Judge Adam Arseneau has a Misfits tattoo on his arm just like Henry. Wasn't Jem a great show?
Wanted: for free expression.
Everyone's favorite punk rock singer slash spoken word performer, Henry Rollins, now has his own television show on the Independent Film Channel. The Henry Rollins Show is uncensored ramblings from the mind of Hank interwoven with interviews and musical performances from a diverse cross-section of mainstream and counter-culture crazies.
Facts of the Case
The Henry Rollins Show: Season One contains all 20 episodes of the first season:
An exercise in ego, The Henry Rollins Show is Henry Rollins's show. That may seem like a redundant statement, but it isn't. Consider any talk show on television today, and think about how much creative input the talk show host gets. With talk shows, guests are booked by agents and a myriad of industry talking heads behind the scenes, not by the actual host. The host is just the device that facilitates the guests to promote whatever thing they are promoting—a new album, book, or movie, etc. He or she smiles and laughs and nods at all the right times, and then repeats.
In stark contrast, The Henry Rollins Show is Henry's @#$% show, and he books the musical acts he himself likes and wants to see and interviews the people he himself admires and wants to talk to. The result is a diverse cross-section of alternative musical talent, film directors, and television personalities hand-selected by Henry Rollins that speak more to his personal tastes than to any sort of demographic consideration or star power. Rollins has no interest in interviewing who got kicked off last week's Survivor, or the latest Hollywood actress to get caught drunk with her top off—he'd much rather swap rock-and-roll stories with Ozzy Osborne and Perry Farrell, or talk politics with Oliver Stone and Bill Maher. And he does exactly that.
Each episode begins with an opening Rollins monologue, raging against whichever particular subject gets his proverbial goat that week. Next comes the interview with the guest of the week, followed by some varying filler—sometimes more Henry rants, some bad animation set to an old Henry Rollins monologue recorded at a spoken-word gig, or a faux-apologetic Rollins apologizing for his erroneous take on a particular issue, heavily laden with barely suppressed sarcasm. Next, the musical act performs a song, then Rollins spends a few moments at the end wrapping up the show. Wash and repeat another 19 times, and that's The Henry Rollins Show: Season One.
For a show that bills itself as something counter-culture and edgy, The Henry Rollins Show is surprisingly uninspired, almost embarrassingly so. Frankly, watching the show from start to finish is an act of contrition for Henry Rollins fans. Staggeringly dull, Henry moves from empty set to empty set, delivering stiff monologues directly into the camera, "ranting" about the topic du jour—usually giving the Bush administration a hard time. His candor is refreshing as always, but the performances are so artificial, so contrived, so lacking in the intensity of a Henry Rollins spoken-word performance that they end up just boring the hell out of you.
Where The Henry Rollins Show succeeds (really the only element of the show that does) is during the interview segments. Although the interviews are not particularly "edgy" or daring in any way, they are solidly well-rounded and intimate; just Henry and his interviewee, facing each other, perched on big overstuffed armchairs. The interviewees are (we are told) hand-selected by Rollins to reflect his eclectic tastes, and considering the cross-section of people who show up on his show, this is the only explanation. What other show books Werner Herzog for an interview, then Chuck D? Or books Johnny Knoxville, then Paul Thomas Anderson? A diverse cross-section of musical talent and Hollywood actors and directors, the guest list is quite fantastic to behold.
Henry interviews his subjects in "boy scout" mode, clearly on his best behavior, asking well-thought out and intelligent questions far beyond the mindless drone of the average talk show host. You can tell by the look on his face that these are artists and professionals that Henry Rollins himself admires immensely, and he clearly has put a lot of thought into the questions he wants to ask. The interviews have a decisively non-talk show feel to them but, on the downside, lack spontaneity. Henry doesn't seem to really engage any of his guests, only reciting a pre-written sequence of questions to ask. I wanted him to get into their faces and really approach his subjects with the excitement and intensity one expects from Henry Rollins. Instead, he leans back in his chair, strokes his chin thoughtfully, and asks very thoughtful, well-researched, NPR radio-type questions. You can almost see Hank in his purple smoking jacket, gently swirling a crystal snifter full of fine ! brandy, muttering things like "yes, quite."
The musical acts reflect Henry's diverse tastes in musical talent, from Ani DiFranco to the New York Dolls, Sleater-Kinney to Jurassic 5 with some Slayer tossed in for good measure. It's like an alternative wet dream come true. Considering my musical tastes lay smack dab in the center of this spectrum, The Henry Rollins Show scores top marks in this particular area. But hold on a second. On the IFC website, viewers can watch archived episodes of The Henry Rollins Show online, including unaired musical performances by the weekly performer. Each act recorded at least two songs for the show, but only one would ultimately make it to air. The leftover unaired performances were often as good (if not better) and a valuable treasure trove for fans of the particular artist. These extra performances are absolutely nowhere to be found on The Henry Rollins Show: Season One. Getting one lousy song per musical guest only leaves the stomach half-full of substance, espe! cially when knowing that more material exists for consumption. The inexplicable exclusion of this material is maddening.
>From a technical standpoint, The Henry Rollins Show is fairly mediocre. Shot on low-definition video, the picture is average all around—moderate black levels, unimpressive sharpness, and fairly balanced colors. Presented in full screen, the picture has noticeable grain and edge enhancement, taken straight from the television feeds (as evident by the IFC pop-ups still present on the transfer). Audio is a simple 2.0 stereo presentation, with clear dialogue but little frills or fanfare. Music performances are recorded decently, with professional mixing and recording quality, nice bass response, and decent clarity, but nothing that touches the quality of a proper concert DVD.
The DVD navigation is half-fantastic, half idiotic, with a no fuss, no muss menu system. Put the disc in, and you get a list of episodes with a "play all" feature. No annoying animation, no menus to navigate, just everything you need on one screen. I wish all DVDs were this straightforward in their navigation schemes. Alas, then The Henry Rollins Show: Season One blows itself out of the water with a mind-numbingly stupid absence of chapter stops. This means you can't skip segments in any given episode—hitting the next track button simply takes you to the next episode. Fancy seeing that interview with Kevin Smith? Too bad, you have to watch Henry's monologue first. Want to show your friend that great Death Cab for Cutie set? Not so fast, my friend, because you're stuck fast-forwarding through 20 minutes of interviews first. Whatever idiot came up with this should be taken outside and flogged with a sack of Valencia oranges.
Aggravatingly, this DVD set has no supplemental features of any kind—no extras, no behind-the-scenes looks, no deleted interview material, and, most importantly, no additional musical performances.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I think what the show desperately needs beyond all hope is a live audience. Henry Rollins is an amazing performer; his stand-up performances are magnetic, energizing wormholes of intensity that suck viewers in, churn them around for three hours like a wash cycle,and dump them back out, dazed and confused. The man is a natural performer, commanding the attention of all around him—except that in The Henry Rollins Show, nobody is around him. He gives his monologues stiffly into a camera, interviews his subjects calmly from a sofa, and talks to nobody in particular. You can actually see his eyes reading the cue cards as he talks. There is no energy, no spontaneity; there is none of the magic that fills his live spoken-word engagements with legions of fans hanging on his every hilarious word. This is Hank filtered to the point of mediocrity, all the intensity and magnetism stripped away from him. It's kind of sad to watch, actually.
Give the man a crowd, toss the cue cards, and let Hank run wild, guys. Let him do the thing that made you want to give him a television show in the first place. As it stands, The Henry Rollins Show is embarrassingly mediocre to watch.
A great idea with a failed execution, there is nothing particularly bad about The Henry Rollins Show, but it barely scratches the potential of the television phenom it could be. It has zero of the intensity, the energy, the furious rage that made Henry Rollins a legendary performer, both on stage and on the microphone, and it should. It should have this in spades. Hell, Too Late with Adam Carolla was edgier, and that show was as dull as a block of wood.
That being said, The Henry Rollins Show is far more interesting and engaging than the average mindless talk show, if only by default. With its diverse cross-section of talent and uncensored conversation, The Henry Rollins Show: Season One easily gets a solid buy recommendation for hardcore fans of Hank and for those on the wavelength of Hank's particular musical and interview preferences. Heck, even if you fancy seeing an interview with one or two of the featured guests or musical acts, the low MSRP practically justifies the purchase.
I'm tempted to throw the book at this one, but my excessive love for Henry Rollins outweighs the overall mediocrity of his television show. Not guilty.
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