Monday, September 27th, 1999
So what, exactly, is so revolutionary about Action?
If you said that the Fox sitcom breaks new ground by using lots of profanity-and then bleeping it out-you may be missing the point. Sure, that’s the hook they used to get us in the door, carefully deploying the show’s stars to talk shows everywhere armed with a clip of the pilot’s first scene, where studio exec Peter Dragon belittles a hapless cafeteria worker (whose parking spot Dragon has stolen) in a soliloquy laced with multiple applications of bleepin’ invective.
Anyone (with cable or a DSS) who’s sampled an HBO preview knows that the language-minus the bleeps-is nothing new. You’ll hear it on Sex in the City, Arli$$, Oz, or any other of HBO’s original productions, and sure enough, the HBO playground is where Action was originally destined to air. But no, for some reason (money? exposure?) the program’s producers sought out a Fox timeslot, and if this show travels over the broadcast airwaves at 9 pm eastern, it travels bleeped. And just to make the process even easier, they shot these scenes with a hyperkinetic camera that made sure something was passing in front of actor Jay Mohr’s mouth anytime he was conjugating "fuck" as an adjective. No fair trying to read lips.
Of course in the lucrative overseas markets for the show, Action will probably arrive uncensored, possibly even with a few extra scenes shot with the exposed breasts that give a show like this a true HBO-feel. But this is the United States of America, ma’am, and we have rules against that sort of thing on our broadcast TV.
No, language is not the reason this program should be congratulated for barrier-breaking. Instead, consider characters, story, plot. Here’s a show with a leading character so unredeeming, so unrepenting, so generally repugnant, he makes broadcast television’s previous attempts at "bad boys" (remember Dabney Coleman’s Buffalo Bill?) seem like complete weenies. He’s paired with Ileana Douglas’s completely original portrayal of a child-star-turned-not-quite-retired-prostitute, and together they’re trying to get a movie put together ("Beverly Hills Gun Club") that is so bad we can smell the script from this side of the TV. There is absolutely no traditional reason we would want this pair to succeed. And yet
We’re watching. We’re laughing. We’re surprised. We’re entertained. And we’re all the more fascinated because we’ve been told that the Dragon character is drawn-in some detail-from the no-kidding for-real life, attitude, and behavior of the show’s actual executive producer, Joel Silver. It’s a classic LA paradox: you don’t know whether to congratulate Silver for rich lode of material that comes from this level of self-revelation or condemn him for the Tinseltown weasel he apparently epitomizes.
But I come here to praise Action. They are telling stories that, taken as a whole, completely satisfy our prurient interest in the scummy core of the movie business. When this program completes its (hopefully successful) run there will be (writers please note) absolutely no reason to try and tell this story again. This lode will be completely mined. There will be nothing more to be seen here, so please move along.