We watch... so you don't have to.

Fall '99: "Action"

Fox's new Hollywood-insider comedy Action begins with such a bust of offensive outrageousness that it manages to lay out, in the first two minutes, both its potential and its problems. High-powered studio executive Peter Dragon (Jay Mohr) verbally savages a lowly commissary employee after parking in his employee-of-the-month space, letting loose a tirade of beeped-out profanity that turned hair all over the midwest a milky white.

It was great stuff: mean, hurtful, over-the-top, the perfect antidote to TV-bland. Unfortunately, it also wasn't very funny. It was shocking and fun, but most of the jokes revolved around the employee's ability to not pee in Cobb salads -- not exactly Swiftian sophistication. For the next hour, Action see-sawed between extremes, being simply outrageous on one hand and being very funny while being outrageous on the other.

Case in point: When Dragon introduces his date for the evening as a hooker (Illeana Douglas), his head of production boggles. "She's your whore?" "No," Dragon replies. "She's my prostitute. You're my whore."

Now that's funny. It's just as outrageous as peeing-in-Cobb-salad jokes, but it tells a truth about Hollywood that simple ha-ha gross-outs can't.

But then the balance slips back the other way almost immediately. Asked what she thought of a movie's soundtrack, she says, "I thought it sucked." "It's electronic," the head of production sneers. "So's my vibrator," she answers, "but I don't want to sit in a chair and listen to it for an hour and a half."

See? Both scenes may make you gasp that such things every got on broadcast television, both may make you ex-Arsenio Hall Show viewers want to wave your arm in the air and go "Woof! Woof! Woof!", but only one makes you laugh.

Back: Dragon finds he's paid a quarter of a million dollars for the wrong script because he confused writers "Alan Rafkin" and "Adam Rifkin." Forth: The commissary employee actually pees in Dragon's Cobb salad! Whoooa! Woof! Woof! Woof!

Of course, that Action makes you laugh at all puts it near the top of the heap, given all the other dreck that slinks onto the air. Both Mohr and Douglas give admirable performances, full of A-list detachment and self-absorption on one hand and matter-of-fact practicality on the other. Even the shock of finding the animated corpse of Buddy Hackett mellows into pleasant surprise, when you realize he's not going to do his Buddy Hackett schtick.

But it's frustrating to watch a show that obviously has a brain in its head and something to say stoop to low-level dirty-mouthing for a laugh. As far as I'm concerned, Action can be as nasty, immoral or disgusting as it wants to be -- it just needs to be funny, too.


TeeVee - About Us - Archive - Where We Are Now

Got a comment? Mail us at teevee@teevee.org.

* * *