Starz’s Blunt Talk, premiering Saturday, is one of those comedies that wants you to know upfront that it’s edgy — think Showtime’s canceled Happyish or FX’s hopefully soon-to-be-canceled Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll — instead of letting you come to that conclusion on your own. It isn’t terrible, exactly, but it tries too hard to sustain an entire series on “Patrick Stewart doing ‘bad’ and zany things!” even though that gimmick grows old before the pilot is over.
The pilot, easily the worst episode of the bunch, introduces us to Walter Blunt (Stewart) while he’s on a bender, after eating weed chocolate, driving drunk and rapping along to the radio, and soliciting a transgender prostitute before getting caught by the cops and making a scene while standing on top of the car. This isn’t as interesting as it might sound. The central conceit is: You know Patrick Stewart as a prim and proper Englishman, but what if he drinks too much and curses while ranting? Wouldn’t that be hilarious? Don’t you want to watch that week after week? Trust me: You don’t. It’s reminiscent of the dirty-grandma jokes that have characterized Betty White’s career rejuvenation, but somehow it feels even staler.
This isn’t too surprising, considering that Blunt Talk is executive produced by Seth MacFarlane. But it was also created by Jonathan Ames, a celebrated author who made one of TV’s best, most amusing writerly shows with HBO’s Bored to Death. That series had more shades of gray than Blunt Talk, more fun, better written characters, and less cynicism. It didn’t feel cool because it portrayed drugs, nor did it pride itself on being lewd for lewdness’ sake (of course, that’s MacFarlane’s M.O.). Ames and MacFarlane’s collaboration is a strange blend of both of their styles, so much so that you could almost divide each joke into one of two columns. And while the two writers have their loyal fans and are both very good at what they do (regardless of whether or not you enjoy that specialty), the two sensibilities don’t blend well together — in fact, they seem to work against each other.
Blunt Talk follows the expected narrative about a career man out of sorts. Walter does coke, goes to AA (he strongly considers cutting back on his drinking), has sexcapades that result in him fleeing a woman’s bedroom while her husband chases after him, and so on. It’s a playful series, even when it’s being cynical, and could possibly be an acquired taste — the episodes do get better as they go along, and I found myself sort of relaxing and giving in to the story, as though giving up my struggle against drowning and just accepting my own doom.
It’s not all bad: Patrick Stewart is clearly having fun and is game for anything. He gives a great performance, unsurprisingly, and is definitely amusing to watch. The supporting cast contains some impressive talent: Timm Sharp, Richard Lewis, Dolly Wells. But even with some of the good elements, it’s tough to imagine casual viewers powering through Blunt Talk after the first dismal episode. We are in the midst of Peak Television, after all. When a new show doesn’t immediately seem promising, there are 50 others to check out instead.