regular-folk rave reviews from Fox's Action message board:
"I am apalled that this type of show is even on television,
let alone on at 9:00. You people at Fox have really gone too
far with this show. The language is outrageous. Like people don't
know what your bleeping out. It is quite obvious what they are
saying. This type of programming does not belong on network television.
Last I checked prostitution was illegal and here you are glamorizing
it. Your show is disgusting and perverted. I don't think I will
watch your network anymore."
"We like Fox a lot but not the new show Action. We
turned it off after nine minutes."
"This is the worst show I have ever seen on the Fox Network.
The story line makes no sense, the main character is a total
jerk and the message this show sends is that it is OK to be a
profane jerk to every person you contact. Not to mention the
fact that the use of fowl language is prevalent throughout the
entire show for no obvious reason."
Now, skeptic that I am, I'd like to think that these posts are
from Fox employees trying to stir up shit. But the main story
on Action, which premiered on Fox last Thursday (it will
air Thursdays at 9:30pm ET for the time being), is that it's
too edgy for the great unwashed masses -- that the characters,
particularly one Peter Dragon (Jay Mohr in the role he was born
to ooze his way through), aren't likable enough to sustain audience
interest, and that it's a bit too "inside" for the
average viewer. I'll go along with the last concern: With rare
exceptions -- modest successes like The Player or Bowfinger
-- the general audience doesn't want to see movies (or television)
about movies; doesn't give a fuck about the inner workings of
Hollywood or the trials and tribulations of those who work there.
They get that for free on Entertainment Tonight, they
read what they want to read in Entertainment Weekly, and
that's about it. Anything else might endanger their illusion
that movies are fun, writers and directors always believe in
what they're doing, and stars are really like the characters
they're so beloved for playing.
But ... too edgy? Characters not likable enough? Ever hear of
an obscure little show called Seinfeld?
Yes, and though roughly two dozen would-be sitcoms have ripped
off the show about nothing during the past few seasons, Action
comes closer to Seinfeld's detached, callous, pre-millennial
cynicism than any of Seinfeld's clones. Peter Dragon,
hotshot movie producer with ten $100-million-plus grossers under
his belt, has fallen on hard times. His latest opus, Slow
Torture, has dropped into the toilet. He knows it's a turkey
on premiere night, when even his suck-ups can't think of anything
nice to say about it except that the music is good. He can't
get a table at the hot restaurant in town, and he stews at the
bar with his screenwriter slave Adam Rafkin (Jarrad Paul). "I
can't believe I'm sitting here with ... people,"
he spits contemptuously. Then he turns to an ordinary couple
sitting nearby: "Who are you??" Not likable?
Hell, there's something downright lovable about Peter's very
hatefulness. Like Kevin Spacey's producer Buddy in Swimming
with Sharks, Peter's the sort of rabid bastard you enjoy
immensely from a distance.
The pilot episode, wherein Peter's fortunes took a turn for the
worse, was a bit stiff; it was setting up the characters. In
the second episode, shown right after the pilot (both eps were
written by series creator Chris Thompson), Action hit
its stride. I thoroughly approve of the unstable yet natural
rapport developing between Peter and his new production assistant
Wendy Ward (Illeana Douglas in her full smart, sexy glory), a
former child star turned Hollywood whore. The show also generously
resurrects Buddy Hackett, on hand as Lester, Peter's uncle and
general lackey; and by the end of episode two, Peter has gone
into business with a gun-waving pimp who calls himself Dick Marsellus
("It's an homage," he explains). Throw in a sardonic
theme song growled by Warren Zevon ("Even a dog can shake
hands") and, of course, the omnipresent bleeps on the soundtrack
-- which only serve to make the obscene tirades funnier -- and
you've got what may well be the season's most promising new comedy.
Also maybe the hippest. Action may be the most referential
comedy show this side of The Simpsons or Dennis Miller
Live -- not just movie references, either -- yet it fires
them at you with a speedball wit that jogs your memory of some
half-forgotten cultural point, gets its laugh, and goes on to
the next thing before you realize what hit you. The allusions
aren't just there to show you how clever the writer is (as in
most of Kevin Williamson's work). For example, when Peter drops
in on Wendy one night, he interrupts her in the middle of a dominatrix
session with a Disney exec. Peter recognizes the guy, who's embarrassed
and stubbornly stays in his sub role: "My name is Andre."
Peter snorts, "My name is Luka, I live on the second floor."
I could try to explain why that line -- Suzanne Vega summoned
out of the blue to zap some shlub in latex drag cleaning Wendy's
apartment -- made me laugh so hard, but it'd just kill the joke.
Question is, will Action survive? Or will it go the way
of Slow Torture? It's too early to say; even a ratings
flop (but well-loved cult favorite) like Get a Life hung
around for at least a season or two. Fox, remember, is the network
that kept Party of Five on the air despite less-than-stratospheric
early numbers, and even The X-Files wasn't an overnight
sensation. Unless a show unquestionably stinks up the joint,
Fox is generally known for its patience. (Action is being
paired this season with Family Guy, another edgy show
a lot of people are happily surprised to see returning.) The
only major problem is its death slot on Must-See TV night. And
it may also be too biting for its own good. Sure, it pokes fun
at its own executive producer Joel Silver, but how long before
it takes aim at a Hollywood figure who might have the clout to
bury Action? (There's already been some humming over a
closeted gay studio boss apparently modelled on Barry Diller.)
There are any number of forces, from internal politics to fundamentalist
boycotts to audience indifference, that might bring this refreshingly
vicious show down. I say we enjoy it while it lasts.