Review: A HISTORY OF RADNESS, How Rock And Roll Can Save Your Life

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
Review: A HISTORY OF RADNESS, How Rock And Roll Can Save Your Life

Henry Rollins appears as a cross-country coach in A History of Radness, which stamps the show with a mark of musical authenticity, even though he doesn't play a lick of music.

Rollins has been acting for more than 20 years, but he made his first mark in the entertainment business as the singer for punk band Black Flag starting in 1980, a roaring cauldron of youth, anger, fire, and energy. A History of Radness revolves around a band that is far too mild to bear comparison with Black Flag, but for all its quiet-spoken calm, it's still a show that is all about being authentic to one's own feelings. (And for Smashing Pumpkins fans, it features a musical score by James Iha.)

Twin siblings Tessie (Marlhy Murphy) and Jack (Isaak Presley) grew up in Seattle and were influenced by the music scene there to form their own band. When a grandparent dies, the family inherits a miniature golf course and moves to the genteel community of Pleasant Meadows, which aptly describes the town and its inhabitants.

Tessie, a drummer, and Jack, a guitarist, want to rock out, but their fellow middle school classmates are far too focused on the future to want to waste any time with expresing themselves musically. They hold auditions anyway, and eventually stumble upon Portia (Cecilia Balagot), a classic over-achieving over-talker, and Judd (Dalton Cyr), a dreamy-looking boy who is supposedly the most frightening kid in school -- but boy, can he sing!

A History of Radness sets up, potentially, a traditional show for kids. It's available to watch via Amazon's Pilot Season program, where a bunch of shows debut their pilot online -- it's free to watch in the U.S., U.K., and Germany -- and then Amazon decides which show to greenlight for a full season based in part on viewer response (i.e., you can vote for your favorites).

While I've been happy to invest the time to watch the pilots aimed at adult viewers, I've skipped the shows aimed at kids, since I am far too old and childless to have much interest in them. (Bear in Underwear, anyone?) But based on a tip from a reader, I watched A History of Radness, and it strikes me as a genuinely witty show. The humor is very dry and understated, and it even manages to achieve poignance -- I loved the shot of a forlorn cello player walking away into the background while in the foreground, the main players discuss why she's not right for the band.

Andrew Greeen wrote the pilot episode and Alethea Jones directed. It's a good combination of gentle yet sharply-observed humor, performed by young actors with a degree of subtlety, and staged and shot with great timing and insight into making the material shine. A History of Radness may not bowl you over but it definitely made me want to see more.

A History of Radness

  • Alethea Jones
  • Andrew Green
  • Marlhy Murphy
  • Isaak Presley
  • Cecilia Balagot
  • Dalton Cyr
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Alethea JonesAmazonAndrew GreenHenry RollinsJames IhamusicMarlhy MurphyIsaak PresleyCecilia BalagotDalton CyrFamily

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