When we’re first introduced to Sir Patrick Stewart in “Blunt Talk,” Jonathan Ames’ new comedy about a respected anchorman whose dalliances with indiscretion have left his dignity in question, he’s sitting at a bar, alone, being poured a fresh glass of scotch. Three sheets to the wind and prattling on about British royalty to an empathetic bartender, he’s soon greeted by a polite fan who claims to have watched his show that night. “You may be the only one who did,” responds the private-minded public figure, before rudely disembarking to drunkenly drive himself home.
This is Walter Blunt, and to anyone tuning in without background on “Blunt Talk” itself, he appears to be very much like many other legendary cable characters: White, respected, drunk, educated, arrogant, yet somehow well-liked by those in the show and likable enough to the audience at home. Walter Blunt could very well be replaced by Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Will McAvoy or even Walter White in the situation above, and the only script changes would be a) the part about British royalty, and b) that his fan would be a woman, family member, Republican or drug dealer, respectively.
Soon after this scene, everything changes for Walter. He’s stopped by the police and caught on tape behaving highly unstably, to towering comedic heights. We’re introduced to his “valet,” Harry (Adrian Scarborough), who provides him with medicinal doses of alcohol, drugs and much-needed support, as well as his devoted news team, including a producer (Jacki Weaver) he likes to cuddle — though there’s nothing sexual going on — and a staff made up of eclectic characters teased out over the four episodes made available for review.
Of course, at this point, it’s clear “Blunt Talk” is a comedy. Though the central figure may feel familiar in a drama, he’s surprisingly fresh in this 30-minute comic lark. There’s an argument to be made we’ve seen too many stories about old, white, successful men in crisis on TV as a whole, but it’s one few will want to make after being treated to Patrick Stewart’s game turn as an adrift newscaster.
Stewart is no stranger to comedy after years of subverting his typecasting in the likes of “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Extras,” as well as becoming a go-to comic voice actor for Seth MacFarlane (who executive produces “Blunt Talk” and previously cast Stewart in “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and as the narrator of “Ted”). But he is nonetheless best known for his roles as a commanding voice of wisdom in “Star Trek” and the “X-Men” films. He’s also a lauded Shakespearean performer and an actual knight, leaving no doubt about his accepted status as a man to be taken seriously.
Given these pre-established notions, it’s almost shocking how easily Stewart slips into the role of madcap anchor, intent on reviving his dismal ratings and solidifying his legacy. While the series very much takes advantage of the idea that not only are we seeing an actor reveal a lesser-known side of himself, we’re also seeing the diegetic character’s secret life as well, both notes only add to what Stewart brings to Blunt. His charisma and command remain intact, but it’s his humility and commitment that stand out. Scenes where an embarrassed Blunt asks for a helping hand, and others where he further establishes his unique bond with Harry, showcase a side of Stewart specific to this character. Some may argue the role is tailored to Stewart’s talents, but it’s the man who makes the suit — not the other way around.
For as funny as Stewart is, “Blunt Talk” isn’t strictly a comedy. A fascinating big picture element of the series is how Jonathan Ames — whose last program, “Bored to Death,” was a timely twist on P.I. pulp fiction — has crafted his latest effort almost entirely outside the boundaries of genre. Sure, it’s a comedy, but narrowing down the label beyond that is pointless. Ames dabbles in other genres — like drama, action, mystery, history (Blunt’s obsession with the Falklands War will lead to more education on the subject than anything else in America) and even, or so I thought for two episodes, science fiction — all while structuring episodes specifically within a serialized format. It’s quite a combination of ideas, and what holds them together is the author’s distinct, compelling voice, alongside Stewart’s utter magnetism.
Though it may feel like you can drag and drop other great cable characters in and out of a show like “Blunt Talk,” to do so would be to ignore the emergence of a new club member.