Danny Boyle's Sex Pistols Show Is All Filler, No Killer

The Sex Pistols were a foundational punk band. But what’s more interesting than the band is the people that surround them.

Pistol—the new, Danny Boyle-directed miniseries on FX—spends a lot of time trying to convince you that if only for a brief moment, the Sex Pistols were the most important band in the world. But in the show as in reality, what’s more interesting than the band is the people that surround them.

The most frustrating thing about Pistol is that it’s the most exciting a Danny Boyle project has looked since Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. Based on Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones’ autobiography—perhaps one of the dozen or so most convincing books about the band’s brief existence—the show portrays London as a seedy place, but one where freaks and weirdos can thrive. The lights of the city have a hazy sheen, and even in broad daylight it feels like the sun is barely out. The set design, especially of the Sex Pistols’ rehearsal space and Vivienne Westwood’s clothing store Sex, feel lived in and also loved as spaces where friends get together and make art and despair about the state of the world. (The various excellent movies about the Pistols and the extensive documentation of the scene they and others did presumably provided excellent reference material, even as their existence raises doubts about the need for Pistol.)

Even more interesting is Boyle’s occasional use of magical realism and visual metaphor. Jones, here the main character, sneaks into the Odeum in the opening scene to steal a bunch of David Bowie’s gear, but takes a moment first to step up to the mic and pretend it’s him on stage. For a moment, the disco ball in the theater turns on, Jones’s imagination taking shape in the real world. I kept watching Pistol hoping for these kinds of flourishes, but unfortunately they are few and far between.

For better or worse, Pistol is a show about the Sex Pistols, the foundational UK punk band who started as a art project cum boy band and then became unlikely superstars before flaming out shortly after the release of their first album. They are surrounded by vibrant characters—the aforementioned Westwood is central to the plot, as is Malcolm McLaren, played by Game of Thrones’ Thomas Brodie-Sangster as a kind of evil gay circus ringmaster. Pamela Rooke, played by Game of Thrones’s Maisie Williams with a perpetual smirk, makes a huge impression in the second episode in a prolonged sequence in which she calmly rides to work in a transparent dress, her breasts fully on display. She causes such a scandal she manages to scam her way to first class. Chrissie Hynde—who would go on to form the Pretenders—is also a central character, working at Sex and turning down Jones’s advances. But the antics and lives of these young artists, the people who would go on to pioneer punk fashion and create a punk scene, all have to fall by the wayside so that the mythology of the Sex Pistols can take center stage.

It’s not difficult to guess why Boyle and the show creator Craig Pearce are telling a story about the Sex Pistols right now. McLaren keeps talking about how he needs cultural shock troops to start a revolution as Jones talks about how the country is falling apart while everyone tries to pretend everything is normal. It could not be more on the nose in its analogue to our current culture. 

The problem is that watching Jones and crew—Johnny Rotten, played by Ansem Boon, doesn’t show up until the second episode—go from party to party, couch to couch, and basement to basement just isn’t all that interesting. The Sex Pistols made an enormous impact on the world, but that was a matter of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, surrounded and in some cases manipulated by the right people, many of whom formed better and more interesting bands of their own. It’s understandable why Danny Boyle would make a show about this iconic act rather than Essential Logic, but the way in which Pistol might be truest to things is in how it reveals that there truly wasn’t anything particularly special about the Sex Pistols. Like so many people at the time and who I knew throughout my twenties, these young, ambitious artists spend a lot of time drinking and dreaming of making their visions a reality. In their malaise and misery, a new art form is born. When the Sex Pistols finally get together by the end of the second episode and play a show, though, it doesn’t feel spectacular but mundane. Anyone can pick up a guitar and start a revolution. The Sex Pistol were inspired by people who’d done it. Since they flamed out, it’s happened dozens of times.

Tagged:

pistol, World News, Sex pistols, F(X)

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