Thursday, March 15, 2007

Termite Television: Inside the Actors Studio

(Or: "Put This Pathetic Creature Out of Its Misery")

I couldn't sleep last night, and it wasn't the anticipation of the plane ride home from Austin that was doing it. No, it was a completely ridiculous late night episode of Inside the Actors Studio, a show that has increasingly become the least essential interview show on television. You don't watch ItAS to learn about the craft of acting; you watch to learn just how desperate one man is to hobnob with movie stars, and how desperate movie stars are for compliments.

I think the craft of acting is very interesting. When a good actor has something to say about it, that's worth my time without a doubt. And Inside the Actors Studio has had some incredible guests over the years, including Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, and Clint Eastwood. They replayed a Eastwood episode a few weeks ago — it's a few years old now — and man is it good. They talked about everything from Leone to Unforgiven. Great stuff.

But after almost 200 episodes and now in its 13th (!!!) season, The Actors Studio is starting to strain for guests. I recently saw an episode with Diana Ross: quick name one movie she's been in besides Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogany, and The Wiz? Trick question; there are none. Ross' episode was particularly pointless, but it's far from an aberration; here's a sample of the people who, however talented, had absolutely no right appearing on Inside the Actors Studio in recent years: Elton John, Barbara Walters, George Carlin, Roseanne, Billy Joel, and Jay Leno. I've never seen Leno's episode but I imagine the exchange about Collision Course was incredibly enlightening.

Whatever else it started out as, Inside the Actors Studio has basically turned into just another talk show, albeit one with lengthier interviews and a more eccentric host (more on him in a bit). The only people who go on it now are the people with something to promote; typically said host, James Lipton, builds up to his discussion of that release, which he has always seen "at a special screening" or "an early, unfinished print" and with an air of awed solemnity, as if he's just seen the Shroud of Turin instead of The Da Vinci Code. And, to be clear, lengthy doesn't mean in depth. The conversation is superficial and heavy on bootlickery. Often Lipton reveres work that even his guests readily admit is flawed or not worth discussing. These aren't softballs; these are beach balls.

The episode that had me completely riveted was a new one involving Chris Rock (promoting his new, Rohmer-remake I Think I Love My Wife). Chris Rock is a remarkably gifted comedian; easily one of the two or three finest and funniest of his generation, and definitely someone who deserves consideration if you're drawing up a list of the best of all time. But he is not a good actor. I've seen him in a lot of movies; at his best he plays a twist on his comedic persona (Dogma, Lethal Weapon 4) and at worst is an unfunny, awkward twist on his comedic persona (Head of State and the truly revolting Bad Company).

In short, no one should be getting acting tips from Chris Rock, but there he is, up on stage, imparting his accumulated wisdom to impressionable youngsters and an absurdly enthused host. Really, you haven't lived, or laughed, until you've heard James Lipton intone, in all sincerity, "Chris, then you made a film of which I am an unapologetic fan of. Who is...Pootie Tang?!?!?"

Man that's good stuff. Lipton, you're crazy. But I feel like you're so sincere in your flattery, or at least so consistent with it, that it's amusing. Worth watching for educational value? Not really. But for unintended laughs? You betcha. I mean just look at this guy:

That guy is bananas.

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Blogger R. Emmet Sweeney said...

I'll go to my grave thinking Pootie Tang is a work of genius.

10:44 PM  
Blogger P.L. Kerpius said...

Anyhow, if you want to see Chris Rock at rock bottom, you should have seen him on the Tyra show today pretending to be a fan of her show. My favorite was when he gave his answer to the "so what?" segment. For those unfamiliar (or who don't watch The Soup) this is the part when Tyra says "My thights touch--so WHAT?" and other vapid remarks about the state of her body. Chris Rock's answer was the best the show will ever see: "I starred in that gay porn video--so what?"

7:25 PM  

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