There are comedy episodes like The Pimple — which strain to milk comedy out of narrow topic — and then episodes like Rock ‘n’ Roll, which take advantage of having such a broad topic to focus on. The writers are firing on all cylinders during Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is aptly named because it takes a stab at all of the defining elements of rock ‘n’ roll music and ends up not only a funny, riveting 22 minutes of television but a compelling portrait of everything that makes rock music important and great.
There isn’t much to the plot: Kevin earns the favor of a new student transferred from San Francisco who offers to teach him a few chords, and before long the two have started a band. The band gets a gig even though it isn’t quite ready for a show. Kevin quits out of fear of embarrassment, but rejoins the band at the last minute. Just as the show is about to start, they get shut down by the neighbors who complain to the cops.
But within that basic structure of a plot, the writers explore a huge variety of topics for comedy — awful band names, groupies, silly outfits, the awfulness of most local bands — and insight into the components that make rock and roll tick — rebellion, fun, getting lost in the music, desire for easy fame and fortune, resistance from the previous generation.
I could go back through the episode and find my favorite moments, but there were so many that it’d actually be a difficult task. (Though I have to say that Paul’s reaction to the name “Electric Shoes” was particularly memorable.) The episode was pretty well paced from beginning to end, with strong writing all around.
I really enjoyed Joshua John Miller as lisping rocker Larry Beaman; he gave off the vibe of someone who wouldn’t be cool for long, but as the new kid with the Frisco zeitgeist managed to come across as cooler than he actually was. It worked well for the episode, giving him a lot of personality in just one episode. I hope we get to see more of him later in the series.
And anything that references The Beatles’ performance of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on Ed Sullivan is going to earn some points in my book. I’m glad the writers took the time to call out some of the most important rockers — The Beatles, Hendrix, the Stones, Clapton, The Who, and more — along the way. This show makes such unique use of a classic pop and rock soundtrack that this episode was fertile ground for a memorable music episode. And it delivered, particularly in the choice of My Generation as the Kevin bought his guitar.
I’m a sucker for rock and roll music (then again, aren’t most people?) so this episode was a particular joy for me. It’s not a masterpiece of storytelling or character, but it’s a pleasure from front to back and goes on my short list of favorite episodes.