cliches stupid like that!” The curse of the Sex Pistols is that they have helped turn skepticism itself into a cliché – or even worse, a reflex, which is now turning this entire world into an increasingly meaningless place. Now we all live in a digital inversion of punk where trolling against the tide frequently presents itself as a virtuous challenge. Being annoyed by a cuddly, fictional Sex Pistols feels more unnecessary than it should.

Gun (six episodes) is streaming now on FX on Hulu.

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