Somewhere out there, in Southern California, where fertile minds either flourish or simply waste away, someone thought it might be fun to build a character, and a series, around a character based somewhere between Paddy Chayefsky’s Howard Beale from the illustrious send up of cable news in the 1976 film Network, and Aaron Sorkin’s Will McAvoy from the HBO Series The Newsroom which first aired in 2012.
They called the series Blunt Talk, and the character Walter Blunt, and asked famed actor Patrick Stewart, the erstwhile Star Trek: The Next Generation Commander Luc Picard, to have fun with the role.
Airing on the Starz Network beginning tonight, the series is the creation of Jonathan Ames, with Seth MacFarlane and Tristram Shapeero also having Executive Producer credits. What you need to remember is that this series is hoping to attract you and keep your viewership by building on a series of absurdities.
In Episode One called I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself – Blunt gets busted for soliciting, and then drunk driving. His play for pay friend was a transgender prostitute. all Blunt wanted to do was suckle. Once busted he stands atop his classic Jaguar spouting out Shakespearean soliloquies.
Of course, he is in deep shit with his network bosses who’d like nothing better than to can him for 1) the scandal, and 2) his steeply falling ratings.
He fights for a chance to save his career by selling his boss on the idea of a self-interview via a split screen and pre-recorded questions. And to pile on another absurdity, Blunt must take a session with the Network’s in-house shrink – one Dr. Weiss who is played by that symbol of unsteadiness and not holding it together – comedian Richard Lewis.
In The second episode called I Experience Shame and Anticipate Punishment. Blunt is told that he must head out to Galveston, Texas, and do a live on the scene segment, a la Anderson Cooper.
But Blunt misses his plane because he has to deal with a universal problem – those absurd high-tech airport lavatories where any paper you put down on the seat is nearly instantly lost to the auto-flush mechanism, and then it is impossible to wash one’s hands because you can’t get the faucets to yield any water,
and the liquid soap dispensers refuse to dispense.
So they decide to wing it – the old green screen gambit. Fake rain and so forth. But there’s a catch – Blunt’s next door neighbor is a porn producer and he’s willing to let Blunt and staff use the green screen in his studio – only for a large sum of money and if Blunt’s Valet/manservant will do a scene in a porno.
The Valet is Harry – and Harry is devoted to Blunt – they served together in the Falkland Islands war, but, re-visiting this episode’s title I Experience Shame and anticipate Punishment – Harry has a problem with sex.
So there’s your first two episodes. They walk a fine line between absurdly funny and equally unfunny. Some of the jokes are low-key or very British, and may not be the kind that will elicit the kind of comments that are usually described as LMAO or ROTF.
Let’s look at a few that I deemed worthy of sharing –
Following his bust, in episode one, Blunt arrives at the office the next morning. Of course he has to run the gauntlet of the media:
Interviewer: Mr Blunt, did you call your wives?
Walter Blunt: I did not call any of my ex-wives. This is one of the benefits of divorce. When you’ve been arrested, you’re not expected to call.
Or in two, when he’s been ordered to Galveston, and told that it will be good for him:
Walter Blunt: Of course I’m fit and sane. Which is exactly why I should not be standing in the rain telling people that I am fit and sane.
How about this one at staff meeting –
Walter Blunt: From now on I want to be in the hope business.
Producer: I’m not sure if hope and truth go together
Walter Blunt: I’m not sure if there is any hope in the truth business. Everyone! Start googling. I want to find out if there is any hope out there that might also be true.
After missing the plane to Galveston:
Rosalie the Senior Producer: I’ll just call Gardner and tell him you missed the plane.
Walter Blunt: He’ll cancel us. It’s too unprofessional. It’s too humiliating. I’m only one day into my comeback.
But trooper that he is – he dons the rain gear and stands beneath the torrential rain – that is the rain that comes from two gardening hoses:
Walter Blunt: I have to go out like this. A fool’s mission is still a mission. I have to lie to tell the truth.
And there you have it. I think Stewart as Walter Blunt may indeed be about talking bluntly, but I have seen Stewart as Blunt. And on the roster of talking heads he’s nowhere to be found in a list that includes John Oliver, Piers Morgan, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and the just retired Jon Stewart.
It won’t matter how many drugs Blunt/Picard/Stewart will ingest, or how accurately they skewer things like airport bathrooms, or the institution we know as celebrity, this is a show that will either knock your socks off, or it won’t. Stewart is obviously enjoying himself, but there are moments that needed a stronger hand at the controls.
You know – having the auto-flush whisk away two paper placements on the airport toilet may not have been inspired – but showing this happening FOUR TIMES was overkill. Having a producer give Blunt drugs seemed okay – as in anything for the onscreen talent – but then they confused the uppers with the downers and Blunt passed out on live TV during his self-interview.
Starz premieres this show tonight, and I believe they’ve already ordered a second season of ten episodes. This not your father’s Patrick Stewart, nor are there any Sorkin styled issues being forced on you. So far.
On the other hand – it is quite lightweight television. Have a look –