[This is a review of Blunt Talk season 1, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Second episodes of any new series are never easy. Depending on how successful the first one was the audience might either need a great deal more information before they actually know what kind of show they're watching, or they need a breather. In the case of Blunt Talk, with its whirlwind premiere filled with booze, drugs, Freudian insight, and one-on-one interviews that lead to near-death experiences, there's the chance that the audience is actually in need of both.
Earlier this summer, True Detective pulled a similar stunt (although with its second episode, not its first), seemingly killing Colin Farrell's Ray Velcoro, only to begin the following week's program with a trippy, Lynchian opening in which Conway Twitty crooned in the background while the elder Velcoro prophesized his son's death (though he failed to mention the spotty cell phone reception in the woods). And now, after Blunt Talk's second episode began with a woozy old-fashioned song and dance number with feathers and women in sparkly outfits, the year of television has just a few months left to get one more in, so that melodious visions of the afterlife can officially become a TV trend of 2015.
The gauzy little number seems as likely to have been mandated by executive producer/wanna-be song-and-dance man Seth MacFarlane, as it is to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the series' executive producer by writer Jonathan Ames. Then again, maybe Ames also has a penchant for 1930s-esque musical routines. Still, all that really matters is how the brief interlude actually works to relieve some of the apoplectic pressure built up near the end of last week's premiere. And yet, 'I Experience Shame and Anticipate Punishment' still manages to pick up at the very moment last week's premiere left off – with Walter Blunt's apparent death.
But unlike True Detective, the lunacy of the stunt actually works in favor of Blunt Talk, as it provides an otherwise aimless series and equally aimless protagonist with some sense of direction. Walter, emerging from his brief glimpse of "heaven" is filled with a renewed sense of purpose a "shift in consciousness" if you will. And in typical Ames-like fashion, that sense of purpose winds up being as misguided as Walter's erraticism that was witnessed in the premiere.
There is a sense of things slowing down here, which, again, is actually crucial given the manic highs the previous installment seemed confined by. Ames and director Tristram Shapeero do their level best to round Walter out a bit, and if not to give him more depth than his drunken escapades suggested a week earlier, at least round the edges a bit by placing him in a situation other than at work or in a bar. And so, the episode provides an example of his home life.
Although Walter at home is no less eccentric than Walter in the UBC studios, seeing him in a different setting where he is more or less in control gives the character a chance to breathe. The setting also gives the audience a better understanding of Harry, Walter's redheaded manservant.
There was some chatter in the comments section last week about whether or not Harry was a real person or some manifestation of Walter's unstable mind. After thinking about it for a brief moment, this theory seemed plausible, supported by the lack of distinct interaction between Harry and anyone not played by Patrick Stewart. It remains unclear whether or not Ames deliberately meant for the character to be interpreted that way, but after the first few minutes of this week's episode, it can conclusively be stated that Harry is no figment of the imagination; he's flesh and blood, just like the rest of us – well, maybe with a little more flesh.
Leave it to a show like Blunt Talk to confirm a major character isn't a hallucination by introducing an actor whose onscreen presence (though always welcome) often feels like one. From the first moment Brett Gelman's (Married, Mad Men) distinctive voice and slightly psychotic line delivery is heard over the hedge separating Casa de Blunt from whatever bacchanalian delights his character Ronnie was engaged in at the House that Smut Built, one can detect a whiff of the series' familiar mania wafting through the air. Gelman's appearance as the bearded porn producer works on two levels. It not only dispels the theory that Harry is Walter's coping mechanism from his time fighting in the Falkland's as a member of the Royal Marines, but it also dispels the notion that the second episode would devote itself completely to answering the question: Who is Walter Blunt?
Last week's narrative was mostly concerned with presenting Walter to the audience warts first. There was the loose semblance of a plot, but mostly the episode was devoted to creating a character out of a caricature. Despite the lunacy of the situation, and the more successful establishment of a consistent tone, the series was left largely undefined. Here Blunt Talk makes a much more concerted effort to create a sense of structure that may reflect how the series is going to look on a week-to-week basis.
While it helps that the show has moved away from the relative formlessness of the premiere, the plot's heavy reliance on coincidence didn't do much in terms of building confidence. Walter's airport bathroom woes offered some superficial laughs (thanks mostly to Stewart's howling conviction and Scarborough's look of concern), but the inevitable consequence may as well have been written on the wall. Creating a problem for the sake of having a problem typically leaves any scene feeling a little too constructed and the seams were definitely showing here.
The rest of the episode plays out as expected. Chekhov's gun (if you catch my meaning) and Chekhov's porn producer delivered the most obvious kind of payoff possible, while the hurricane that served as the plot's catalyst petered out in more ways than one. That leaves the second half-hour in a weird place of being narratively unfulfilling, but also successful when it comes to giving a better impression of what the overall structure of the series will be. With any luck those two elements will find greater balance next week.
Blunt Talk continues next Saturday with 'All My Relationships End in Pain' @9pm on Starz.