Where the Action Is
By Beth Hannan Rimmels
Long before the fall TV season arrived, much was written about how raw and groundbreaking Foxs new comedy Action (airing Action airs 9:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. CT on Fox) is. All anyone could talk about were the vibrator jokes and bleeped-out profanity, but thats missing the point. What makes Action so raw and unflinching is its attitude, with or without the profanity. This satire pulls no punches. Instead, like a good boxer, it follows a jab immediately with a hard uppercut until the audience is laughing out loud, and Hollywood pretensions are on the ropes.
Action follows the career of movie producer Peter Dragon, played by Jay Mohr (the sleazy agent in Jerry Maguire). The fact that Peter is both the stereotype and epitome of maniacally egotistical Hollywood executives neither softens the material or takes it too far. Peters been living high and running roughshod over everyone in his tenure as the current action-film box-office golden boy. So when his latest film, Slow Torture, starts looking like a dud, his colleagues start sharpening their knives for some well-deserved payback.
One of the few who isnt interested in taking Peter down a notch is prostitute Wendy Ward (Illeana Douglas). As a former child star, Wendys seen it all. She calls it like she sees it, if it doesnt affect her tip, and Peters smart enough to make sure it doesnt. Critics have delighted over the irony that the prostitute is the moral center of the show, but its not ironic. Its honest. Wendys doesnt buy into Tinseltown glamour. She admits to her profession, her past mistakes and when a movie stinks, unlike the rest of LA. Peter gradually starts relying on her no-bull advice and soon makes her an executive at Dragonfire Films, much to the chagrin of Stuart (Jack Plotnick), his obsequious president of production.
Wendys also one of two people Peter trusts and treats like a human being. The other is his Uncle Lonnie, who doubles as his security chief and chauffeur. Whoever cast veteran comedian Buddy Hackett as Lonnie should get the prize table in the current hot LA restaurant. Hackett is still very funny but has been sadly underused in recent years. He also fits in perfectly with Actions off-color humor. People today forget that Hacketts nightclub routine was raunchy long before George Carlin or Lenny Bruce. With both Lonnie and Wendy on his side, Peter has a chance of making it back to the A-list.
Action has other outrageous characters as well as hysterically funny cameos by film stars including Keanu Reeves, Salma Hayek and Sandra Bullock. But dont stay away fearing its too insider. While its dead-on in its depiction of the nuances that run Hollywood, anyone who isnt a hermit will get the jokes. Art house faves like Hal Hartley arent the punchlines; Tom Hanks and O.J. Simpson are.
Action is hands-down the funniest new comedy of the fall season. Forget NBC after Frasier. This is real must-see TV.
Review © 1999 Beth Hannan Rimmels. Photographs © 1999 Fox.