Anchor Bay // 2008 // 242 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // June 9th, 2009
Rock stars by night. Kids band by day.
Billed as the unholy rock god love child of Curb Your Enthusiasm and This is Spinal Tap, the IFC original series Z Rock has some massively huge, leather-spiked comedic shoes to fill. Despite some roughness around the edges, Z Rock parties hard and delivers more laughs than groans.
For hard rock band Z02 (Paulie Z, David Z, Joey C) life is all about compromise. Despite headlining a successful tour with KISS and playing regular shows in Brooklyn, the band can't quite make the big time and crack the mainstream. To make ends meet, the band has taken to playing shows for wealthy suburbanites and their children as the Z Brothers, an acoustic guitar-toting kid's band. Playing bar mitzvahs and birthday parties for spoiled kids may not be glamorous, but it pays the rent.
Z Rock contains all ten episodes from the first season spread across two DVDs.
The first thing to realize about Z Rock is that it is real. Well; at least what qualifies for "real" these days on television. The show blurs the line between comedy and documentary right out of the gate and makes it difficult to figure out the real from the fictitious, but here are the facts: Z02 is a real Brooklyn-based band, with CDs and shows and tours, featuring the same three members. They even opened for KISS and Poison on a nationwide tour. Yes, they did moonlight (daylighted?) as the Z Brothers, hired by well-to-do suburbanites to provide entertainment at birthday parties for toddlers to pay the bills. Landing a television show on IFC about themselves, or at least a slightly exaggerated, fictionalized version of themselves, Z Rock depicts a band struggling to make ends meet and break as a band and performing kid shows during the day to pay rent, using their real-life experiences as inspiration for the plot lines. What parts are real and what parts are fictitious is unverifiable, but it's unlikely any unknown band runs into as many celebrities, gets into as many compromising situations, or ever gets as much tail. To quote author Will Kester, "It's all true, only the facts have been changed."
Issues of pedigree and authenticity aside, nothing about the packaging or the presentation suggests even an iota that Z Rock is anything but a weird knockoff of the Disney Channel's JONAS. This would be a horrendous mistake for any parent to take this show home to their kids. Z Rock is filthy, foul, and full of naked groupies, which is something I am told the Jonas Brothers have yet to experience. The profanity laden, half-scripted and half-acted comedy sets up awkward situations constantly vexing the band's attempts at success in increasingly disastrous fashion, the formula falling somewhere in between HBO's Flight of the Conchords and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Z Rock isn't as good as either of those shows, but faithful mimicry produces more hits than misses.
Z Rock has a refreshingly straightforward, unpretentious delivery, and a hunger to impress and entertain its audiences, but the humor is hit-or-miss; jokes about public hair and sex and homophobia lack sophistication and subtlety, and the situational comedy stretches itself a bit thin at times. In other episodes, the show demonstrates an almost uncanny ability to craft sitcom catastrophes of Machiavellian complexity and fiendishness, horrible social maladies that match any bad day of Larry David. The three band mates are not the best comedic actors, but their timing and performances noticeably improve as the series progresses. By the end, they have it down to a near-perfect science. The three are quite lovable in their machismo, leather-clad Brooklyn attitude sort of way, handsome and dumb and endearing all at the same time.
A constant influx of cameos and guest star appearances fuel the engine of Z Rock in these initial ten episodes. All manner of rockers and obscure celebrities turn out (all playing themselves) including Gilbert Gottfried, Daryl Hall, wrestler Chris Jericho, Carmine Appice, Joan Rivers, John Popper, Dave Navarro, Dee Snider, and Sebastian Bach, and a dozen other more obscure personalities. The best performances are those who parody themselves as stylized, hyperactive versions of their own celebrity -- notable mention goes to Dave Navarro and Joan Rivers for this category. Heck, I can't remember the last time Joan Rivers made me laugh, period, but she's fantastic here.
Z Rock looks pretty nice on DVD, save for being a bit washed-out in color tone. Colors are natural, but muted; blacks look crisp and deep, but grays get muddled in the peculiar color tone, as if everything has too much gray. Most impressive, the image is crystal clear and free from defect. The fidelity is great for a cable show, with a splendid level of detail of hair and skin tone -- definitely has the look of being shot on high definition camera. The audio comes in Dolby Surround 5.1; shot on set, the dialogue is clean but suffers fidelity issues depending on the location. Rear channels are entirely superfluous and underutilized and only kick in during the musical numbers (which rock). A stereo track would have done the job well enough here.
Extras are a hodge-podge of insubstantial but enjoyable features, mostly consisting of behind-the-scenes footage split unnecessarily into multiple featurettes -- "Behind the Mayhem," "Advice from Joan Rivers," "Brooklyn Meets Hollywood," and "Montage." We also get a music video and a trailer to round off the extras. All told, it's barely 20 minutes of footage.
Z Rock is funny, but it treads water in dangerous shark-infested seas, circled ominously by more successful shows ready at a moment's notice to pull it under and devour it. At times, Z Rock is very reminiscent of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but the situational comedy feels amateurish in comparison. The musical comparisons to Flight of the Conchords are obvious, but Z Rock lacks the subtle deadpan brilliance to compete on the same level. Even Entourage gets homage, showing the band's frantic manager trying to pick up the pieces of her self-destructive clients before they destroy their professional careers -- but these shows are playing on another level entirely. It's like comparing slo-pitch to the Yankees.
A second season is set to air in June on IFC, but if these Brooklyn rockers want to make it as television stars? They best bring something unique in future installments.
Loud, lovable, crude, and spontaneous, Z Rock is an unexpected surprise, mostly because I fully expected it to be awful. A comedy full of awkwardness, sexual innuendo, and endless celebrity cameos, the humor is crude, definitely a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but I'm all for giving the show a chance to reach for rock-and-roll glory.
It may not quite be ready to go into battle against more successful cable networks and their prodigy, but IFC's Z Rock is on its way.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 242 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Music Video
* IFC Site
* ZO2 Site