Fox should wrap `Action'

Review: Forget the buzz: This series is unfunny and insulting. Let's hope it's rendered inactive -- soon.

September 16, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Every television season, there is at least one new network series so insulting and debased that it almost makes you despair for the entire medium.

Last year, it was UPN's "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfieffer," which joked about slavery in 19th Century America. This year, it is "Action," a rude, crude, culture-of-mean sitcom on Fox starring Jay Mohr ("Jerry McGuire") as an incredibly unpleasant motion picture producer in Hollywood.

"Desmond Pfieffer" was mercifully cancelled after just six episodes. With "Action," one can only hope.

But I am not holding my breath. In fact, I'm afraid this coarse and ugly sitcom is actually going to become a hit -- a kind of live action "South Park" for adults.

It could happen. It is the one new sitcom with any kind of buzz. This is faint praise indeed in this television season, I'll grant you, but there are other critics who think "Action" defines groundbreaking.

Groundbreaking? Two years ago, UPN had "Hitz," starring Andrew Dice Clay as an incredibly unpleasant record company executive in Hollywood, which also was built on the premise that there is something hilarious about demeaning those less powerful.

"Action" opens with Peter Dragon (Mohr) driving onto the studio lot that houses Dragonfire Films, his production company, which makes action-adventure films starring Hollywood's biggest big-screen heroes. He parks in a space with a sign that proclaims, "Reserved for Manny Sanchez -- Employee of the Month." Dragon drives into the sign, crunching it under the tires of his sports car.

Just as he gets out, a small car pulls in behind him and a man wearing the white coat of a food service employee comes running after him.

"Hey, hey, excuse me," the man says, catching up to Dragon, who is talking on his cell phone as he walks. "You're parking in my space. I'm Manny Sanchez, and I'm the employee of the month." Sanchez smiles a self-deprecating smile as he says this to the man in the expensive suit on the phone.

"Well, that's just fantastic, Manny," Dragon says sarcastically, then launches into a gross and demeaning diatribe.

I can't even start to approximate the language of "Action" in this newspaper, so I'll spare you. But as the scene unfolds, Dragon profanely justifies his behavior based on how much money he earns for the studio compared with Sanchez. You might want to tape this sequence and use it as a poster scene for the coarsening of American life, the breakdown of a civil society.

As for Fox and the producers, they think it's funny. I know that, because I was at the press conferences this summer where Fox President Doug Herzog and executive producer Chris Thompson told us how funny it was.

Another big thrill, according to them, is that the other executive producer of "Action" is Joel Silver, who produced such mega-hits as "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon" and can deliver cameos by such superstars as Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves and Mel Gibson to the Fox series. Boy, am I impressed.

What they didn't address, and what is really appalling about the opening of "Action," is that the character being demeaned is Hispanic. This from one of the four networks without a person of color in a leading role in any of their new sitcoms.

Speaking of ethnicity, in this Jewish holiday season, I will spare you the many Jew jokes in the pilot. Let me just say this: If you are an anti-Semite, "Action" is the series for you.

The producers promise Dragon will get his as the series unfolds. The seeds are planted in tonight's pilot as his latest film, "Slow Torture," opens to less than terrific reviews and bad box office. But the scene in which his boss at the studio puts Dragon down is so focused on the comparative size of male sexual organs that I can't even start to describe it in this newspaper. And Dragon is never really demeaned the way he demeans others. After all, he's the guy we have to identify with if this series is going to succeed.

On second thought, I guess this could be a culturally important sitcom -- in the sense of being a barometer of our society. If we identify with Dragon, what does that say about us? Also, what does it say about our taste if we need our prime-time comedy to be this mean and crude?

On third thought, as to the matter of all buzz being good: buzz is also the sound flies make as they settle on a corpse.

`Action'

What: Series premiere

When: 9 to 10 tonight

Where: Fox (WBFF, Channel 45)

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