Saturday, September 19, 2015

REVIEW: 'Blunt Talk' - Walter Handles a Controversial Guest as the Newsroom Becomes a Psych Ward in 'The Queen of Hearts'

Starz's Blunt Talk - Episode 1.05 "The Queen of Hearts"

When a friendly poker game goes awry, Rosalie is forced to book a controversial guest whose message Walter despises. Celia develops a bad habit.

"The Queen of Hearts" is yet another episode of Blunt Talk where Walter falls under the charms of a beautiful women - this time it's Elisabeth Shue - and is incapable of doing anything else. It has certainly become a pattern for the show. And yet, it's less enjoyable and more routine every time it is used. The audience knows that Walter has problems focusing when he's given the opportunity to sleep with a woman again. But it cripples him more than it makes him a satisfying and enjoyable character to watch.

There's a lot to respect about Walter having moral superiority in his argument against Shue's pro-death penalty Suzanne. "The Queen of Hearts" does try to have its characters take a politic stance. Everyone in the office hates this woman that they are forced to have on the show - because of a bad bet Rosalie made. Walter wants to be taken seriously as a journalist. And yet, that's not what the show aspires to be. This can still be a comedy with a serious take on journalism. But more often than not, the show would rather create a situation that plays for the loudest comedic hijinks than to actually say anything important about the characters. In this episode, Walter feels lost because he hasn't had sex in seven months. The only journey this episode sets to do is to quench that urge for Walter. It plays as something that Walter wants to do but also as a plot that needed to happen. Perhaps him finally having sex will make him a better person in the immediate aftermath. He became as reckless as he was because he didn't have the love of a woman. However, that's just a horrible storytelling device that says men can only be successful once they've had sex with a woman (as well as saying that's all woman are good for).

Suzanne is entirely positioned as a sexually object for Walter. From the moment she appears on the screen, Walter completely forgets about the fact that he politically disagrees with everything she stands for. Instead he is enamored by her beautiful as well as the red shoes she is wearing. Suzanne is just manipulating him in order for him to appear soft and weak during their upcoming interview. And yet, that perspective is never adequately explored. When it's actually time for the show, Suzanne doesn't use Walter's weakened state to truly bring home her points on the death penalty. Instead it's positioned as Walter's staff being flabbergasted by how horrible a job Walter is doing. They quickly correct things. Walter goes on the offensive. But even that is only a screaming match of vindication that lasts for a minute that doesn't give Suzanne a chance to respond. And then, for some reason, Walter and Suzanne still sleep together. It's a story that doesn't make any sense at all and only dragged the show down with it. The season had been gaining some momentum as of late - especially with its supporting ensemble. But this A-story brought that momentum to a screeching halt.

The supporting cast is still given things to do in this episode. Rosalie and Celia take part in a ladies' poker night that leads to Suzanne being a guest on the show as well as Celia becoming a gambling addict. Rosalie does have a few good reactions but they are largely just played as frustrations. A one-note character trait that Jacki Weaver plays well but is redundant and overbearing too. Yes, it's meaningful that her husband losing his mind is effecting her performance at work. But the show hasn't earned that story beat either. That's largely because it wants to cut back to Walter and whatever outrageous thing he is doing instead of telling a sad story out Ed Begley Jr. not remembering things. But the show's brand of humor can still work with that story. Teddy coming out with no pants on works on this show. But it's just a brief moment. One that informs Rosalie's later decision. But it doesn't have a huge impact on the characters. They deal with the ramifications of that action but that doesn't make them better characters.

Meanwhile, Jim is trying to get to the root of his hoarding problem. It was a fantastic gesture on Walter's part to allow Jim to see his therapist, Dr. Weiss. And yet, Dr. Weiss is a horrible character and therapist. He solely wants to fixate on the underlying sexual problem with absolutely everyone. Sure, all of these characters do have a relationship with sex and love that informs who they are as regular people. That's a theme of this show that has been handled well. But it can be overwhelming as well. The one time Jim is in the chair talking to the therapist he basically erupts into a big monologue about making love to a woman starting with the feet. It is erotic and poetic. But it's nothing more than that. It shows that Jim does have peculiarities but it doesn't help anyone better understand his hoarding problems. After that, he is too busy with the job to spend any time focusing on himself. Sure, he gets into a fight with Martin over his items. But that largely exists in the background of the action. It's not something that comes from a place of understanding. These characters have problems. But none of them are really addressing them in a way that leads to a better life in the future. They are simply embracing them for the maximum comedic effect.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Queen of Hearts" was written by Kirsten Kearse & Jonathan Ames and directed by Bill D'Elia.
  • It's a great recurring joke that whenever Rosalie needs to motivate Walter into doing a story she brings up how Anderson Cooper poorly handled the same story.
  • Jason Schwartzman also pops up as a family man trying to live a better life in order to stop global warming. He bonds with Walter for a second and then he is completely forgotten about. It is funny seeing him do yoga poses and accidentally get hurt. But that's all that he does.
  • The show smartly decided not to have Timm Sharp and Jason Schwartzman appear in scenes together. They are just too similar in how they look. It's almost startling.
  • It's a great inverse of the norm that the poker night is centered around a group of ladies. That was the one thing that was really impressive about this episode.
  • Celia's magician boyfriend has apparently disappeared back to his wife. Good riddance too considering the pearl necklace he gave her was fake. Something she discovered as she and Harry were running out of the more rough poker game.
  • Gisele finally makes her return. What happened to her was an answer the show needed to give. It finally did so with the least amount of effort possible.
  • Rosalie: "You've turned my newsroom into a psych ward." Dr. Weiss: "You're aggressive. I would like to get you on the couch." Rosalie: "I bet you would but I know what lurks deep inside me and I'd rather leave it there."
  • Jim: "She's the Ann Coulter of the death penalty."