There’s a moment early in the first episode of Blunt Talk, a new half-hour Starz series from Bored to Death’s Jonathan Ames, where famous(ly self-involved) TV news man Walter Blunt (Patrick Stewart) is standing on his car, quoting Shakespeare and apologizing to a prostitute. He’s elevated and eloquently pontificating while surrounded by a growing group of spectators. It’s the perfect way to sum up the often hilarious Blunt Talk, where the 75-year-old Stewart is larger-than-life as Blunt, demanding out attention and deserving every moment of it.
Stewart careens through the series with a childlike, genteel mania, even as he snorts cocaine, shatters a man’s testicles, and demands to be spooned in his office. For some, the major appeal of Blunt Talk will be seeing such a venerable figure as Stewart engaging in sophomoric and reckless behaviors. But Stewart is at his most side-splitting when Blunt is simply being petulant. For example, he gets his personal valet Harry (Adrian Scarborough) to clear out the men’s room at an airport so he can use it in peace (“I do not share a loo with anybody”), but is crippled by the injustice of the toilet automatically flushing the seat protector before he can sit down, literally crying out over the emotional pain.
Though Blunt Talk is something of a newsroom comedy, Walter’s co-workers — played by Jacki Weaver, Dolly Wells, Timm Sharp, and Karan Soni — are only interesting in their relationships to Walter, and rarely on their own (the exception is Weaver and her husband, played by Ed Begley, Jr., who seems to be suffering from Alzheimer’s). It is Walter’s relationship with Harry, though, that shows off the series at its best. The two, who served in the Falklands together (which is the basis of many jokes in the series, so brush up on your history), are a kind of cocaine-fueled Jeeves and Wooster. Harry is devoted to Walter, serving his every whim, from Walter’s desire for shame-inducing floggings, to reading him bedtime stories (selections include The Once and Future King, and the Koran). Walter is at his most childlike when he is with Harry, asking him innocently, “have you ever realized that drinking actually makes you sadder? I just discovered this!”
Blunt Talk’s quick-fire and highly referential humor goes from the low-brow (“anybody want to talk about my fecal matter study?”) to wonderfully absurd (“I love a women with a clean bathroom!”) though the focus on the scatological remains. But no matter how childish (as opposed to childlike) things get around Walter, Stewart’s natural gravitas holds everything down, while also creating a unique performance that is captivating, ever-surprising, and — in somewhat of a change for Stewart — very funny. Blunt Talk also trades in confronting taboo and exploring the sexual exploits and private fetishes of its characters to the point of over-saturation, but Stewart calms the waters with his staid proclamations: “the Windsors gave a quarter of a million dollars for ruined testicles in the 1930s, so I feel half a million is appropriate from me now.”
Ultimately, Blunt Talk is just all about Blunt. He monologues on history, he raps, he quotes Shakespeare and snorts cocaine (as part of his Freudian therapy — his therapist, wonderfully, is played by Richard Lewis). The show seems to feel like it needs to temper, or maybe juxtapose, Stewart’s revered nature by throwing him into bizarre circumstances, but Stewart rises to each challenge with apparent glee, often channeling Robin Williams as he bounces from one moment to the next with earnest gusto.
The Jeeves and Wooster-esque dandy-and-his-manservant relationship he shares with Harry is the most charming, the funniest, and the richest of the series, but four episodes in, the series has plenty of potential going in a myriad of directions. Blunt Talk is running for 10 episodes as part of its 20-episode, 2-season pickup, so there will be time to explore all of the show’s angles. But the bottom line is that at 75, Stewart is as sharp as he’s ever been, and the show — even in its silliest moments — is a wonderful showcase for both his acting range and his charm.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
Blunt Talk premieres Saturday, August 22nd at 9 p.m. ET