While he may have started his career as the front man for Black Flag a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away Henry Rollins has, in the last couple of years at least, turned himself into a bit of a counter culture media mogul. He shows up in movies, he writes books, he does spoken word and stand up, and he still periodically dabbles in music - to top it all off, now the guy's got his own talk show. He's come a long way since the Get In The Van days of the early eighties. Some might say he's sold out, others might say he's simply gotten older but even if that is the case, he's still pretty pissed off about a whole lot of different things and he still has no problem talking about it.
The Henry Rollins Show, which appears on IFC (meaning he can use words and deal with subjects that a lot of the network channels would frown upon), basically gives Rollins a chance to do three things - rant about things, interview interesting people or people he just likes, and give some exposure to musical acts that he feels deserve the attention. These three qualities make up the formula that the show is based on. Each episode starts with Rollins ranting about one particular topic or another, cue the opening credits, then get into the interview. Once the interview is done, we get another rant or comedy bit, followed by the musical act before the end credits roll. It's a simple formula, but for the most part it is a pretty effective one even if it varies very little from the standard talk show norm.
What sets The Henry Rollins Show apart isn't the format. IFC might want you to believe that based on the opening credits that focus on the counter culture appeal that Rollins obviously brings to the table but make no mistake about it, the format is nothing new at all. What makes the show work is Rollins' insight, his sense of humor, and the fact that the guy has got some pretty serious balls on him and isn't afraid to set his sights on whatever makes him angry. There are no sacred cows. Be it the Bush Administration (an understandably popular target with Rollins and more than a few of his guests) or Anne Coulter (one of the funniest bits out of the entire season), it's obvious where his politics lie and he's no fan of the current political climate but at least he brings a sense of intelligence to the show, back by a very good sense of humor, and thinks his diatribes out before delivering them.
As fun as Rollins can be (It sounds weird describing him as fun if you're at all familiar with his musical career but he is!), he's smart enough to know that a good talk show requires good guests and he's surrounded himself with some fantastic talent in this department. Oliver Stone shows up to discuss the idea of historical fiction, Chuck D. talks politics, Herzog tells us how he was shot during a BBC interview, and Ozzy rambles incoherently about God only knows what. The only problem with the interviews is that they're just too short. Rollins asks some good questions and he or his writers (or both) have obviously don't some research into the people that he's talking to but some of these segments feel way too brief. Take the Herzog segment for example. When he talks about being shot he brushes it off as if it were no big deal and mentions having had far scarier guns pointed at him then the low caliber rife he was shot with. Rollins doesn't follow this up, instead he moves on to the next question. Had he had the time, it would have made sense to pursue this thread and get Werner to open up a bout it but it doesn't happen, probably because the half hour format prevents it. Length issues and brevity aside, however, Rollins does a good job asking interesting and intelligent questions and the interviews are almost always the highlight of each episode.
As far as the musical guests go, well, so much of this is subjective that it's really hard to say if it's good or bad it'll just completely depend on what you're into but if nothing else, there's an eclectic roster of musical talent assembled for this first season. Some acts go over better than others, however. Black Rebel Motorcyle Club comes off as a little too rehearsed but Frank Black's acoustic performance works exceptionally well. Each of the musical acts is introduced by a pretty blonde named Heidi who really doesn't do much except look cute and smile a lot, but at least she does that well.
The complete guest list for the first season of The Henry Rollins Show is as follows:
Episode 1: Oliver Stone and Sleater-Kinney
Episode 2: Chuck D and Jurassic 5
Episode 3: Werner Herzog and Frank Black
Episode 4: Ozzy Osbourne and Ben Folds
Episode 5: Bill Maher and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Episode 6: Jeff Bridges and Ben Harper
Episode 7: P.T. Anderson and Aimee Mann
Episode 8: Eddie Izzard and Death Cab For Cutie
Episode 9: Penelope Spheeris and John Doe
Episode 10: Patton Oswalt and Damian Marley
Episode 11: Perry Farrell and Deadboy & The Elephantmen
Episode 12: Adam Corolla and Dashboard Confessional
Episode 13: Michael Chiklis and Dinosaur Jr.
Episode 14: Billy Bob Thornton and Daniel Johnston
Episode 15: Peaches and Ringside
Episode 16: John C. Reilly and Thom Yorke
Episode 17: Kevin Smith and The New York Dolls
Episode 18: Johnny Knoxville and Slayer
Episode 19: Stephen Gaghan and Ani DiFranco
Episode 20: Matt Dillon and Rollins Band
If the interviews were longer and a more substantial part of the program, The Henry Rollins Show could very be the best talk show on television. Even with the issues, there's still a great collection of oddball and interesting talent here and even if you're not a fan of the host, this still makes for quality TV viewing.
The episodes in this set are presented as they were broadcast in slightly (non-anamorphic) letterboxed transfers that preserve the show's original aspect ratio and keep the compositions intact. As far as the quality of the video goes, aside from a little bit of shimmer here and there, things look quite good. Color reproduction is surprisingly strong and the black levels are consistent throughout even if you might notice a tiny bit of compression if watching on a larger set.
Each and every one of the twenty episodes in this set is presented in an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track that, while not super duper impressive, handles the material quite well. There's not much in the way of channel separation but the material rarely calls for it. The musical numbers could have packed a bit more punch than they do but aside from that there's little to complain about. Dialogue, the most important part of the show, is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are all properly balanced.
Unfortunately, aside from menu screens and episode selection, this three disc set is completely barebones. IFC couldn't even be bothered to put chapter stops in the episodes. There's got to be some excised scenes or outtakes that could have been thrown on here. What about a commentary from Rollins or an interview with him? Sadly, none of that materialized - and that's really the only disappointment with this set.
Love him or hate him, Henry Rollins is a sharp guy with a lot to say who also happens to have great taste in music and culture. The show isn't perfect, sometimes it feels too choppy, but it is very good and it serves as one of those rare talk shows where less mainstream guests are able to appear and speak their mind. The DVD set presents the entire first season uncut and the episodes look and sound just fine. The lack of extras is a disappointment but even with that strike against it The Henry Rollins Show - Season One comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.