Interview: Season 2 of ‘Legit’ hits close to Jim Jefferies’ life

I feel the need to climb to the top of a mountain and shout at the top of my lungs to watch Legit on FXX before it falls victim as another show worth your time that couldn’t find its audience in time. It’s smart, edgy, and sweet and comedies like this are few and far between.

Jim Jefferies In Love

Legit isn’t your typical comedy. Standup comedian, Jim Jefferies is trying to do something different, and bring his own sensibilities to the TV comedy realm. “When you’re with your friends,” he explains. “You laugh a little bit, you laugh a little bit, and then something big happens. I think a lot of network sitcoms it’s just laughs per minute. I don’t think they even care how big the laughs are. As long as they can pack so many into that timeline. We have episodes where there’s maybe five, six minutes where nothing funny happens, but you got to keep the story compelling is what I think. We try to have a few little laughs and then try of have one sort of—one or two real big moments. I think that’s how life is.”

That lower tally in laughs doesn’t mean the ones that are there aren’t enough to make their mark. Of course, you have to be open to a fair amount of dark, sexual, and vulgar material. Still, at its core, Legit is the story of a struggling comedian who is trying to work on his craft and become a bigger comic, and through all of his flaws, and his small circle of friends that he’s either taken in or leeched onto him, become a better person.

When critics say that he’s just playing an exaggerated version of himself, and that he plays a “ruthless asshole” it scratches Jefferies the wrong way. “It’s pretty close to me and I don’t think I’m an asshole. I think even when I watch it, I think the character on the show is a pretty decent guy all in all. I think for the most part he’s not evil or anything like that. He’s an idiot, but I think the nice things he does outweighs the bad. I don’t think anyone in society is completely nice or completely bad. I think that all of us are two sides of the coin. I just hope that it’s a fair representation of guys like me. I hope I empower other sleaze bags and assholes that they can be good people as well.”

jim jefferies legit s2

In the first season Jim stumbled through his world but began to see the light when he reconnected with a friend from the past, Billy (DJ Qualls) who he hasn’t seen in a long time and suffers with muscular dystrophy. Jim showed him and his overprotective brother Steve (Dan Bakkendahl) that despite whatever life deals you, it can and should still be lived to its fullest. Sometimes those attempts resulted in tragedy, while most times, sweet victory waited for them at the end of the dark and cramped tunnel. Surprisingly, after crawling through all of the filth, there was a lot of heart and a lot of laughs. Much has been made of this odd formula, and that it’s a cocktail that features characters suffering diseases or mental disabilities and for whatever reason, that turns off some viewers, but those who really take time to watch it know that Legit treats those characters with respect, and like normal people.

He gave the character of Billy muscular dystrophy because Jefferies grew up with a friend who had the disease. “I took a guy with muscular dystrophy to a brothel before he was going to die. He was one of my best friends and he’s still alive, mind you, so that all really happened.” But because he wanted to create a full world around Billy, Jefferies wanted to populate his world with other disabled actors and offer a truer glimpse into Billy’s world. “It’s just organically where the story from my actual life started and where it built.”

As for Nick Daley, the mentally challenged actor who plays fan favorite Rodney, he is often celebrated and offers the most profound or funny moments. “I don’t think we ever do anything gratuitous or—we try to treat him like any other character on the show as one of the guys; but we also don’t make him like a sickly sorry character where you have to be sorry for him like a Hallmark movie.”

Eight episodes of the first season were largely based on Jefferies real stand up act, and that’s something he wanted to change in Season 2. “I hadn’t written a sitcom before and it was a little bit more fly by the seat of your pants,” revealed Jefferies. “This season there’s actually one episode based on a standup routine. The rest of it is a full linear story this year that we’ve organically come up with.” Jefferies admits that because of his naïvety, there were a small handful of episodes he wasn’t completely proud of. This season, there’s only one he’s not completely happy with, but he’s not telling which one on that chance that audiences like it. The new season promises several guest stars including Carrie Fisher, Bob Saget, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Eric The Midget from the Howard Stern Show, Tom Arnold and George Lazenby. That’s right, one of the James Bonds is on Legit this season.

So far the second season has Jefferies’ character has gone to therapy for his sex addiction, he might have sent one of Billy’s friends to the grave with his comedy, he dated a beautiful but vicious racist, he and Billy played chess to win back stolen goods, and Billy and Steve’s dad (John Ratzenberger) moves in. One thread that will run through the season stems from the fourth episode when he reconnected with a high school flame at his reunion who revealed a powerful secret that rocked his world. That last character, Katie Knox, (Jill Latiano) will be his love interest for the rest of the season, and is another storyline adapted from Jefferies’ life. “It’s never something that happened in my standup, but it’s something that happened to me in reality. A girl that I loved in high school I reconnected with for a very bad situation.” I caught up with Jim Jefferies to speak about the new season.

legit drunk steve

BuzzFocus: Hello, Jim. Nice to speak with you. The second season is off to a great start. 

Jim Jefferies: Thank you.

BF: When you’re basing stuff off of your real life, is there any point when you’re in the writing process where you feel like I’m just going to exorcise this out and kind of play it out as it did in real life, or do you want to change it up or kind of put it into a fantasy point where you kind of idealize the moment? 

JJ: No, I normally play it out pretty much exactly as it happened. If I can add a little bit of funny to it that didn’t happen, then I will. Sometimes you’re doing things directly from your own life, especially if they’re sad things, it’s very cathartic to actually make them into comedy, you know? But the only time I worry about it is if I’m hurting other people in my personal life. Normally I can change the name or I can change the location to say these things happened in America; they didn’t happen in Australia. There’s always enough change in it that people can even lie to themselves and go maybe he’s a talking about a different girl or different friend or a different thing.

Except for when it came to doing a storyline involving my parents and I’m using the exact dialog from what both of them have said to me in my life and some of it is a little bit harsh. My mother I know gets very upset by the whole thing because she thinks I only remember the bad bits of my childhood. I try to explain to her the bad bits are the funny bits and no one wants to watch a show about my good childhood or good things that happened to me with me and my parents. My parents have not seen the show. They’ll see it when it airs in Australia. I’m very nervous about them watching the episode that involved them, because I’m displaying a lot of their dirty laundry and maybe that’s not fair on them, but I’ve got to write a TV show for fuck’s sake.

legit steve

BF: Good luck on that. I also wanted to ask too about the “Steve” character. Like you said you really put him through the ringer this season. For the fans of Steve, including myself, is there going to be any kind of uplifting moment or at least a taste of a turnaround for him this season? 

JJ: He does have a turnaround. His life does improve right towards the very end of the season. I can’t say too much, but it’s not going to improve greatly and there’s going to be another dip for him right at the very end. If his life is going to pick up substantially, it will happen in Season 3, but at the moment no, things aren’t going good for Steve, which is sort of like where I like Steve being. Dan Bakkendahl plays two characters very well. He plays the guy in Veep that’s a complete and utter asshole, and then he plays like a bit of a loser on my show when he plays Steve. It’s sort the same way that Rowan Atkinson could always play a complete bastard on Blackout or a little weird guy of Mr. Bean. You have two gears in the opposite direction.

Dan plays an excellent drunk. I think he used to be one and he’s really channeling his past life. This season he becomes a full blown alcoholic, which progressively gets worse throughout the whole season. And not like a comedy alcoholic like from the movie Arthur, but like a real tragic figure, a guy who’s actually falling down the rabbit hole and he’s losing everything in his life. I think that’s a very interesting thing to put into a comedy, because often what you deal with addiction in comedy it is sort of a funny sort of like “here’s junky “Phil” who lives down the hallway;” but this one is the raw side of that. It’s still funny.

BF: I tend to think that he’s a very important part of the show.

JJ: For me the character Steve is even more the heart of the show than Billy is. I think most people would say that Billy is sort of the heart of the show, but the thing is I sort of explored this year about Steve is, Steve is based on a character from my life as well, the brother of the guy that had muscular dystrophy. It’s not just hard on the person with the disability. Sometimes a sibling when you have a severely disabled brother or a sister, the sibling will feel left out. They never got to go to fun parks. They never had holidays that were that exciting because they always had to have care at hand, you know what I mean? Maybe emotionally the parents didn’t care that much about whether they went to university or whatever, because they always assumed that that person was all right, and they were all right in comparison. We do explore the whole idea of what happens to the lost child in their family. What happens to the one whose dreams didn’t matter because they were so focused on making this other person’s life okay?

legit ramona

BF: That’s awesome. That’s some of the most powerful stuff on the show and sort of the most surprising aspects of the Legit. In Season 2 you want to be able to expand the scope of the series. There are some really nice moments with Walter and Ramona in the first four episodes. Will we see more and more development with these two characters, especially Ramona? 

JJ: We expanded a role for Ramona, but to be honest with you, I’ve got a bigger idea for her in Season 3, which I wanted to spin into this season, but I don’t know if we’ll go to Season 3, but I’ve got a bigger storyline than I couldn’t quite fit in for her at the moment. Walter moves into the house this season and so there’s a lot more for John Ratzenberger to do who’s in about eight episodes this season. In fact his character separates from his wife for a while and moves in the boys, so the cast of three becomes a cast of four for a few episodes. Then also in this season, my parents come over to visit, so we introduce two new characters there. It’s all about figuring out time, but you will see Ramona develop a lot this season, but not as much as you will the next season. As I said, I’ve got a big idea for her coming up.

BF: Was the expanded idea with her kind of was born out being able to see what she brought to the table in Season 1, or was it—

JJ: Sonya Eddy is a super great actress. She’s like the nicest woman in the world. Yes, of course, I want to bring her character more out of just being a nurse. It seems that whoever meets Sonya casts her as a nurse; she’s in General Hospital and I just watched her in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and she was a nurse in a nursing home there, so the storyline she has now we’re going to delve a little bit more into her personal life, her romantic life, and not so much that she’s just a carer for Billy. She’s going to become more of a rounded person. I think in the first season there was a definite feel of maybe she was just a foil to our plans that would tell us that we’re bad people or whatever, but now she’s sort of more involved directly in our plans as one of the bad people herself.

Catch all the new wrinkles in Season 2 of Legit, Wednesdays at 10pm on FXX

 

Jason Bateman Knows His Way Around ‘Bad Words’

bad words

Jason Bateman has thrived off of playing the passive-aggressive everyman who falls victim to the type-A characters of the world, reserving his emotional outbursts to instead embodying reason, restraint and rationale. We can identify with him because in reality, we are probably allowed to live out a handful of fantasies of pushing back against our obstacles in extreme ways before we face harmful consequences. So what happens when Bateman plays against type and becomes the bully? Well, lots of Bad Words start flying for one.

Meet Guy Trilby (Bateman) a forty-something enigma of a protagonist, hell-bent on winning every spelling bee that he enters. A loophole in the rules allows him to comply with every contest at the annoyance of every parent of his junior high competitors. Interestingly, the only competitors bothered by Trilby are ones that are prompted by their parents. Helping him achieve this goal is Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), an online journalist who knows there’s a big story behind Trilby’s motives and his unorthodox idea of domination. But Trilby is a tough nut to crack, so as he eats the souls of every pre-teen in his way with viciousness, the reporter endures the abuse and reticent behavior because she’s getting a few things out of this partnership too.

The truth is Bateman plays the bully extremely well, acting out anti-child-and-entitled-parent dream sequences with ferociousness and foul-mouthed tirades not fit for print. Several scenes will leave you with a gaping mouth or laughing hysterically. He is especially triumphant in (figuratively) spitting in the face of authoritative figures that stand in his way (surprise, Allison Janney plays one). But a character with its pedal to the metal would get tedious at some point and that’s where Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) comes in. If Chaitanya sounds like the word, “chatty” there’s a reason because this kid never shuts up; he genuinely needs friendship and attempts to befriend Trilby on multiple occasions. Look, just because one is book smart doesn’t mean they’re necessarily street smart too. Bridging a friendship with a 12-year old gives the audience another side door to Trilby but it too is heavily guarded.

This is Bateman’s first feature as a director (he has directed TV episodes several times) and it’s an impressive debut considering he was in nearly every shot. Though it’s not as fascinating or world-opening as Spellbound or inspiring as Akeelah the Bee, Bad Words wins for the funniest spelling movie and it’s easily the first laugh-riot of the year. Just don’t go in expecting political correctness or a cuddly and warm film. Sweetness is in short supply but it does exist and Bateman’s character goes for the jugular early and often; so there’s no use for dressing it up. If you’re offended easily, see something else. Still, all of the obsessive practices surrounding spelling bees are fair game, as well as the odd behavior at the microphone. Thank the young pioneers for the root origin of these stall tactics. But the most compelling thing is how an innocent competition about the spelling of little-used words can help in the study of human behavior, or in this particular case, magnify bad behavior.

esoTarik #8: Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall still ‘The World’s Finest’ Comedy Duo

What happens when you bring back the Eddie Murphy of old? We found out this week on The Arsenio Hall Show.

In this episode of esoTarik, Tarik Davis revisits the genius of Eddie Murphy and his comedy tag-team partner, Arsenio Hall.

Can you say Coming to America 2? Watch esoTarik Episode #8 to see what Tarik will do to make the Coming to America sequel movie come to life.

Be sure to tune back for more episodes of esoTarik every week.

Watch Eddie Murphy on The Arsenio Hall Show here.

esoTarik Episode #4: A Plea for Eddie Murphy


Remember Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America and Golden Child? It was the Golden Age of Eddie Murphy comedy, long before the tragic plague of Pluto Nash and Norbit. It was the era when Murphy was the king of comedy.

In esoTarik #4 Tarik delivers a plea to producers, writers, directors and Eddie himself to bring back the days when Eddie Murphy played to the top of his (and our!) intelligence. Tarik lets the world know how 80s Murphy can stage a return and be even better than before.

This is Part 2 of esoTarik’s discussion on Comedy Culture. Be sure to check out Part 1 to learn why a movie like Trading Places would NOT get made by Hollywood today.

Eddie Murphy

Watch more episodes of esoTarik.

esoTarik Episode #3: ‘Trading Places’ would NOT get made in today’s Comedy Culture


Remember Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd? It was the biting satire of the 80s that changed the landscape for comedy. In the latest episode of esoTarik, Tarik Davis discusses why a movie like Trading Places would NOT get green-lit by Hollywood today. He also discusses the impact the film had on the United States at large.

This is a two-part episode so be sure to tune back in for part 2.

If you missed last episode, be sure to watch esoTarik #2: “I See Kanye and Donald Glover”.

Exclusive: W. Kamau Bell Takes ‘Totally Biased’ on Tour – Talks Black Spider-Man & Comic-Con

Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell is a hit and will be one of the shows that helps launch the FXX Network this September, along with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League. Season 2 of Totally Biased will also go daily Monday thru Thursday with a “Best of” show on Fridays, continuing to bring a much needed voice of comedy and social-political commentary that stands next shoulder-to-shoulder with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. To help drum up awareness of the new channel and schedule, Bell and his fellow writers/comics are going on a 10-city tour in July performing live shows around the country starting in Boston, this Thursday July 11. It even includes a stop at The House of Blues in San Diego next week during Comic-Con.

totallybiasedep

Each show is lot packed full of hot topics discussed regarding race, social issues, discrimination, or just plain silliness. Bell typically sits in front of a green screen making jokes about about the news of the day with media clips, man on the street segments, op/ed pieces by the various writers on the show, or just digging into a something specific as settling the score between pumpkin or sweet potato pie (ahem, sweet potato, by far). There are guests who come by to talk, others play music, and there are more bad head pieces for Dwayne Kennedy. Bell describes Totally Biased as “Sesame Street for grown-ups,” always changing perspectives while pulling the viewer towards one direction and it keeps getting better with each episode. We caught up with Bell as he prepared for the tour.

BuzzFocus: Sketch comedy is great but it seems like whenever we get the minority point of view, especially on race, it’s always through sketch comedy. It seemed like the only guy who could be funny, not rely on impressions and be straight was Paul Mooney, except he comes from an angrier angle. 

W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. Paul is not to be trifled with. I’ve worked with him many times, although I’m not sure if he’s aware of it [chuckles]. And I’m inspired by him, but sketch comedy is not my background. FX has always asked us to push ourselves and I think we’ve done a lot to mix it up. What the show is, is what the show’s going to be. I’m always trying to find ways to turn things into jokes or social commentary and not turn it into a sketch, like (Dave) Chappelle and Richard Pryor who were the best at it. Key & Peele also do that well but those dudes come from a heavy sketch and improv background. I’m not trying to compete with that. They’ll do it the way they do it, and I’ll do it the way I do it.

EDITOR’S PICK: Why It’s Worth it Stay Up Late for Totally Biased with W.Kamau Bell 

BF: The show deals with issues facing America today, and it speaks to a lot of people out there. From my own biased point of view, I’m in an interracial marriage, and while I don’t agree with everything, many of the opinions on Totally Biased are in line with mine, but there isn’t that requirement of 100% agreement. The information is presented in a lot of fresh ways; it’s just nice to see a show that reflects the views of the changing faces and (slowly) evolved ways of thinking in America. 

WKB: Yeah, I sort of joke and say I’m from the future, that I’m from San Francisco. [Laughs] But the San Francisco-Bay Area, which includes Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and south San Francisco, is full of a lot of types of people. On the west coast, people are a lot more laid back, and everyone is doing their thing and when people get bothered by it, they’re the weird ones. Having lived there for 15 years, we’re like, “Why are you bothered by that?” I think that it’s weird when people are bothered by things that don’t affect them directly and that’s a great area to make jokes. “I’m upset about gay marriage!” That’s weird, is anyone forcing you to get gay married? [Laughs] Where I live, gay marriage is just as boring as regular marriage; there’s nothing about it to me to be scared about. It’s a great area to see what the world should be, and what the world actually is.

BF: Your live tour is making a stop in San Diego at Comic-Con next week, will you be revisiting the lack of black Spider-Man in popular media (See video clip below)?

WKB: [Laughs] I don’t know if I’ll be talking about a lack of black Spider-Man, because comic book characters sort of went apoplectic. [Grimacing] “There is a black Spider-Man!” And Brian Michael Bendis, (the writer of Ultimate Spiderman) said, “There is Miles Morales, the half-latino half-black Spider-Man in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, but you have to be a geek-level comic book reader to know that exists. So I’ll accept that point, but when the general public thinks ‘Spider-Man,’ they’re thinking about Peter Parker. It’ll take a long time before Hollywood spends $200 million on a Miles Morales Spider-Man movie. I’ll be excited for that day, but I’ll be dead.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ttc1n_OtNs[/youtube]

The thing is that even before that series took off and could be properly dubbed a great comic book, it created a large controversy and not one person read it to see if it was a good or bad story. When we even wrote about said controversy, readers couldn’t resist the chance to chime in, and much of the criticism of it was that it was done purely for stunt purposes. 

WKB: Which is funny, because aren’t all (superhero) comic books by their very nature, stunts? [Laughs] You think the guys who came up with Superman weren’t pulling a stunt? [Laughs] And I’m not trying to indict the word “stunt.” The whole idea that Superman’s an alien from another planet who has superpowers. That’s not something you just come up with to not gain attention. The whole idea of the controversy is–where are you drawing the line, you know?

BF: Could you preview what you plan to do for the Comic-Con Live Show? You could do an entire show just on (the lack of) color in comics and cartoons.

WKB: It’s funny, I’m sure it will come up because generally where I go and what the environment is, will push me to where I go with the material, so I’m sure that will work its way into the act. But I’ll also follow my nose to what I’m obsessed with at the moment as well. We’re also traveling on the road with the writers of Totally Biased, and that will lead us to some special things with them. We’ll do a question and answer thing with the audience. It’ll be a good show because it’s me, Kevin Avery, who’s the head writer of the show, and Janine Brito, Aparna Nancherla, Dwayne Kennedy, Guy Branum, Kevin Kataoka, and Hari Kondabolu who’ve all been on the show a few times.

BF: Are you a comic book reader? What bits and pieces of pop culture are you attracted to, or do you even have time for it?

WKB: It’s funny at some point, comic books became expensive. I remember at one point they were a dollar, and when they raised them to $1.25, I was like, “$1.25!!! What am I, rich?” And at some point they became $4 and $5 each and I was like, “Okay, at some point you got to make a choice. The one thing Totally Biased has afforded me to do through the iPad, which is AMAZING, is that I can buy comics again (digitally). I just read Batman: Year Zero the other day, and catching up on some old Hulks, so I’ve been O.D.-ing on comics recently because I feel like I regularly have $5. I’ve been catching up on a lot of the classic characters and I’m a big trade paperback guy. I actually bought the Miles Morales Spider-Man stuff so that I know what the hell I’m talking about.

I’m also into old school Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes cartoons and I’ve been obsessed showing my two-year old daughter, telling her that these are the shows she should be paying attention to, not Dora the Explorer. But I think the old Tom & Jerry toons don’t get enough credit. It’s weird that no one ever figured out a way to make more of those that weren’t shitty. [Laughs] Everytime they try to revisit them, they’re so bad. If I ever get big enough that would be my crusade. Like Jason Siegel did with The Muppets, I’d try to do that with the Tom & Jerry Franchise.

BF: I’ve looked at  your tour dates, and you’ve managed to avoid the states of Alabama and Mississippi, is that by design?

WKB: Oh, that’s hilarious. [Laughs] Certainly, it’s not a 50-state tour, so there are others that were left out. I wouldn’t say avoid, they just didn’t make the cut. There’s only so much time during the hiatus and I actually like to be not working for part of it, which is a hard thing to do right now. I actually have family in Alabama, so I’ll be there, I just won’t be standing on a stage with a microphone.

BF: How is the show received in the Bible Belt?

WKB: I haven’t done a ton of shows from there. The most Bible Belt-ish show I ever did was in Memphis and maybe parts of Ohio (where parts of it can be considered Bible Belt-ish). Before Totally Biased, I had good shows in Memphis, but there wasn’t a sense where they thought I was crazy, “talking about gays like their real.” They would accept it, but there was never a sense like, they didn’t know what I was going to say. They accept the jokes in a different way. Again, when I went to Memphis, I would talk about how I visited Graceland, and say, “What a tiny, shitty little house that is!” [Laughs] As a comic, I’ve found the more you can talk about observations about the place you’re in, comedically, the better they’ll accept all the things from the weird place you’re from.

BF: What do you do when you’re off the air and something happens in the news?

WKB: This is our first week off from the show and we usually taped at 3 o’clock on Thursday, so it will be weird to hit Thursday and realize, “Hey, we’re not doing a show today.” I’m still in the offices and I was with one of the show’s associate producers, Alex (Smelson) and we were watching CNN and I started saying that we need to pull that video clip and then we needed to take another. We looked at each other sort of laughing, saying we need to call the staff in because we were doing another show. I’m still so tuned into that right now. Thankfully through social media I can always Tweet a few jokes about it. It’s not the same, but it helps scratch the itch.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5h2cB5Jzv8[/youtube]

And finding one of the tour stops helps too. We’ll catch up with Kamau after the tour when we’ll talk about structuring Totally Biased for FXX daily, Chris Rock’s involvement and why Dwayne Kennedy is so funny. W. Kamau Bell’s Totally Biased Stand Up Tour starts on Thursday in Boston and and you can catch him and his crew in the cities listed below this month with tickets available at many of the dates. Go to this website for more information and to purchase tickets.

7/11 Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
7/12 Prince Music Theatre – Philadelphia, PA
7/13 Park West – Chicago, IL
7/14 Cannery Ballroom – Nashville, TN
7/19 House of Blues – San Diego, CA
7/20 Largo – Los Angeles, CA
7/21 The Chapel – San Francisco, CA
7/25 Howlin Wolf – New Orleans, LA
7/26 Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA
7/27 The Plaza Live – Orlando, FL

 

Monique Marvez 1st One-Hour Comedy Special Debuts on Showtime

Are you skinny and blonde? Then, this show might not be for you.

Monique Marvez, author of “Not Skinny Not Blonde,” makes her Showtime debut in her first hour-long stand-up special based on her book.

The Latin diva focuses on relationships between men and women, exposing the hard truth on what really matters on relations between the sexes. She discusses her three failed marriages and her current relationship with a much younger man.

The Not Skinny Not Blonde special airs on Thursday, March 14 at 10PM.

Gripe Focus: Comedy At The Emmys Remain A Bad Joke

emmy bannerIt’s a shame that the path of the television year must end on the Emmys, the awards show contained several highs, many lows and just some unfathomable results. Frustration, celebration, and embarrassment come to mind when mentioning the 2012 Emmys. Is it different any other year? No, not really. But its results sour the memory of a great year in television, right as we’re about to usher a new season this week at BuzzFocus.  There were more deserving shows that were nominated but for whatever reasons unknown, the powers that be don’t agree.

The Academy of Television Arts & Science in some instances can look rather progressive. One minute they appear to have their shit together one moment–honoring Showtime’s Homeland, Outstanding Drama Series–but at the same time have their heads up their collective asses when they awarded ABC’s Modern Family nearly every major piece of hardware it could qualify for. I don’t want to malign anyone who did win; like I said, there were several things to celebrate, but the general feeling when one watches the Emmys year-after-year-after-year is that there is one cable drama series that dominates, one or two mini-series/movie dominates, and one widely accepted network comedy is touted the best thing since the invention of modern plumbing. Dramas, mini-series, even reality and variety shows seem to change each year, but the celebrated comedy just never does, switching to a new ratings sweetheart every three to four years.

Let me preface this commentary with the fact that I do enjoy Modern Family very much, in fact I plan my Wednesday night around the ABC comedy block. But last season was by far its weakest campaign, and other series have been more creative and the writing has been stronger on too many other series to count since we were introduced to it in 2010. The Academy is like a record that just keeps skipping, repeating the same winners in Outstanding Comedy categories in three or four-year cycles. Lately it’s been Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd’s brainchild, and before then, it was 30 Rock, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Frasier going back into the 1990s. Oh, there’s been a single dose of Friends, The Office, and a rare cable win one year when the voters suddenly discovered what rabbit vibrators and cougars were in HBO’s Sex and the City. Way to crash the party on that series, Emmys.

Now I don’t sit here pretending to know how it’s run or the politics of winning an Emmy, but I can tell you as a viewer, the Academy feels like it’s separated into three groups, Drama, Mini-series/Movie, and Comedy. The sometimes questionable diversity and representation, at least in the nominations portion of the process, doesn’t carry over into all three groups. One would expect that in mini-series, not comedies and dramas. And then it also feels like the same people who nominate these shows, certainly don’t get to vote on the winners. It’s clear that they don’t watch everything that’s aired, they don’t care about the strength of writing and performances from season to season, and it’s noticeable that the voters (again, the ones declaring the winner, not necessarily the nominations) don’t branch outside of their comfort zone of what’s shown on NBC, ABC, or CBS. If they are, in fact, the same people, then the problem is much bigger than expected.

Because they don’t have to offer up any kind of transparency to explain their choice, commendable viewers who do watch a broad spectrum of network and cable comedies will continue to roll their eyes every time the Emmys slips into a comedy category. “Oh, time to see which actor they liked out of _____ network…”

jon cryer

We expect better from the Emmys. We should feel as if they’re ahead of the curve, that it’s their job to recognize creativity and originality, as much as they do to honor the technical achievement. We want to envision the Emmy being a the symbol of what was best that year. And then Jon Cryer won his second Emmy of his career, his first as a Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. For seven years straight, Cryer got nominated for his role, Alan Harper on Two and a Half Men. The six prior years he was the Supporting Actor and then Charlie Sheen and his meltdown became a disruptive force at the house of Lorre.

Here is the list of nominations of the main comedy categories from Sunday’s broadcast and the winners in Bold.

2012 Emmy Comedy Awards

Outstanding Comedy Series: The Big Bang Theory, VEEP, 30 Rock, Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Modern Family 

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy: Louis C.K. (Louie), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory, Don Cheadle (House of Lies), Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men) and Alec Baldwin (30 Rock).

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy: Zooey Deschanel (New Girl), Lena Dunham (Girls), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Tina Fey (30 Rock), and Julia Louise Dreyfus (VEEP).

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Mayim Bialik (Big Bang Theory), Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), and Kathryn Joosten (Desperate Housewives)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Ed O’Neill (Modern Family), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live), Max Greenfield (New Girl) and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family).

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series: Lena Dunham for “Pilot” on Girls, Louis C.K. for “Pregnant” on Louie, Amy Poehler for “The Debate” on Parks and Recreation, Michael Schur for “Win, Lose, or Draw” on Parks and Recreation, Chris McKenna for “Remedial Chaos Theory” on Community.

Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series: Louis C.K. for “Duckling” on Louie, Jane Kasdan for “Pilot” on New Girl, Lena Dunham for “She Did” for Girls, Jason Winer for “Virgin Territory” for Modern Family, Robert B. Weide for “Palestinian Chicken” for Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Steve Levitan for “Baby on Board” for Modern Family.

Four of the seven went to Modern Family, and in one category, they had a 67% chance in winning. Normally when you have that many nominees for one show, they cancel each other out. Let me remind you that Modern Family is an ensemble show with no real lead actor or actress, but if there were any leads, they probably would’ve won last night too. They also added a creative award, see here. In 2012, Modern Family tallied five Emmy wins and 14 nominations, five and 17 in 2011, and six and 14 in 2010–a staggering total of 16 wins 45 nominations.

I said I wouldn’t make this be all about Modern Family, so let’s see who did win those lead awards. Jon Cryer winning may be the biggest heist job in quite some time. Anyone with discernment would tell you that this last season of Two and a Half Men may have been some of the worst television in 2011-2012, short of Whitney and Work It. The writing was lazy, continuing to exploit the pathetic man-child of Alan Harper and voters must have awarded him the Emmy simply for the reason of putting up with Charlie Sheen or because they must be best friends with Chuck Lorre.

louis ck emmy 2012

Instead of Cryer, Louis C.K. deserved the Emmy. He deserved all of them as far as I’m concerned. Yes, he won for Writing in a Comedy series, and is the one saving grace of the comedy awards. C.K. also won an additional Emmy for his Live at the Beacon Theatre (Writing for a Variety Special – one win of four nominations for the special), but c’mon, how does C.K. not get the win for Best Leading Actor when he is on camera 99.9% of the time, he’s the focal point of nearly ever scene, and from episode-to-episode, viewers never know what is coming next. The entire success of the show is all on his shoulders. I don’t call Louie the best comedy on television just because I like it. I say it because it’s earned it.

Surely the supporters of the Emmy process will point to C.K.’s collective haul as bones thrown to us gripe-loving dogs, but if one show is deserving of such praise, which Louie has earned overwhelmingly, and is building on the success, not lying back in cruise control, then how is he so good in one instance, but is locked out from Leading Actor and Comedy Series? C.K. had two great acceptance speeches and thanked his two daughters, and even a special shout out to actress Pamela Adlon, his consulting producer on the show’s first two seasons.

I don’t have too much to gripe about in the Lead Actress category except for my yearly complaint that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson yearly omission amongst the nominees. “Dear Academy, if you won’t want to recognize Olson for lead, then supporting actress would be acceptable too.” Dreyfus won because HBO put out the clever VEEP during an election year and oh how voters do love political satire. HBO’s Sarah Palin scrub, “Game Change” is evidence of this thinking since it swallowed up most of the categories meant for mini-series or TV Movies on the night.

It’s hard to debate Julie Bowen‘s win, but again, it’s time for some new blood, Emmys. Many nominees in the comedy categories act as if there hasn’t been any new comedies of quality since 2007; let’s be honest, 30 Rock is getting long in the tooth too. ABC was severely short-changed. Happy Endings needed to be in the Emmys, so did Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, and yes, Suburgatory; FX’s Wilfred is completely passed over as was Showtime’s Episodes this year, and how was Raising Hope left with no horse to compete this year? One of the funniest shows on television, Archer, breaks too many Emmy rules to ever be considered. It’s vulgar, it’s animated, and it’s on cable.

The Emmy’s threw some more bones at us with HBO’s Girls and Fox’s New Girl, which like Modern Family, I liked too, but let’s be really honest with that show: If Zooey Deschanel didn’t have a built-in audience to hang around until the show actually got good, (about midway) it would have been cancelled. The second half was good, just not Emmy good. But there I go again, assuming the highest of what the Emmys are.

Other Comedy Emmys were given to the creative departments a week prior and televised on the niche cable Reelz channel. At least there was more diversity there, even though it’s harder to connect to them since they are behind-the-scenes. Maybe that’s part of the problem, that it’s another division within the Academy choosing these. There must be some reason why there is so little change or open-mindedness when it comes to comedy. Whoever is this dark cabal is, that seems to only vote on the main broadcast awards, that shows its age by choosing what it’s comfortable with rather than recognizing quality is ruining the Emmys. It hurts their credibility and certainly doesn’t guide me to what is funny. Whoever is running the Drama portion could use a stern lecturing too–still no Sons of Anarchy, only one Breaking Bad win in 15 nominations–BAH! Heresy! It just leaves viewers confused.

So yeah, Cryer’s better than C.K.? Okay, that’s something to laugh at. If they mean that as a joke, then I can accept that. That was certainly funnier than asking Tracy Morgan to lie on the ground, funnier than asking Jimmy Kimmel (poor, Jimmy) to escort his parents out or see an all-Kimmel memorial vignette. Aubrey Anderson-Emmons is an on-set bully on the set of Modern Family? Funny, but certainly not unbelievable. That opening segment in the ladies room? That was rough. And… wait a minute, they’re not taking Cryer’s Emmy away from him? That really happened? @*&$!

We should never rely on the Emmys or any awards show to tell us what is good and what is bad, it is still up to the viewer. Comedy is subjective, but someone desperately needs to tap the shoulder of whoever is in charge of the comedy portion of the Emmys, and let them know we’re not laughing with them, because when it comes to comedy, they’re not really in their area of expertise.

Should You Stay Up to See ‘Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell’?

Tonight is the premiere for FX’s new semi-live comedy show, Totally Biased with W.Kamau Bell, starring San Francisco comedian W. Kamau Bell and produced by Chris Rock. It’s the latest entry by FX to expand its comedy offerings and it’s second in trying to do a multi-media-comedy-act-in-front-of-a-live-audience show at 11pm ET/PT. The first being Brand X with Russel Brand, which is an awkward show to describe without getting frustrated. Totally Biased however, is more refined, straight forward act that’s heavy on the socio-politcal hot topics and packaged in a way that’s much more easily absorbed, because we want to laugh but we also want to retain the messages too. Is it worth staying up for after Louie? In a word, yes.

In each episode, Bell stands before a crowd in an intimate theater-like environment of what seems like and audience of 200-300, comprised mostly of young adults, diverse in nationality. He brings up current events with his smart, observant (“Why are there no black airplane pilots?), and “biased” black man’s perspective. It’s not too dissimilar to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, but is not THAT heavy into the politics that you find out what Rhode Island’s governor is up to, unless Lincoln Chafee did something really bad to make the news that day.

w kamau bell totally biased

I was sent a screener of a test show that Bell taped for FX so that we could get a sense of what the show was prior to tonight. However, nothing in this screener, which bits and pieces of it have been used to promote it on television, the web and the radio, will actually air on FX. That’s because Totally Biased is going to be taped on the day that it airs. Here’s a taste of what I saw on the screener, and don’t worry, nothing is spoiled because none of this will air on the live shows.

“Personally I’m so mad at the GOP right now, and not because of the usual things–you know, everything? I wanted Barrack (Obama) to have to work for my vote this time, you know what I’m saying? I wanted him to try to get me to vote, not like the last time when I’m like, Black? I’m in!”

Bell then quickly leads into slide of the other six major Republican Party candidates that Mitt Romney beat out.

“This is the list of Batman villains they came up with. This isn’t even Christopher Nolan Batman villains; this is Adam West Batman villains.”

Video clips of Ann Coulter were used and tend to speak for themselves, snapshots of the Jersey Shore and polar bears are steps of an even bigger joke and even Bell’s baby is used for political fodder. “So yes, my wife is white, I’m black, which makes our baby an error.”

Bell has his own voice of comedy, gentle stabs of bluntness, and even though he attributes much of his approach to what executive producer Chris Rock made famous, he dishes out harsh truths in a very personal and memorable way but without any character voices and over-the-top exaggerated tirades or skits. There are no long build ups, each joke is introduced and closed witin two minues time. This is a 30-minute block with commercials we’re talking about here. He casually works his angle in, and then reminds you if you disagree, that he’s ‘Totally Biased.”

Look, he can’t help it, he was born that way and the it’s this crazy world makes it easy to baste in one’s biased frame of mind. Of course any smart comedian knows the other side, and Bell doesn’t ignore it, he’s quite friendly in stripping it down to the essentials. Most of all, Bell’s show feels sincere and the one thing you can’t fake when you’re trying to be funny is honesty. Bell is no stranger to comedy. He’s the founding member of the Laughter Against the Machine comedy tour and co-hosts the Field Negro Guide to Arts Culture podcast. He’s well-known in the comedy circles, taking home award after award in his industry, but for television, he’s a welcomed face and another broadening selection by the network which already has Louis C.K., the entire creative staffs from The League, Archer, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Wilfred.

But Bell’s FX show isn’t a complete solo act. In the test show, Janine Brito, one of Bell’s fellow Frisco comedians on the Laughter Against the Machine comedy tour, and writers on Totally Biased, gave what would have been Tracy Morgan’s apology to the gay and lesbian communities–if Morgan actually wrote it, because the apology that was released to the public reeked of a publicist’s dirty work. I get the sense that she’ll be contributing to each episode at least once and if not her, then perhaps Hari Kondabolu, Kevin Avery, Danny Vermont, Kevin Kataoka or Dwayne Kennedy who also write for the show.

So much of what passes for late night television could be advertised as a tranquilizer–an endless sea of talk shows with white men behind desks asking prepared questions to keep the promotional wheels constantly turning. Totally Biased offers something different, absorbing commentary that should invoke a response–that is unless you can’t put 2+2 together. The speed of Bell’s act and topical nature should keep viewers alert. And nothing is beaten to the point of becoming unclear or some over-labored, wandering diatribe. Whether it’s pop culture, sports, race, religion, politics or the media itself, I’m sure you have formed your own opinions on such matters. Now it’s time to see if they’re a match for W. Kamau Bell’s.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpS0nBQYMao[/youtube]

BuzzFocus Presents: The ‘Total Recall’ Drinking Game

total recall colin farrell

If you were brave enough to see the modern and serious remake of Total Recall on its opening weekend, then you will love our Total Recall Redux Drinking Game we came up with to help make it more… palatable? I am in no way condoning you sneak in a case of your favorite hard liquor but a lot of help is needed to make Total Recall go down smoothly. Let me remind you that this was NOT on our 25 Films We Want to See in 2012. So don’t blame us if you didn’t like it. But it’s not unsalvageable!

Now yes, I realize I am asking you to see the film again, but it will be worth it if you get hammered and maybe you’ll eventually hallucinate all of the Mars stuff they decided to take out of the film. As we all know the 1990 original Recall, that starred the “Governator,” Arnold Schwarzenegger, directed by Paul Verhoeven and based on Philip K. Dick’s short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. It had all of these cool science-fiction-fantasy-mutant elements that were scrapped for the remake.

EDITOR’S PICK: Read our review of the Total Recall remake starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Bryan Cranston.

Considering Nasa’s recent mission to Mars on the same weekend, this omission was a wasted opportunity. And if you haven’t seen Total Recall yet, then playing the game is suggested. Just make sure you see it soon, because there’s no way this is lasting longer than three weeks in the theaters. Oh and a warning for spoilers below, but then again, you should be ashamed of yourself if you haven’t seen the original.

Warning: I suggest picking only two or three rules though when you play; otherwise, you’ll probably die from alcohol poisoning and we don’t want that.

1) Take 1 shot or drink when someone says, “Shit.”

Whenever the action paused for a moment for a reaction, it seemed like the only thing anyone could say was, “Shit!” It’s not always yelled out, sometimes it’s said in-sigh, or under one’s breath. I normally disagree when people say that using curse words shows your inability to articulate one’s thoughts or feelings, but there are no better words to describe how thoughtless that word was used in this script. There is an art to cursing, but it was not on display in this film. In theory, you could just get drunk off of this first rule alone, 20 minutes in. On second thought, you may want to go with every other time someone says it. You will want to pace yourself.

total recall blond cho

2) Take 2 shots or drinks when you realize a minority is just a minor character.

I’m not dumb, I knew the film was going to be about Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel, three beautiful actors who cannot carry a film by themselves. Oh yes, Bryan Cranston too (who I’ll give a pass to), but did nearly 98% of the Asians, blacks, and other non-whites in the cast have to play nearly all the minor roles or extras in the film? The three-breasted woman was played by Asian-American actress Kaitlyn Leeb was literally a throw-away cameo. John Cho, Will Yunn Lee, Mishael Morgan and Milton Barnes all had less than three minutes screen time–and I’m being generous at three minutes. Only Bokeem Woodbine had a real supporting role as Quaid’s friend on the assembly line, Harry. Looking back at the original, both Rachel Ticotin and Mel Johnson Jr. had memorable roles in the story. Now I’m always happy to see my Asian brothers and sisters get roles, um, even when Cho dies his hair blond (why exactly?), but remember it’s quality, not quantity; The Last Samurai wasn’t exactly progress. I know that Bill Nighy’s Matthias was wasted too and Biel’s Melina could have been played by virtually anyone else, but it’s hard not to notice the efforts made to keep the different ingredients from melting in the pot.

total recall kate beckinsale

3) Take 2 shots or drinks when you feel like Lori Quaid should have died.

Now I didn’t mind seeing Beckinsale last throughout the entire film, but there were at least three or four times where I could have accepted an early exit, I begged for it at one point. By the end, Lori became that villain. How Hollywood thinks this cliché helps films end well again and again is well, shit. Damn, now I have to take a shot. Hold on. [Gulp]

total recall kate beckinsale ass

4) Take 3 shots or drinks for every Kate Beckinsale butt shot.

Um. I don’t really need to qualify this do I? You want more? Oh here’s a problem I had. Why were there no great Jessica Biel butt shots? Why was she wearing baggy cargo pants? Booooooo! I need another shot for that depression. [Gulp]

5) Take 3 shots or drinks when you actually laughed because something was genuinely funny.

The screening I went to was a raucous, chatty group before the movie started, but it was deathly silent during the film, and sure, you want that 99/100 times you go to the theater (sometimes you like to hear other people laughing at a comedy), but there’s maybe one or two moments where people were able to stop, breathe and laugh. Even a thrill ride like Diehard has carefully placed scenes of levity. There was no real plot, and whatever there was, left no room for a real moment to unfold. But if you can be honest with your laughter, reward yourself generously.

6) Take 2 shots or drinks for every “new” plot element that feels borrowed from another film.

The skeleton of the original film is here, minus all of the fun. But where it’s noticeably different also felt like parts of I, Robot or The Bourne Identity or… Attack of the fucking Clones!?! Twice!?! If you’re going to rip off parts of films, steal from good ones. I’m probably missing a few others but it take you out of the film and showed a total lack of imagination.

total recall bryan cranston

7) Take 1 shot or drink every time you say to yourself, “Walter White is going save this film.”

If only this was an episode of Breaking Bad, at least you knew it was going to be brilliant by the end of the film, but even Cranston couldn’t save it as the villainous Cohaagen. Cranston is ten times more evil with a goatee, a shaved head and a pair of Clarks on his feet. It’s true. As the story unfolds and you just want something to save you from action, which does eventually numb you. Don’t worry, this rule will help you get through the third act. Just be sure you have enough liquor left to make it that far, because you’ll go through half a bottle hoping for Cranston to give this mess some panache. Interesting factoid: Cranston’s Breaking Bad co-star Dean “Hank” Norris played Tony in the 90’s version. Yes, Hank or Tony would have helped this remake, if only slightly.

8) Take 3 shots or drinks when Quaid stops from his frantic life-or-death chase to play the piano.

A great W-T-F moment! I’m taking three shots for just writing that. [Gulp-Gulp-Gulp]

total recall shuttle

9) Take 1 shots or drink when they show an establishing shot of the shuttle that connects The Federation of Great Britain and The Colony.

Okay one of the more interesting plot changes was that they chose to tell the story on a what’s left of earth after chemical weapons left only the continents of Western Europe and Australia as habitable land. Workers from The Colony would ride into this shuttle that would go through the core of the Earth and come out in the FGB and return after a day’s work. If there was one place a company could use some product placement on a billboard though, it would have been right on top of this shuttle dock. They must have shown it (see picture above) at least a dozen times. We got it, it’s a beautifully composited scene with intricate CG work, but after the eighth or ninth time… enough already. Bah, I’ve contributed to this total. [Gulp]

total recall 3 breasts

10) Take 5 shots or drinks when you truly believed a scene was done better than the original Arnie/Verhoeven film.

I’m a bit tipsy writing this game up, but I’m sober enough to say that there were a few moments that were treated better, and no, not necessarily the one pictured directly above, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. There weren’t many. This rule is simply to illustrate how unnecessary this film was. The action is great, but don’t we need more than one giant, soulless, action sequence and an uncharismatic Colin Farrell (who was so much fun to watch in Fright Night) playing the piano in the heat of a chase–again, WTF? I still don’t understand why the Mars element was scrapped, other than it didn’t want to be mistaken as science fiction–trust me, worries here. And yeah, I’m still angry that there was no Kuato! Perhaps it was for the better. At least we’ll still have this drinking game.