‘Sun Records’ needs to pick up the pace to really rock
Are you ready for the devil’s music?
CMT’s new scripted drama “Sun Records,” based on the musical “Million Dollar Quartet,” re-creates the rise of the fabled recording outfit and the stars who got their breaks there, including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Ike Turner and more.
It features some outstanding performers as the young lions before they were icons. The look and sound seem genuine, but the storytelling is repetitive.
In 1950, Sam Phillips (Chad Michael Murray, “One Tree Hill”) is looking for a new start and moves his family from Nashville to open the Memphis Recording Service — $3.98 for studio time and one complimentary pressed disc — but he really is scouring for a new sound to promote.
“Good music is going to find good people,” he says.
His multiple vices — alcohol, pills and women — set up roadblocks to success.
The notorious Col. Tom Parker (Billy Gardell, “Mike & Molly”) works an Alabama state fair in a booth with dancing ducks. (Oh, it’s just as horrible as you can imagine.)
The colonel talks about himself in the third person but is a ruthless promoter and savvy merchandiser.
And with every bite, the colonel takes two for himself.
In one stunt for Eddy Arnold (Trevor Donovan, “90210”), he pays several radio stations to play Arnold’s latest single at precisely 2:10 p.m. In the middle of tense record negotiations in an afternoon meeting, he turns on the radio and flips the dial to make a point to the label.
High school student Elvis (Drake Milligan) has a doting mother, an abusive father and is a scandal to the community because he would rather attend services at the black churches, for the music.
“The way they sing it, it makes you shudder and shake, right down to your toes,” he later tells his girlfriend.
“Sun Records” drives home how much of the new sound was born in the black community.
John Cash (Kevin Fonteyne, “Melissa & Joey”) — the Johnny will come later — is a serious young man who disappoints his family by leaving the farm for the military.
Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis (Christian Lees) and Jimmy Swaggart (Christian’s twin, Jonah Lees) egg each other in juvenile stunts as Jerry Lee starts to teach himself how to play the piano.
The young actors are cannily cast and do not go for caricatures. Wisely, they suggest; viewers will do the rest of the work in connecting them to the men who became world-famous.
Still, the story dawdles. Almost every Elvis scene in the first three episodes hits the same point, just told in different settings. Given the show’s pace, we would seem to be several seasons away from the legendary “Million Dollar Quartet” recording session with Elvis, Cash, Lewis and Carl Perkins.
When it comes to “Sun Records,” the hook is there, but it can’t sustain the beat.