Saturday, August 22, 2015

REVIEW: 'Blunt Talk' - Walter Puts on a Spectacle to Get Out of a Scandal in 'I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams For Myself'

Starz's Blunt Talk - Episode 1.01 "I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself"

After a drunken escapade lands Walter in jail, he must scramble to save his cable news show "Blunt Talk" from cancellation.

The threat of destruction of the core premise of the show in order to establish the core premise of the show and endear the characters to one another is a trick that is just so aggravating. It's a conceit that establishes a story but not characters. It establishes that Patrick Stewart's Walter Blunt loves his news show - also called Blunt Talk - but his eccentricities of drugs, alcohol and sex threaten its cancellation. That is all that happens in "I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself." Everyone is dealing with the fallout of Walter's actions in the outrageous opening sequence. Dealing with this threat is what establishes the characters. But none of them really escape their basic plot constructs. It's hard to say more than one key identifier about anyone from the supporting cast. Stewart fares much better. He does bring emotional reality to the role of Walter Blunt. Those moments of depth frequently go away though in order to get back to crazy and quirky details that make up the show's style of humor.

Blunt Talk is funny. But most of the humor comes from seeing Stewart - a very respectable actor of stature - doing increasingly crazy things. The opening sequence alone feels like a constant comedic need to up the ante in terms of the most outrageous thing that can happen to make this story feel more scandalous. Walter starts by drinking and then deciding to drive. He then adds marijuana to the mix. After that he picks up a transsexual prostitute while stopped at a red light. They go somewhere more private for sex and get busted by the cops. That leads to the climatic moments where another man pops up from the backseat of the car, Walter assaults the police officers, one of them gets tased in the privates and Walter ends up standing on the top of his car quoting Hamlet. It's all completely ridiculous and over-the-top. It establishes the type of humor that will be on display in this show. Stewart has a strong willingness to do all of these increasingly crazy oddities. But that doesn't make Walter Blunt a fascinating character. It makes him an outrageous character who may be nothing more than the butt of the joke.

The rest of the premiere doesn't tone things down with Walter all that much. However, it does showcase how he is able to operate as a regular human being in the world with a very public job. He is the face of a cable news network and has been beloved by the public for six years - if not by his multiple ex-wives. He continues to be self-destructive with drugs and alcohol. But he is also surrounded by a team of producers who understand who he is and how he operates in this world. They know how to produce the show even though Walter's ideas are the only ones that actually get pitched throughout this whole process. Jacki Weaver's Rosalie offers to spoon him in order for him to think and everyone treats it as a common practice at the office. It's weird and offers a great visual that leads to Rosalie twisting Walter's nipple. But it has actual results as well. Sure, the idea of Walter interviewing himself on the show in order to get to the bottom of this scandal is a completely ridiculous, crazy and narcissistic idea. But it's also just crazy enough that it could actually work. Everyone in the studio seems amused by the concept. They are willing to do it if it means they can keep working on this show.

All of that is leading to the grand performance of the actual show. Walter has been given one chance to apologize to the American public. He got it because he knows the network head loves his car. That's something the audience just has to accept. This scandal was purposefully made large enough that it would threaten his career. There's no reason why any network executive would put this unstable man on television again. And yet, there Walter is back for one more show doing a performative bit that could amuse enough people to tune in. It's certainly a delight to watch - even though it doesn't dig too far into why Walter is the way that he is. But it is great to see Walter throwing himself hard questions and not just doing and saying whatever he needs to in order to continue doing the one thing that he loves the most in this world. Sure, the spectacle of it all soon gets out of hand. It ends abruptly and makes Walter seem like a complete train wreck of a man. And yet, that is fun to watch. Sure, the premiere ends with Walter's life seemingly in peril. But that's not a suspenseful twist. As his loyal servant is standing over his body and the credits start to roll, it's not a moment that has been earned by the show. All of its confident eccentricities aren't really earned. But the show still has the willingness to just go for them no matter what. That quality at the very least is admirable.

In the end, Stewart makes the most of what he is being given to do. But again, so much of the appeal of the show comes from seeing Patrick Stewart doing these things. Will it be just as fun if some of the producers are given similar personalities and eccentricities? Who knows! That kind of appeal can only work for so long. After awhile, the characters have to be the reason to find the situations and stories funny. It's uncertain if Blunt Talk will ever become that show though.

Some more thoughts:
  • "I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself" was written by Jonathan Ames and directed by Tristram Shapeero.
  • It's amusing that the paparazzi who record Walter resisting arrest and his release from jail the next morning work for a company called "ZMT" - aka TMZ spelled backwards.
  • The network that Walter and company work for is called "UBS" - which just isn't that funny, amusing or noteworthy.
  • It's bothersome that instead of actually helping Walter get to the bottom of his psychological problems with sex and substances his network-mandated therapist only gives him more cocaine. It establishes that the show is more important than the human being which is just an odd trait for a therapist.
  • The Ambien running joke didn't really work at all - though it did keep Walter in the dark about the questions he was asking himself. 
  • Walter Blunt is more of a Piers Morgan than a John Oliver when it comes to reporting the news, right?