Review of Paradise City The Series
By: Jenna Sparks

In 2017, a film was released by the title American Satan. It was a fascinating concept curated by Ash Avildsen, founder of Sumerian Records, that brought tons of musical artists from his record label's roster, some amazing actors, some pro-wrestling icons, the occult, and smashed everything together to get a cult classic indie film.

The film stars Andy Biersack (frontman of band Black Veil Brides) as Johnny Faust, as well as Booboo Stewart (Twilight, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Disney's The Descendants) as guitarist, Vic Laktoa, Ben Bruce (lead guitarist and backing vocalist of band Asking Alexandria) as Leo Donovan, Jesse Sullivan portraying Lily Mayflower, and Sebastian Gregory (Australia's Neighbors) as the fictious band The Relentless. Before forming, it's Samwell Tarley himself, actor John Bradley playing manager Ricky Rollins, who brings everyone together in sunny Hollywood, CA as they venture forward to make something of themselves in the world of music. The films also stars iconic Malcom McDowell, Mark Boone Junior (Sons of Anarchy), Denise Richards (my personal favorite film of hers being Drop Dead Gorgeous), and Drake effing Bell (of Drake and Josh and…. other stuff).

As the story goes, the band makes a deal with the Devil (Malcom McDowell) in the backdrop of Sunset Strip staple The Rainbow Bar & Grill (if you want to hear the story about how my mom convinced the doorman to let 16-year-old me in just so I could meet my favorite band, just let me know). To finish off their deal, the band is asked to do one thing: burn Damien Collins (played by Drake Bell and fronts the fictional band Damien's Inferno in the film), who had previously been revealed to have raped Lily Mayflower. Everyone is pretty much up for it, so they burn him alive in a van. The event and their new contract with Satan behold them to a world with unfettered sin; sex, drugs, rock and roll and SO MANY JACKETS( if you see the film, or have seen it, you know what I'm talking about). There is so much that happens in the span of the runtime that I can't even try to summarize it, but it remains unimportant as this is not a review of the film, but of the spin-off.

Which I'll get to in a second.

First and foremost, think what you will of the film (I personally thought it was entertaining), but the real powerhouse of the film is the music. It's a movie ABOUT music, written and directed by the founder of a record label, starring actual musicians, and I don't think anyone would argue that it was one of the smartest plays for a record label to create something of that magnitude.

Ash Avildsen use to the amazing musicians on his roster and if you're into darker sounds, I cannot recommend this soundtrack enough. Not only the soundtrack that features plenty of music from artists signed to Sumerian Records (including beautiful covers), but there is an entire album by the fictional band The Relentless, featuring the songs they perform from the film, and then some (and more amazing covers like Pat Benatar's Hell is for Children). The music is just so damn good. But I want to point out an aspect of the movie that still leaves me scratching my head, though not entirely in argument or upset. If you know who Andy Biersack is, you know he is a very capable singer. His voice is unique and great. I even remember hearing for the first time back on Myspace when I was a kid circa 2005 or 2006 and couldn't fathom that voice belonged to that teenager! But the fictional band created for the film doesn't actually use Andy Biersack's vocals, just his everything-else. Instead, the film taps into one of Sumerian Record's best assets (and one of my favorites), Palaye Royale vocalist Remington Leith, whose voice is so different to Andy's, it can sometimes be jarring. But it works. It works so well for the soundtrack and I can't emphasize that enough.

So now we'll finally move forward, Paradise City.

Paradise City is the spin-off of American Satan, a film that didn't really need a follow-up, but got one. And in the form of an 8-episode first season with no studios behind it, and most of the main cast returning, no less.

If you're familiar, you'll know how exhaustive it was to even see this series. For over a year, the show had been releasing a slew of promotional goodies to amp up its audience and loyal fans of the bands featured and the label's flagship film. And…that was it. We were all treated to constant promises of news and release information, but not much came of it. The comment sections were filled with annoyed fans who swore they weren't even going to bother watching whenever it did come out just because they genuinely felt cheated with very few updates. It was quite vicious, but the whole season had been filmed and produced, and again, with no big backers behind it, shopping it around was understandably difficult, especially with such a niche market. To make matters even worse and far more tragic, while the show features a stellar cast and new characters, one recruit, actor Cameron Boyce (Disney's The Descendants) died in the summer of 2019, at age 20 after having a seizure in his sleep due to an ongoing medical condition.

But finally, by 2021, news hit that Amazon Prime had picked the series up and would start airing on March 25, 2021. And then after just a few days on the streaming giant, the show was pulled. It's a bit unclear the exact reason, but Ash Avildsen did clarify it was a minute copyright issue and they were working to get it back up and available to stream. Meanwhile, the series was still available to purchase (with the promise of a free signed poster with proof of purchase). Within days, though, the show had returned to Prime.

Now with all the heartache of tragic loss and the struggle of finding a home for the series, fans were able to eat the first season up.

With the context of American Satan previously presented, Paradise City picks up two years after the end of the film, where Johnny Faust is imprisoned after shooting a man on stage at the Relentless' last gig (spoiler alert: It was Satan he shot and it was all part of the devil's plan). But now Johnny is out, moping a LOT, having apparently thought it wise to buy a bedroom (it's the only room of his house we see that I recall so at this point, I cannot believe there is a whole house attached) in the Hollywood Hills, so many more jackets, and a sweet vintage car (the ideal candidate for Los Angeles). He and his girlfriend Gretchen (played by 2012 Miss USA, cellist, and influencer, Olivia Culpo) find themselves at a bit of a crossroads how to proceed in their lives (the man is pretty traumatized after all the ordeals he endured during the events of American Satan, after all), and ultimately, they decide to piece the band back together and start making music again.

As I said, the show features such a stellar cast that I was so thrilled to see in one place. For fans of Sons of Anarchy, you'll find yourselves giddy to see Mark Boone Junior (Bobby on SOA) reunite with Ryan Hurst (OPIE! And also, whose face you FINALLY get to see again if you watched his recurring role as Beta on The Walking Dead), and Drea de Matteo (Wendy) and her perfect hair. Additionally, Fairuza Balk takes over the role of pre-existing character from American Satan, and Bella Thorne replaces Jesse Sullivan as Lily Mayflower.

The first season winds around the lives of all these characters and more subliminally includes notions of the occult that were so heavily featured in the film. Instead, we're treated to Johnny picking up the pieces after…oh my god…so, in the movie, Johnny is just completely inebriated after a gig. On the tour bus, an 18-year-old girl and her mother board, the mother having sworn her daughter would (please know this is coming through grit teeth) lose her virginity to Johnny Faust. It happens, and for the first time (this is apparently a theme), Johnny is raped (though it is NEVER acknowledged as such). So, to jump BACK to Paradise City, the girl wound up pregnant and goes to Los Angeles to drop the baby, Faith, off with Johnny, because her mother (now played by Fairuza Balk) wants to treat the whole situation as a payday (because…she coerced a dude who was essentially black-out wasted to take her kid's virg—ugh, nevermind). Drama occurs, but rather than Faith winding up with Johnny (who doesn't want his girlfriend to know and just wants to sulk around his Hollywood Hills bedroom more) winds up in the protection of the band's label manager, Elias (Mark Boone Junior) and in such, it produces the cutest, most earnestly acted content ever.

On top of Johnny's crises, we follow the other band members who are striving to adjust their infamy to just fame. Lily is also seen going further into debt, resorting to selling her goods (and her jackets) online, and dealing with a girlfriend who…pees on the foot of an agitated woman in the middle of a coffee shop.

Guitarist Leo is still dealing with the death of their previous manager Ricky (John Bradley) and dabbling in seances and snorting his ashes (in true Keith Richards style), and also unwilling to be open about his relationship with a trans woman (a subject that was treated with respect and absent of transphobia, and actually hiring trans actress Taylor Wade).

And look, I want to be honest: the story is okay. It's not bad, and unfortunately, it'll take the (hopeful) season 2 to really give us all the defining gestures that are, for now, pretty empty, and cement them thoughtfully. There is a lot of unnecessary hardened stares and moments that are poised to be far more intense than they really are, and I couldn't help but pause religiously, turn to my viewing partner (Joe Sparks of the World of Myth Bits), and blink a few times in question, to which he'd shrug his shoulders in retort.

But much like American Satan, the show stands on its own with its use of music, musicians, and familiar faces (or sounds). It's a wild journey, ofttimes fun, and ofttimes tragic for me when I decide I think I could look just as much the part of a Rockstar as Johnny Faust and remember how expensive leather or vegan leather jackets are. But taking one look through the show's IMDB will prove to be exciting for music and even wrestling fans. Cameos range from the director himself, to guitarist Nita Strauss (who performed Shinshuke Nakamura's entrance music at Wrestlemania 34 as well as performing with Lizzy Hale at WWE Evolution and her song, Mariana Trench, being the official theme for NXT Takeover: WarGames), to Bones UK, to Slipknot's Sid Wilson, to WWE's Jim Ross and so many more.

It's a bizarre journey, to be frank, but I say everything with the sincerest admiration and respect to Sumerian Films for the ability to produce that journey. Because at the end of the day, it feels like the project borne of passion and wild dreams, put together and embraced by a team of music lovers, admirers, and performers with the intention of inviting us into the world of sex, drugs, rock and roll, jackets, and most importantly, unity. I applaud the efforts of the film's drive for diversity and its intentions to introduce conversation about subjects that are regularly ignored, especially in subcultures that inspire me and so many others. To top it off, Remington Leith's take on the classic Disarm by the Smashing Pumpkins (who are also on Sumerian Records, so expect to hear a few of their tunes in the background) is just a stunner. Should Paradise City get a chance to continue with the series, I will be eager to see where the stories lead. And at the end of the day, there is nothing I love more than seeing projects like these come to fruition, which is why I so love being a part of the JayZoMon and Dark Myth family, because there is nothing more astonishing than witnessing the results.

If you take part in seeing the series, do yourself a favor and watch American Satan first. It'd be nearly impossible to understand most of the events without the context of the film, and if you've already seen it and enjoyed it, you have an idea what you'll be walking to with Paradise City.

I'll rate it a 3 out of 5 stars , but they're stars filled with tons of little stars for major appreciation of everything involved in the show's creation.

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