[This is a Review of Blunt Talk season 1, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
For all intents and purposes, Blunt Talk is a workplace comedy. And although the workplace in question is well defined and specific, the series has found greater success by going outside of the television studio and delving into the personal lives of the show’s various characters. Whereas episode 2 found moderate success focusing on Walter and his team attempting to cover a breaking news story, episode 3, with its digressive threads of individual loneliness, was a far more compelling and funny episode.
And so, with ‘A Beaver That’s Lost its Mind,’ the series makes its first attempt to meld the two – workplace and personal – and the result is a mixed bag. For the most part, the episode hinges on two primary threads. The first is Walter making good on his promise (or threat) to be a better father – in this case, to his five-year-old son, Bertie (Aidan Clark). The second concerns a secret Jim is hiding in his office (spoiler: he’s a hoarder).
After finding out last episode that Jim has a thing for women’s footwear – either he fetishizes it, or he wants to wear it – finding out he is also a hoarder feels a bit like hoarding itself. The Jim character is primarily constructed to be a neurotic personality, so it comes as no surprise that he would be afflicted with any number of psychological quirks or maladies. And yet, the speed with which the show has presented Jim’s shoe fetish, and now his hoarding, has been too fast; too many questions are raised and then ostensibly ignored about one neurosis before the show has the audience knee-deep in another.
The problem is: There’s almost no context to the idea of Jim being a hoarder to make it much more than a punch line, much less have the same affecting quality as his shoe fetish and loneliness did. To be fair there is mention of the office’s coffee mugs vanishing, which plays into the idea and admittedly does deliver a laugh when they’re spotted on Jim’s desk. But it’s not enough. There’s not enough of a setup to make the discovery of Jim’s hoarding as effective as the show likely wanted it to be.
As is the case with much of Jonathan Ames’ writing, the most interesting aspects are the smaller details and moments that emerge within the framework of the broader comedic elements. Jim having changed the locks on his office door, and the maintenance guy sticking a screwdriver in the doorknob before declaring a need for a locksmith are two great examples of this. The same goes for Walter’s visit to Bertie’s preschool, which is a fairly standard fish-out-of-water scenario with some broad strokes that include Patrick Stewart wearing a paper unicorn horn and the revelation that his son’s preschool’s musician-in-residence is actually Moby. But within those broad moments, things like Bertie referring to his father by his first and last name, and Harry’s foaming attempts to recover from a brutal hangover wind up being the actual highlights.
What’s more interesting is how the show’s characters seem to work better on their own, than they do within the confines of a workplace ensemble. So far, one of the standout characters has been Celia – which is largely due to the openness of Dolly Wells’ performance – and here she is almost completely removed from the larger storyline when her magician boyfriend (played by Steve Valentine, who is also brilliant, but in a much broader sense) pays her a visit. This makes Celia’s story immediately more interesting but also more removed. So, when Celia is called upon to join the group, as they try to uncover what Jim is hiding, it again feels like Blunt Talk is abandoning an intriguing element too soon in order to focus on something new, but not nearly as absorbing.
Throughout the episode, the series seems narrows its focus on the characters in an effort to compartmentalize their stories, when what it needs is to find a way to make those stories more inclusive to the cast as a whole. The teasing of Martin’s “homoerotic” secret makes for a funny joke, in that it’s never really addressed beyond a potential topic of conversation, but therein is the problem. Martin’s issue begins as an inclusive device, drawing Jim and Celia (and the audience) in immediately, only have it go unexplored in favor of more digressive content with a singular focus.
The deliberate shift in focus is not without its merits, but it also creates its own host of problems; namely, what to do with Mary Holland’s Shelly character – as the show feels like it hasn’t quite figured that out yet – while also encouraging the story to pass-over something like Martin’s relationship with Rosalie. So far, Shelly exists to be the butt of jokes both in the context of the scene and outside of them. That helps give most scenes she’s in a sense of structure, in that the audience knows what they can expect when Shelly pops up. But that also reduces her to something of plot device, sometimes changing the circumstances of a scene in order to allow the series to go for the easier joke.
The same can be said of Ed Begley Jr.’s appearance. There’s really no reason for Teddy to have shown up at the office, other than to provide a few laughs at his expense and open the door for Martin and Rosalie’s relationship to hit a speed bump. But that is addressed so little it hardly seems worth the effort. In a sense, ‘A Beaver That’s Lost its Mind’ is addressing the needs of the individual and the ensemble in opposing fashion, throwing characters into scenes that don’t need them, while narrowing its focus during the moments that should feel much more inclusive.
There’s still plenty to like about the episode. The smaller, innocuous moments are still very funny, and Moby, though his presence is awkward at times, comes away feeling like a genuine Ames-ian character. Less genuine was the episode’s structure, which may well be a result of the show feeling around for what it’s really about. There are hints here and there, so at nearly the halfway point of the season, Blunt Talk has plenty of time to make that discovery.
Blunt Talk continues next Saturday with ‘The Queen of Hearts’ @9:30 pm on Starz.