Patrick Stewart Behaves Badly in Blunt Talk

The new comedy on Starz presents itself as a satire of cable news, but mostly wrings laughs from watching the Shakespearean actor subvert his dignified reputation.


In television, there is a sub-genre so overdone, so endlessly imitated, that every new entry feels burnt to a crisp on arrival: the show about a powerful man behaving very badly. Usually it requires a famous lead and a splashy setting; Starz’s new half-hour comedy Blunt Talk (debuting Saturday at 9 p.m.) has both, starring Patrick Stewart as the cable news host Walter Blunt, a man in the midst of a severe, and very public decline. Blunt Talk opens with Walter drinking and driving, nibbling on marijuana edibles, and picking up a prostitute, before scuffling with the cops who try to arrest him for solicitation. The implication seems to be that such wantonly outrageous acts make the show worth watching all by themselves, but from the beginning Stewart manfully struggles to make the show even marginally engaging.

Without a doubt, Stewart is certainly the biggest card Blunt Talk has to play. In his long career, he’s rarely ventured into comedy, but his voice work on the Seth MacFarlane comedy American Dad piqued his interest, and Blunt Talk is produced by MacFarlane. Throughout, the show is clearly delighted with itself for getting Stewart to behave so badly—he asks to nuzzle a woman’s breasts, cheerfully ingests any drug handed to him, and out of nowhere recites Shakespearean monologues, in case the audience forgot which actor it was dealing with. It’s quite a fun performance in spite of the very thin show around it, but having Stewart play such a cartoon does not a watchable television show make.

It’s hard to tell what else Blunt Talk is really about. Yes, it’s a broad satire of cable news, with Blunt’s proclivity for troublemaking becoming a helpful boon for ratings, and the character is obviously supposed to represent many a self-important TV talking head. Blunt is married and divorced many times over, and served as a British Marine in the Falklands War, something he takes very seriously (one of the funniest recurring jokes is his sensitivity to anyone reducing the importance of the conflict). If this life experience ever helped him present an authentic take on the news, it’s clear years of celebrity have sanded that away, and Blunt is surrounded by a colorful supporting cast of TV producers who help affirm his God complex.

As satire, it isn’t particularly cutting, which is a little surprising considering that Blunt Talk was created by Jonathan Ames, whose last TV effort was the appreciably shaggy HBO comedy Bored to Death. That was also a “men behaving badly” comedy, but a much more subversive one: Its characters were man-children in various stages of arrested development, playing at being private investigators as a way of staving off adulthood. Walter Blunt is chugging pills and booze as a similar act of escapism, but his misadventures are much more formulaic, and his core characterization is just a skewed version of Patrick Stewart himself: an entertaining Brit with a magical, built-in gravitas. In case you forget he’s British, he even has a butler who accompanies him everywhere, offering swigs from a flask whenever Walter gets stressed out.

Blunt Talk does pick up in quality a little bit after its bombastic pilot episode, and like Bored to Death (which also started slow), it may eventually settle into a nice groove as it fills in the details of Walter’s life and the ensemble around him. The cast includes the marvelous two-time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver as his embattled right-hand woman and Timm Sharp as a friendly, pill-carrying enabler. Though they have little to do in early episodes, they’re both comedic forces in their own right who may find more to do as the series progresses.

Starz clearly has faith in Blunt Talk, as it’s already been renewed for another 10 episodes after this first season, but like everything else on screen, that bet is clearly being made on the back of Stewart’s star power. Fans will no doubt want to check out his admirable attempt at a comic turn, but other than that, there’s very little to hook a viewer in. It’s sadly easy to consign Blunt Talk to the giant pile of forgettable premium-cable comedies like Californication, House of Lies, and Happyish that figured audiences would enjoy the vicarious thrill of male leads swearing, drinking, and sleeping around, no matter how tired the premise.