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Starz's Blunt Talk does some funny business for Patrick Stewart


Patrick Stewart is seriously comedic in Blunt Talk. Starz photo

Premiering: Saturday, Aug. 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on Starz
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Adrian Scarborough, Timm Sharp, Dolly Wells, Jacki Weaver, Mary Holland, Karan Soni, Richard Lewis, Ed Begley Jr., Romany Malco
Produced by: Jonathan Ames, Seth MacFarlane, Stephanie Davis, Tristram Shapeero, Duncan Birmingham, Reed Agnew, Eli Jorne

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Brittle Brit Walter Blunt is bombastic, needy, oft-besotted, four times divorced and newly dedicated to reinventing himself for the greater glory of the American people. But this is only after an embarrassing incident further jeopardizes his already low-rated cable news network show.

The network just happens to be UBS. And the link to the classic 1976 film Network is fully intentional. Blunt Talk’s creator, Jonathan Ames, acknowledges without hesitation that his star player is “very much” meant to be an extension of Howard Beale, whose “Mad as Hell” clarion call is still echoing.

“In preparation for writing this, I re-watched Network,” Ames recently told TV critics. “And I thought, ‘Wait, I want more Howard Beale . . . Let’s get behind the scenes with Howard Beale.’ “

The millions who have seen the movie know what happened to Beale in the end. So Blunt is a resurrection in this half-hour darkly comic series that’s already been renewed for Season 2.

Four episodes were sent for review, and there’s more than enough here to make Blunt Talk worth a continued investment. It hasn’t quite found itself yet. But each of these early episodes has an inspired high point or two, whether it’s Blunt interviewing himself; being conquered by automated airport bathroom devices; getting towel-whipped as penance by his faithful manservant; faking a report from hurricane-threatened Galveston; or debating whether to affect his Bono or Peter Jennings look before heading off to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Stewart, who came to prominence on these shores as stern Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, adapts nicely to this considerable change of pace. He’s aided by a solid supporting cast, most notably Adrian Scarborough as the loyal Harry, whose activities range from reading Blunt bedtime stories to posing for a nude portrait that figures heavily into the plot of Episode 2. The two of them have been inseparable since serving together in the military.

Blunt is first seen on his own, getting drunk and making his own form of grandiose small talk with a bartender before heading out unsteadily into the night. A few marijuana chocolates and a transsexual later, Blunt finds himself impulsively kicking a cop in the testicles and then shouting from the hood of his Jaguar while it’s all captured on video by a “ZMT” crew.

It’s the hottest water he’s ever been in, but Blunt is nothing if not resilient -- and deluded. He rallies his staff and concocts a plan of action and reaction. Rosalie (Jacki Weaver), his veteran producer and manager, offers to soothingly spoon with Blunt on an inflatable mattress before he’s delivered unto a UBS psychiatrist played by, of all people, Richard Lewis.

Blunt confesses that he fears the same fate as disgraced Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who was dismissed and soon died. But on what could be his last show, he declares to one and all, “I am no lion in his winter! I am an eagle in the spring! Yes, a bald eagle if you like.”

Well, it all somehow works. Otherwise Blunt Talk would be over, out and done with Blunt’s TV tagline, “Right here. Right now.” Which wouldn’t make for much of a show.

In subsequent episodes he’s newly determined to “be a better father to the American people -- and of course to my own children.” Furthermore, “From now on I want to be in the hope business.”

That’s pretty much Beale talk. But Blunt’s careening misadventures take him to the next level. Episode 2 finds him resorting to a porn film director who demands something in return for faking Blunt’s live shot from Galveston. The sight of Stewart in a yellow UBS rain slicker and matching brimmed hat is alone worth the price of admission to this one.

Episode 3, the strongest so far, also works in the romantic entanglements of Blunt’s staffers, with Ed Begley Jr. popping in to play Jacki’s “open marriage” husband, Teddy.

The fourth half-hour is built around Blunt’s efforts to in fact be a better father to his five-year-old son. There’s also a closer look at the bonds that bind Blunt and manservant Harry. Singer-songwriter Moby, who wrote the theme music for Blunt Talk, plays himself to good effect in this one. Also look for a brief appearance by the late Windell Middlebrooks, a Fort Worth native who became best known as the no-nonsense deliveryman in a series of Miller High Life commercials. The episode is dedicated to him.

Blunt Talk’s overall absurdity at times over-reaches and grabs viewers too hard by the throat. Still, its excesses are offset by enough inspired lunacy to carry the day. I’m still grinning at Blunt’s grapplings in that airport restroom. They’re positively Kramer-esque, with apologies to Howard Beale.


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