Tim Curry and Annie Potts’s latest piece de resistance debuted earlier this week to the sure trepidation of a couple mid-level ABC execs and the scattered applause of a few rabid Curry-philes. And the verdict is… well, they sure got the title right. The only way Over the Top could have been more aptly named is if it were called Fat Bearded Guy Is Painfully Unfunny.
Here, for those of you who really have no interest in TV (those of you, in other words, who stumbled across this site while searching for the naked pictures of Teri Hatcher that we’ve cleverly disguised with the codewords “James Collier”), is the set-up: Curry is Simon Ferguson, fat guy. Potts is Hadley something-or-other, Simon’s ex from back when he was thin. Apparently the union lasted all of 12 days before they sickened of each other and went their separate ways— which kind of begs the question, what makes them think we’ll be able to stand them any longer? But never you mind. Now, mustering all the pride of a man who’s been reduced to playing second fiddle to animatronic apes in third-rate piffle like “Congo,” some 20 years later Simon has crawled back to the hotel where Hadley works, penniless, homeless, and out of work. Hadley, who has experience nursing the clinically obese from her years shacking up with Delta Burke, naturally takes him in. Toss in a couple of the obligatory precocious kids, sprinkle with a dash of the wacky supporting character, and—voila!—you’ve got a sitcom that really, really sucks.
The chief sucker of the suckerazzi is Curry, a renown ham, a much-lauded British stage actor, and apparently the kind of guy who stirs unnatural passions in certain females. Now, I’ve never met Mr. Curry. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, probably generous beyond belief to his fans. No doubt that disconcerting half-smile plastered across his face is the look of one genuinely enjoying life’s fruits and not, as it appears, the knowing smirk of a guy about to loose a fart in an elevator.
That having been said, Curry is awful—six kinds of awful. He emotes, struts, and gleams with the force of a fellow trying to reach the cheapest ticket in the furthest seat of the biggest house… which would be fine if this were theater. But it’s not. It’s TV, and Curry comes across as a clown—a bearded, portly, hammy clown. No line is too mundane to bleat, no scene too salty to chew. The day he sees the Roadrunner drop an anvil on Wile E. Coyote’s head will be the day he gets his first hint of nuance. And did I mention he’s awful?
Of course, not even Hitler managed to cheese off several races and the Allied powers all by himself. Much in the way that young Adolf had his Heinrich Himmler, Tim Curry has his Steve Carell.
It’s rare for a relatively unknown actor in a supporting role to steal the show from its much higher paid leads, to send audiences and critics alike diving over their ottomans, fumbling for the TV Guide, screaming “Who the hell is that!?!” Alison LaPlaca pulled off the feat years ago in Fox’s inconsequential Mary Page Keller vehicle, Duet. LaPlaca’s Linda Phillips was so brazen, so brash, so conniving that two years after the show first aired, it was shitcanned to be replaced by Open House—essentially the same show, but with LaPlaca and Chris Lemmon as the leads and Keller now fetching coffee. Of course, once again proving my long-standing thesis that Mary Page Keller has a direct line to God, we’ve seen at what price. LaPlaca has since been consigned to a life of Teri Garr-esque cameos, while last we saw of Lemmon, he was playing footsie with Hulk Hogan in Thunder in Paradise.
More recently we’ve watched Nestor Carbonell steal Brooke Shields’s thunder on Suddenly Susan as wise-cracking Cuban photographer Luis, the lone beacon of humor in a sea of Judd Nelson jokes. Nikki Cox’s head-turning performance on Unhappily Ever After single-handedly kept The WB afloat—by jacking up the ratings in that all-important horny male demographic—until the cavalry arrived dressed as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And deliciously cute Tracey Needham has managed to capture our hearts, our fancy, and our good sense while languishing in two of TV’s biggest stinkers, JAG and Total Security.
Now you can add Steve Carell to that list—in the sense that his performance as what appeared to be a deaf-mute European chef caused anyone watching the show with a modicum of taste to start tearing at their hair while screeching, “Get it off my TV! Get it off my TV! Take it away! Oh god, what have we done to the kids….”
If rumor and innuendo are to be believed, ABC took one look at the original pilot for Over the Top, fired half the supporting cast, and issued a terse mandate: fix this, or we shall never speak of it again. Having seen the new, improved, revamped Over the Top with the new, improved, revamped supporting cast, I can only offer up the following theory of events: When Jamie Tarses and her crew finally got a look-see at exactly what she purchased while deep in the throes of passion with producer Robert “Morty” Morton, their first thought was, “Holy cow, if Tim Curry goes any more over the top, we’ll need a ladder to get him down. Quick, what can we do?” Wunderkinds that they are, they came up with a devious plan. Cast a guy who would go even further over the top than Curry, and that way he would look subtle by comparison.
It speaks volumes about Curry’s performance, I think, that the only way Carell felt he could accomplish this goal (and I’m not making this up) was to stop just shy of incoherent weeping.
I wish I could say that Carell is bad—but that would imply that I have some frame of reference to judge him against. The truth is I have never seen anything like what I saw last Tuesday night. I have stood in a freezer full of dead people at the morgue. I have seen a man’s scalp pulled back over his nose. I’ve even seen 35 minutes of Ellen DeGeneres’s “Mr. Wrong.” But I can now honestly say that until Steve Carell’s turn in the premiere of Over the Top, I have never known true horror. Carell screeches, wheezes, his eyes bulge, and that’s while he’s standing still. Trust me when I say this is not a road you wish to travel.
As one might expect, once Curry and Carell are finished doing their part to end civilization, the rest of the cast barely rates a mention. Annie Potts is… present. I mean, not to short change the former Designing Women star, but let’s face it: if Annie Potts were a man, we’d call her Tony Danza. She’s had one moderate success, she always plays herself, she never creates a stir, she always gets another chance. Liz Torres, late of The John Larroquette Show, does a fine job taking up space. And Marla Sokoloff and Luke Tarsitano as the precocious kids are, well, precocious.
But enough about them. Over the Top is Tim Curry’s baby and he—with help from his little pal Carell—is responsible for strangling it in the crib. I have been told in no uncertain terms, by women with far too much time on their hands, that I am a slow-witted savage, because I fail to appreciate the genius that is Tim Curry. Allow me to now retort: I have seen “Annie.” I have seen “Oscar.” I have seen “Congo.” I have seen a damn good movie, “The Hunt for Red October,” come pretty much to a screeching halt every time Curry opens his mouth. And now I have tossed away 30 minutes of my life—minutes I will never, ever get back—watching Over the Top in a last-ditch effort to ascertain if years of anti-Curry sentiment were in fact wrong, wrong, wrong.
So I can say this with a clear conscience, unequivocal certainty, and the righteous indignation of a man who’s seen “Legend” and never wished to admit that to anyone: if Tim Curry is a genius… well, he’s not.