SUN RECORDS takes the last breath of its below average season with “Finishing School.” The concept promised a lot; the rise of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins with the shady shenanigans of Col. Parker and other 50’s era life sucking record men. The on-screen talent cannot be blamed, the talent shined scene by scene. Sun Records is mainly a victim of pace which seems indicative of terrible decisions in the story, or possibly, production department.
Here’s what we learned from the finale; Carl Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes.” That’s something, but a finale should offer a little more discovery than a ten-second wiki search. The Perkins character is in two or three scenes in which he was mainly ignored by Sam Philips or merely appeared in the background. Sun Records has been holding back all season. It’s as if they’re positive they’re going to land a second.
“Finishing School” hinges on one question; will Sam Philips sell Elvis’ contract or not (cue Wiki search)? I know it’s television, it must be packed with dilemma and conflict. Consider Sam’s opposition. He has bills; the lights, the mortgage, the electric, the actual records and labels. Bills have been the main baddie in Sam’s life since episode three. There was also his own self-destructive nature which lulled us through three or four incredibly unsatisfying shows. The real baddie is Col. Parker; hype man, con man, and terrible gambler.
The bills get their own scene or two. For real, they show Becky storm into the studio holding an envelope in her hand, “The mortgage check bounced!” I love writers and I would never bag on one so shame on you for putting me in this position. As if that wasn’t enough, some soulless clock puncher doubled down on this terrible decision and had Sam blame the bounced check on Marion, “The mortgage check bounced… Marion!” A pox on your keyboards. You’ve got Marion (incredible Margaret Anna Florence) and Sam (incredible Chad Michael Murray) at your studio for an afternoon with a talented crew and this is the scene flying across their plate? Shame, shame. You (writers) owe them better and if by some longshot, they’re horrible people, you owe the audience better. Really, this isn’t okay. Literally thousands of people would trade places with you and undoubtably do better. This is what you produce while winding up a WGA Strike vote? Lucky for Sun Records every other show on TV has more respect for its position in the golden age.
Col. Parker, the legit opposing force, meets with Elvis’ parents and convinces goof Vernon to sign a contract to let him shop Elvis to bigger labels. We see Parker sitting on a sofa with the Presleys, later Parker sits on a sofa with Sam, a brief scene where Parker visits an RCA exec (who is sitting at his desk), a scene with anxious Parker sitting in a chair with his prostitute friend, and finally a scene where Parker moves to the bed and tips over with his prostitute friend. Parker vs the bounced check envelope – who’s gonna kill Sun Records first?
Okay, so there was a scene with Becky nagging about the bounced check and another with her nagging about selling Elvis for mortgage and honeymoon money. I guess this is something else we learned in the finale, Sun Records hates Jennifer Holland. “In your first scene of the season finale you’re upset about the mortgage. In the other scene you have in the season finale, you’re upset about the mortgage… go.”
Jerry Lee has a few scenes to remind us how great he might be in different hands. First, two angry men drag Jerry Lee from his house in the middle of the night to marry their sister, Jane (sits in the car) who he got pregnant. After they drop him off, Jerry Lee’s mother fires at them with her vintage Spanish-war era twelve gauge. She wings the driver, he swerves and hits a tree. Driver’s face smashes against the wheel leaving an avulsed eye. Didn’t actually happen. Instead, Swaggart flies in to remind Jerry, and the audience, that he’s still married to Peggy. He’s bad when it comes to women, but gifted on the keys. That’s eight episodes worth of Jerry Lee. By the way, I’m dying to see what, if anything, was left on the cutting room floor.
Johnny Cash also gets a few scenes. First, he’s driving through town and pulls over to see Elvis perform live. It’s the beach landing sequence of the finale. Trixie steams as all the mindless young fans scream for Elvis. Johnny Cash notes Elvis’ footwork and it seeds an idea. Later, we see Cash approach a band and then we see them singing on stage.
I won’t ruin this thrill ride by spoiling the ending; does Sam beat the bills, Parker, or both? I can’t fathom why this shell game production would get a second season, but if it does, it needs to pick up the pace, develop respect for the talent and audience, and offer some more interesting stakes. Find the index card marked “mortgage” and light in on fire.
Season 1, Episode 8 (S01E08)
Sun Records airs Thursdays at 10PM on CMT
Eric lives in a world where the television is great, the smiles are warm, the pizza is hot, the puppies are playful, and the zombies are slow and meander while he reloads.
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Eric Rodriguez | Contributor