'Roadies' is Cameron Crowe's love letter to a rock band's quirky crew

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Colson Baker as Wes in "Roadies." Katie Yu/Showtime/TNS

THE LAST SHOWS I expected to be comparing to Showtime's new Cameron Crowe series Roadies are The West Wing and The Newsroom.

What could the road crew of a touring rock band have in common with White House aides and TV news producers?

In real life, probably not much, beyond crazy hours, famous bosses, and ever-shifting crises.

But there's something distinctly Aaron Sorkin-esque in the love affair Crowe is having with characters who professionally are at their best when the public forgets they're even there.

And though the disappointments of Crowe's recent film career - Aloha, We Bought a Zoo - may have made this seem like the right moment for a move to television, a show from the writer/director of Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire is still something of an event.

I'm just not sure yet whether Crowe alone is enough.

At its best, Roadies is an entertaining ride through a world we're not meant to see, and its characters' belief in the importance of what they're doing can be contagious. I found myself wanting to believe, too, even if that meant ignoring the occasional flashing red sign pointing me in the direction of Sorkin's disappointing Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Like Sorkin, Crowe may sometimes love his characters too much for their own good.

Luke Wilson stars as Bill Hanson and Carla Gugino as Shelli Anderson, tour manager and production manager, respectively, for the Staton-House Band - and a couple who aren't a couple even though it's supposedly obvious to everyone around them that they should be.

Sunday's premiere, "Life Is a Carnival," was written and directed by Crowe, and finds Bill in bed with a woman (Cissy Ly) young enough to be his daughter and Shelli, whose husband is away touring with Taylor Swift, trying to replace the latest fleeing nanny for the lead singer's out-of-control son.

Back on one of the tour's buses, driver Gooch (Luis Guzman) is listening to Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" and regaling the tour's young electrician, Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots), with tales of past glories.

Kelly Ann, a wistful wild child who gets around backstage by skateboard, claims to be leaving the tour - she is, or so she insists, headed to film school - and her impending departure serves to illustrate how devoted roadies can become to the music of the acts they help stage.

Other cast members include Keisha Castle-Hughes (Game of Thrones, Whale Rider), Rafe Spall (The Big Short), Colson Baker (a.k.a. rapper Machine Gun Kelly), Peter Cambor (NCIS: Los Angeles), Finesse Mitchell (Saturday Night Live), and comedian Ron White, each playing a character whose quirks may prove easier to remember than their names.

Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life) and J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) join Crowe as executive producers. Holzman wrote next week's episode, the most grounded of the three I've seen, in which Bill tries to cope with some new responsibilities, and we get to see a little more of his complicated relationship to the band around which Roadies' many small dramas swirl.

Based on the third episode, which Crowe also wrote, I'm not sure that grounded is what he has in mind. It features Rainn Wilson (The Office) as a supercilious music blogger whose vicious slam of the Staton-House Band doesn't go down well with the crew.

An assault from the internet? That's a fight Sorkin wouldn't back down from, either.

graye@phillynews.com

215-854-5950 @elgray