Years before Entourage hit the buzz-scene and gave everyone a humorously juicy look at Hollywood's backdoor dealings, mercenary machinations, and devilish duplicity ... there was Action, a 1999 comedy series that debuted on Fox amidst much hype, excitement, and anticipation.
Before its ninth episode aired, Action was canceled. It ran from September 16th to December 2nd. Nobody watched it. And when I say nobody, what I really mean is "nobody except the small pockets of humanity who not only watched the thing, but thought it was a true breath of fresh air from a network that generally puts its biggest crap-heaps on a pedestal while shunning its problem children at the first sign of trouble." How Fox ever expected this show to be a hit is anybody's guess, but that certainly doesn't explain why they didn't support the thing once the broadcasts were underway. Then again, we're talking about a network that canceled Firefly and Futurama and gave us Pamela Anderson in a library and pseudo-celebrity ice-skating exhibitions.
I'm digressing on the ineptitude of the Fox network programmers, which is something I'm apt to do, regardless of my mood, location, or previous topics of conversation. We're here to talk about Action, a show Fox loved so much that the episodes now hit DVD courtesy of ... Sony.
Basically, Action is a cable network comedy that somehow escaped into Fox territory, became hopelessly and desperately lost, and was put out of its misery before the thing was three months old. It tells the tale of mega-successful Hollywood producer Peter Dragon, an astonishingly rude, hateful, selfish bastard who earns a whole lot of ass-kissin' because is last handful of action movies were huge box office smashes.
Populating Peter's periphery is the requisite gang of colorful kooks: Dragon's newest executive is a former kid star turned whore, the head of production is a sniveling gopher, the neurotic new screenwriter is a jittery basket case, the studio head is a closet case, and the head flunkie is an aged uncle who talks real funny.
As the series opens, Peter is suffering through the release of his first big flop, which means it's time to head back to the well once again. "Beverly Hills Gun Club" will be the newest sensation from Dragon Films, and there's nothing to can get in the way of Peter's latest vision. Well, nothing besides a a rugged leading man who picks a really opportune time to share his secret with the world, a leading lady who shows up on set packing an extra 50 pounds, a wacko director who's been missing for years, a verbal assault from Congress, an unexpected heart attack, and a few really shady money-men who show some interest in Peter's young daughter.
It's all very geekily movie-centric, and I can only imagine how the people inside the movie industry must have gotten a kick out of the Action scenes. The cast is strong across the board, to be sure, but the star of Action is the writing staff. This show drips, festers, and oozes with verbal venom and shockingly inappropriate material. Action is not just one of the most brazen, knowing, and on-target Hollywood satires I've ever seen; it's also one of the funniest, and I mean funny in a joyously anti-PC fashion.
If you vaguely remember seeing Action during its initial run on Fox (or its subsequent syndication run on FX) and you've been itching for a second visit, this 2-disc package should net you more than enough laughs. Fans of the series will be pleased to note that the rampant profanity (which was bleeped out on TV, obviously) has been retained, which makes Action a sincerely R-rated affair. The flick might be a bit too poisonous or extreme for some, and I suppose that's a fair complaint, but there's an admirably angry tone to the Action comedy, and I happen to think it's a perfect counterpoint to all the wimpy and toothless comedies I'm asked to sit through.
Basically, I sure wouldn't want to live with Peter Dragon, but he sure is one fun bastard to visit with.
(Disc inventory listed below, with synopses stolen outright from the DVD insert.)
1. Pilot - Movie producer Peter Dragon accidentally picks up a prostitute at his premiere and decides to keep her on for more than just the show. Features Keanu Reeves.
2. Re-Enter the Dragon - Guest star Salma Hayek accuses Peter of couch-casting, but his real humiliation comes at the box office with the release of his movie.
3. Blood Money - Peter will go to any length to raise $50 million for his new project, but it's Wendy who spurs things along with her "talents" to motivate the writer.
4. Blowhard - Past girlfriend Sandra Bullock jumps Peter when she discovers he has taped their lovemaking sessions and released them on video.
5. Mr. Dragon Goes to Washington - Adam's new agent works up some "heat" while Peter flops testifying before Congress, forcing him to get a total PR makeover. Features David Hasselhoff.
6. Twelfth Step to Hell - "Part of Five" star Scott Wolf auditions for Peter's new movie, but he comes up short - while Peter feels his mortality in a religious pitch meeting.
7. Dragon's Blood - Peter's young directors go to summer camp instead of helming his movie, while Peter almost trades his daughter to an Arabian king.
8. Love Sucks - Stuart is a player when he signs a supermodel to co-star in the movie - but loses big time when his new heavy shows up 50 pounds overweight.
9. Strong Sexual Content and Adult Themes - A nasty rumor about Peter, a frog, and one of his body parts make the rounds in Tinseltown, while Wendy makes the most of Peter's new assistant.
10. Lights, Camera, Action! - Peter has a heart attack when the first day of shooting includes a star who wants a bigger crotch, a $25,000 diversity bird and a wacko director.
11. Dead Man Floating - Peter miraculously recovers from his heart attack in time to audition the "boob" scene, while his leading man Holden manages to kill the director.
12. One Easy Piece - Peter's sexy new star decides she's got it - but isn't going to show it - while Stuart and Adam are treated to a game of Hollywood Hopscotch.
13. Last Ride of the Elephant Princess - Surprise! Peter finds out the sloppy, obnoxious Rothstein brothers own the script to his movie, so he and Wendy put the screws on them to get it back.
Video: The episodes are presented in their original fullscreen format. Picture quality is quite strong, all things considered.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Perfectly serviceable.
There are three audio commentaries, and they're found on episode 8 ("Love Sucks"), episode 11 ("Dead Man Floating"), and episode 12 ("One Easy Piece"). The chat-tracks are pretty deadly, I gotta say. The participants (writers Jim Vallely, Don Reo, Ron Zimmerman, Dave Jeser, Matt Silverstein, and actor Jarrad Paul) spend a whole lot of open-air time watching their show, chuckling at their own jokes, and tossing snide-yet-mysterious comments about the cast members. (They all seem to harbor a real resentment for leading lady Illeana Douglas, which seems a mite distasteful.) Story editor Will Forte shows up for one of the chat-tracks, and adds next to nothing of note. Even fans of the series will find little to enjoy in the commentary section.
Considerably more entertaining, not to mention enlightening, is the 25-minute Getting Into the Action, which features interview segments with Action-makers Will Forte, Dave Jeser, Barry Katz, Jay Mohr, Don Reo, Joel Silver, Matt Silverstein, Chris Thompson, Jim Vallely, and Ron Zimmerman. Straight, sardonic, and honestly to-the-point, the participants explain how the show was conceived, created, critically admired but ratings-afflicted, and canceled in short order.
Rounding out the 2-disc set is a glossary / clip-provider entitled Trust Me: Useful Words and Phrases Every Producer Must Know and a bunch of Previews for An Evening with Kevin Smith, Laurel Canyon, Living in Oblivion, News Radio, Spaceballs, and Stripes.
Acidic, acerbic, trenchant, and amazingly ballsy for a prime-time network series, Action was doomed from its premiere episode. The characters were too dark and uncuddly; the Tinseltown material must have proven a little too "inside baseball" for the average Fox viewer; and the comedy material had a decidedly nasty edge that must have seemed fairly uninviting, especially with that soothing Dr. Crane just a few clicker-stops away.
But now the movie geeks can enjoy Action's 13-episode run through the magic of DVD. It's by no means a flawless sitcom, but it's certainly harsh, dark, daring, and funny enough to keep its target audience members consistently entertained.