[This is a review of Blunt Talk season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
The final seconds of the new Starz comedy Blunt Talk feel like an accurate representation of the concerns one might have for the series moving forward. That is: Does this thing actually have a pulse?
The series has been presented as “Patrick Stewart as you’ve never seen him before!” and, to a certain extent that’s true. Yes, he’s technically been doing a similar kind of broadly comical performance on American Dad – which brings Blunt Talk executive producer Seth MacFarlane’s name into the conversation – but never has a series (or film, for that matter) put such a comedic and tonal burden on Stewart’s shoulders. And so, when Stewart’s Walter Blunt, a ridiculously over-the-top talking head in the increasingly ridiculous sphere of cable news punditry, seemingly over does it on booze, drugs, and self-aggrandizement/flagellation, to the point he may actually be dead (albeit temporarily), there’s a moment when you wonder if there is a DNR that could perhaps be overlooked.
And that’s not a knock on what is otherwise a silly if not a little one-note series premiere that goes big on introducing the main character and supporting cast, by presenting what could have been a fun little short film. Instead, there’s so much broad comedic work going on in these thirty minutes it’s difficult to get a bead on what, exactly, this series is going to be. That is further complicated by how the premiere presents itself as simply wanting to maintain a pleasant buzz, and then winds up getting completely wasted on its own supply.
But at least it has a distinct attitude, one that is present from the very first scene in which a blazingly drunk Walter Blunt regales a deferential barkeep with tales of testicular trauma in the Royal Family, before frightening a fan and then proceeding to get himself arrested for soliciting a transsexual prostitute and assaulting a police officer. That’s quite an opening act, one that’s in keeping with the overall sentiment of the premiere itself and of the increasingly squalid segment of the media the series seems to want to lambast.
That perspective comes entirely from series creator Jonathan Ames, whose previous effort, HBO’s droll Bored to Death, in which Jason Schwartzman was actually playing a version of Ames, felt immediately more attuned and hospitable to the writer’s specific quirks and flourishes. The eccentric, persnickety tonality of Ames’ work is readily apparent here in things like Blunt’s drunken but devoted manservant Harry (Adrian Scarborough); his pessimistic, prescription-abusing head writer Jim (Timm Sharp); and especially his Freudian therapist played by Richard Lewis. But one wonders if the uppish nature of Ames’ writing and presentation can make the transition from the staid dustiness of the New York literary scene to the rakishness of Los Angeles cable media – or if it even should.
What comes through in both series, then, is a sort of patented inebriated lunacy, which is often funny, but not the sort of foundation an entire narrative can be constructed upon. To compensate, Blunt Talk attempts to build a narrative around its depraved lead and the bright, shining spectacle of seeing a celebrated thespian such as Stewart drunkenly quote Shakespeare atop a vintage Jaguar while resisting arrest.
But there are limits to how far the series can run with this particular version of Patrick Stewart as its core selling point and most obvious concept. Case in point: the Brent Spiner cameo during the opening scene is like someone telling you they’re winking at you while they’re winking at you. The return on using the fame Stewart has cultivated from roles in things like Star Trek is limited when it is cashed-in by the series screaming, “Look at how different he’s acting now!” If that little gesture is just a case of the series premiere jitters, then fine, but Blunt Talk would be better served by focusing on a more fully realized world for Walter to interact with and exist within. As of right now, the character’s depravity has him stuck in vacuum.
Thankfully, that may not be the case as the series marches forward, and it hopefully finds a way to better utilize the deep bench of supporting players assembled around Stewart. Among them, Jacki Weaver as his spooning producer Rosalie and his aforementioned dipsomaniacal manservant Harry seem particularly ready to step into larger roles. But there’s also promise in the presence of the criminally underused Romany Malco (someone just give him his own series already) as the head of Blunt’s fictional news network UBS, and Timm Sharp, whose character aesthetic and demeanor ostensibly make him an onscreen proxy for Ames.
The pilot has them serving the larger issue of Blunt’s public meltdown, and assisting in what at first appears to be his onscreen career suicide, which comes in the form of a Blunt-on-Blunt interview. But it’s through the ashes of Walter’s cocaine-fueled self-immolation that Blunt Talk can hopefully find a more distinct purpose for its unique mindset, as well as for the larger cast to help round the otherwise blunt edges (look, it had to be done) of the series’ protagonist.
Starz has already renewed the Blunt Talk for season 2, so Ames has the luxury of time that is almost unheard of in the ultra-competitive market of “too much TV.” But time can also be a double-edged sword, as a lack of exigency may lead to unnecessary digressions into the show’s vainglorious perspective (as evidenced by the premier’s title: ‘I Seem to be Running Out of Dreams for Myself), when finding a concrete focus is of more paramount concern.
Blunt Talk continues next Saturday with ‘I Experience Shame and Anticipate Punishment’ @9pm on Starz.
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