Saturday, August 29, 2015

REVIEW: 'Blunt Talk' - Walter Dances in a Near-Death Experience in 'I Experience Shame and Anticipate Punishment'

Starz's Blunt Talk - Episode 1.02 "I Experience Shame and Anticipate Punishment"

Walter misses an opportunity to cover a storm that could revitalize his career, so his staff concocts a Plan B. Harry must make a personal sacrifice to save Walter's career.

Blunt Talk is a weird show. It's comedic rhythms are different from the norm - even though it is somewhat easy to tell where each story is going. There's no real surprise in the plot of "I Experience Shame and Anticipate Punishment." It's weird and the cast finds the amusement from the hijinks. But it doesn't delve further into the characters anymore than the series premiere did. Walter is trying to save his show and stay alive as a respectable journalist. And yet, he's really not respectable at all. He isn't afraid to try and fool his audience as long as he's delivering a speech about hope and optimism in a time of despair and destruction.

This is an episode where conflict emerges while Walter is painting a nude portrait of Harry as well as from an elongated sequence that revolves around bathroom humor. This show isn't afraid to go for that lowbrow humor. In fact, the bathroom scene is actually quite funny. This episode does move away slightly from Patrick Stewart doing outrageous things in order to get a laugh. That's still apparent in that bathroom scene where he's doing his best to go and then wash his hands before his plane takes off. But that scene also works because of the repetitive humor of it. It lasts just as long as it needs to. It's clear early on that Walter will miss his flight. But that doesn't take the amusement out of the sequence - unlike the rest of the episode.

Everything else about this episode feels plot driven. Walter painting Harry in the nude in the backyard happens just so he can meet his neighbor, Ronnie (Brett Gelman), who owns a porn studio that will be needed later on. The strings are very clear to see. Walter wants to take advantage of an opportunity to save his career in reporting live from a hurricane in Galveston. He was successful in getting the network and the audience to continue watching him despite his massive scandal. But now, he has to keep that momentum going. That only makes it so much stranger when the conclusion comes along and things just go back to normal with no actual work or forward momentum actually happening at all.

Walter and Harry miss the flight. The producing team comes up with the grand idea to film Walter in front of a green screen and have him act like he's reporting live. That's a ludicrous idea. But it's still one that everyone on the team goes along with. There isn't a skeptic voice amongst the characters who has legitimate concerns about this endeavor. That character is suppose to be Rosalie. But all she does is say it's a bad idea only to drop it two seconds later. She is hurt the most in the inconsistent character writing of the show so far. The characters still aren't popping as well as the show probably thinks they are. Harry is given a weird sexual dysfunction to complement his large genitals. Jim is just the random guy who keeps bringing up the drug joke that didn't really work in the premiere. He's the one who comes up with all of these crazy and weird ideas for the show. Meanwhile, Celia is simply the former college girl who slept with all her professors. That's all that the audience learns about the characters in this episode.

If the episode isn't going to advance the story forward in any meaningful way, then it needed to create character moments that made these people worth caring about. That didn't really happen. It all leads up to the news breaking that the storm is no longer being classified a hurricane and none of this work being needed. But in order to make that absurd too, the show then flings a bunch of condoms in the air for a laugh. It all ends with Harry once again tucking Walter into bed. Walter continues to claim that he wants to be a better man and journalist. His efforts during the day didn't really seem genuine though. Nor does it seem likely that the show will want to make Walter a better person - given how much enjoyment it gets from the outrageous situations it puts the cast in.

Some more thoughts:
  • "I Experience Shame and Anticipate Punishment" was written by Jonathan Ames and directed by Tristram Shapeero.
  • Ronnie wasn't a huge acting stretch for Gelman to play. He was just way too similar to other characters he has played over the years. He plays it well. But he has played the perverted and dishonest guy better elsewhere.
  • Why is Bob, the network head, the only person who just doesn't want to put up with Walter? That's a great perspective that the show only does a little sliver of.
  • Wouldn't the studio Walter's show is shot at have a green screen somewhere? Going to the porn studio just felt like an unrealistic inconvenience just to generate a laugh.
  • No one brings up the trans prostitute that Walter was arrested with. Walter wanted to make sure she got out of jail too. But now, it's as if he has completely forgotten all about her.
  • Another great thing about that bathroom scene was that Harry had to get everyone out of the bathroom before Walter would go in and make sure no one came in while he was there. A weird oddity that did bring depth to their relationship.
  • However, Walter and Harry are seemingly too dependent on each other. Walter relies on Harry for so much support and structure. He's surely the only reason why Walter is a functional adult. And Harry does it to have a mission in life - which seems like an unfair trade.
  • Walter's collapse at the end of the premiere is swiftly deal with at the top of the episode. It largely existed just to get Patrick Stewart in a black-and-white setting dancing with a lot of girls while pictures of his younger self and mother pop up. It was enjoyable and establishes what he wishes for in the afterlife. But was it worth the big tease cliffhanger?