[This is a review of Blunt Talk season 1, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
In its third episode, Blunt Talk reveals itself to have much more in common with Jonathan Ames’ previous television outing, the Jason Schwartzman-led HBO series Bored to Death, than the first two episodes may have suggested. Sure, there are the obvious dalliances with drugs and alcohol that mark a significant similarity between the two, but in both cases those elements were used to get smaller laughs and to create a sort of contradictory set of qualities wherein a chemical coping mechanism is presented alongside a superficial devil-may-care attitude. Schwartzman’s ubiquitous glass of white wine was his signifier, his calling card, and it was also his security blanket (Ted Dansons’ George Christopher was the logical extreme of that characterization).
As is made clear in ‘All My Relationships End in Pain,’ there is something similar going on beneath the surface of Blunt Talk. Now, the show isn’t probing the infinite depths of human suffering in order to arrive at some deeply affecting revelation about life. But the episode’s inquest into the obviously damaged personal lives of the characters orbiting the planetary personality that is Walter Blunt does reveal the series to have a much more humanistic through-line than previous episodes have shown.
So far, the series has been remarkably cynical and erratic in a way that is both funny and vexing. Patrick Stewart’s legal woes caused by his incessant drinking and use of drugs, not to mention the coincidental craziness of having a maverick porn producer living next door, served to define the lengths to which the series was willing to go in order to get a laugh. And yet, at the same time, creating an immense boundary for the humor inadvertently left the actual essence of the show somewhat opaque. It was willing to set up its premise, with the help of some booze, an edible, and a transsexual woman of the night, but still, it felt like as though something was missing.
These were talking heads poking fun at the world of talking heads, but it wasn’t clear what the actual narrative engine driving these characters and their situations was. Walter’s airport men’s room misadventures and subsequent green-screened attempt at hurricane reporting offered some economical and remarkably convenient laughs, but they didn’t necessarily demonstrate the series had another gear beyond the inherent wackiness of minor catastrophes. I’m not entirely certain Blunt Talk is any closer to finding that narrative engine with it’s third episode, but there is at least a sign the show can effectively switch gears.
The episode’s structure works as a kind of clarifying demand, framing the series as something slightly more than just Walter’s drunken foolishness with his man Harry in tow. But what most distinguishes this half hour from the previous two is how it begins to utilize the surprisingly deep supporting cast built around the inimitable Stewart, and how, in this instance, a peek into their personal lives is used to further demonstrate the gap between Walter Blunt and his staff on an emotional as well as professional level.
Dividing its focus amongst Walter’s halfhearted attempt at court-ordered AA and the loneliness felt by himself and his staff makes for a surprisingly effective episode. Each character – with the exception of the Karan Soni’s Martin or Mary Holland’s Shelly – is given a small arc to demonstrate just how alone they all are. Dolly Wells’ Celia is especially effective, following an empty sexual encounter with a married magician she met on the brilliantly named British-themed Tinder-like app ‘Bangers & Match.’ And Jim’s lonely search for a pair of women’s shoes is enhanced with a strange sense of isolation as he and his mother admit to watching themselves in the FaceTime screen more than the other person.
Both scenes could have been unnecessary interludes, but instead they actually provide the episode with some much-needed breathing space. Celia and Jim are the kinds of characters the show sometimes seems more attracted to than its lead, and while it has occasionally hinted at them being more interesting characters than what has been presented thus far, this is really the first time either Celia or Jim were allowed to just be individuals, without Walter’s presence dictating their actions. As much fun as Walter and Harry’s boozy shenanigans are, good things must come in moderation – or else the series is likely to end up in a similar spiral of excess.
As effective as Wells and Tim Sharp’s solo adventures are, it might be the insight into Rosalie’s home life that comes closest to infusing a little more heart into the proceedings. The segment gets off to a bumpy start, as Rosalie’s obvious seduction of the young, naïve Martin (Soni), reveals they have a semi-chaste pseudo-sexual relationship, hovering somewhere between Oedipal and nurturing. It is also the result of the “open marriage” she shares with her husband Teddy (Ed Begley Jr.).
That’s a lot for the audience to take in all at once, but it doesn’t stop Blunt Talk from taking it a step further and introducing Teddy’s onset dementia. On one hand, Rosalie and Teddy’s open marriage being beset by the tragedy of Alzheimer’s becomes another example of the show maybe not knowing when to say when – or, more likely, it allows the series to underline its willful (and narratively appropriate) disregard for restraint. But this sets a dangerous precedence for Blunt Talk; now the series must follow through with this storyline, as Rosalie and Teddy can’t simply be put back on the shelf and dealt with later.
In the end, Blunt Talk has opened up several new, potentially interesting threads that point to its supporting characters becoming more rounded and engaging. That frees up Walter to crash a sex addicts meeting and go home with the lovely (but wasted in her brief appearance) Sharon Lawrence, only to find out she’s not as single as she led Walter to believe. And yet, despite missing the mark with Walter’s support group outing, the episode managed to use that misstep to zero in on the beauty of his and Harry’s relationship, and to show how their perpetual togetherness underlines the pervasive loneliness of the other characters.
As the series is fond of pointing out: it’s not Shakespeare (it’s not even close), but Blunt Talk‘s inquiries into self-loathing and loneliness suggest there might be more layers to it than it had previously led anyone to believe.
Blunt Talk continues next Saturday with ‘A Beaver That’s Lost Its Mind’ @9pm on Starz.