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Rock and rage, ‘Pistol’ explores the rise of the Sex Pistols

Revew by Brian Lowry, CNN

Chronicling the history of a band devoted to chaos and anarchy makes for a messy subject, which might explain why “Pistol” — a six-part limited series about the rise of the Sex Pistols — is such a dreary exercise. Director Danny Boyle meticulously replicates the period, but despite plenty of sex, drugs, rock and rage, this Hulu presentation feels more like a coffee-table book than a fully realized drama.

Adapted from guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir “Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol,” the narrative largely unfolds from his point of view, as played by Toby Wallace. Inspired by the likes of David Bowie, the Pistols (originally dubbing themselves the Swankers) funneled their energy and anger into the music, embodying their working-class roots and rootlessness, as well as their hostility toward authority in all its myriad forms.

“Actually, we’re not into music,” Jones tells a reporter, once the band starts to take off. “We’re into chaos.”

Gradually, the group finds lead singer John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten (Anson Boone), while Jones carries on a secret relationship with Chrissie Hynde (Sydney Chandler), destined for fame of her own as the lead singer of the Pretenders. (As a footnote, Lydon unsuccessfully sued to prevent the group’s music from being used, adding a little off-screen spice to the stew.)

Others in the cast include Louis Partridge and Emma Appleton, respectively, as Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy, whose tragic tale was previously documented in the 1986 movie; and “Game of Thrones” alum Maisie Williams as punk icon Jordan, although given the modest size of the role, her contribution stems more from its promotional value than the actual story.

As for that story, Boyle (whose most germane credits include “Trainspotting” and its sequel) and writer/producer Craig Pearce (“Moulin Rouge!”) careen through a semi-psychedelic rendition of those violent, screaming, wild performances, and how London’s punk rock iteration of youthful rebellion unsettled the existing social order.

Simply put, nihilism might be provocative, but it can also be kind of, well, dull. Nor do the real-life underpinnings prevent the project from exhibiting some of the usual “A Star is Born”-esque show-business cliches.

As one would expect from a project about the Sex Pistols, there will be blood, sex and more than a little spit. What there isn’t, once you get past the grimy 1970s nostalgia of it all, is much that, dramatically speaking, leaves a significant mark.

“Pistol” premieres May 31 on Hulu.

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