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5 Shows in Which Actors Play Worse Versions of Themselves

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire April 12, 2012 at 10:30AM

Plenty of television shows have their stars, often comedians, playing fictionalized versions of themselves -- it's the simplest way to translate a stand-up act or other public persona to a scripted situation, from "The Jack Benny Show" to "The Cosby Show" to "Everybody Loves Raymond." But someone taking a regular gig that's centered around skewering him- or herself is a more contemporary phenomenon. Maybe it's because in this showbiz-savvy, invasive tabloid-happy era, we feel iike we have more a sense of an actor's private self (merited or not) and so are in on the joke, or maybe it's because there's no one you get freer rein to come down hard on than yourself.
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Louis C.K. in "Louie"

Louis C.K. takes sad sackery to some glorious places on his FX series, one of the best things on TV. Like him, his character is divorced, splits custody of his two kids and does stand-up. But his on-screen self always seems at ragged ends, whether in trying to buy a new apartment only to be reminded by his accountant that he has just $7,000 in the bank, or in having a date end with the woman getting into a helicopter to escape from him, or having an encounter with a girl at the bar who says she like older men like him because they smell like "dying." His willingness to bear the brunt of these multiple humiliations is balanced by the show's underlying warmth.


Warwick Davis in "Life's Too Short"

The 3' 6" tall Davis (of "Return of the Jedi," "Willow" and many others) co-created this BBC/HBO series with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant with the intent to poke fun of the life of a "showbiz dwarf." The result lets neither Davis, who plays himself as simultaneously arrogant and insecure while being so desperate for money that he takes on a series of degrading gigs, nor anyone else, from a journalist who makes the star stand on a box in order to be more easily interviewed to Gervais himself, playing extra pompous. The result is too cruel for my taste, though there are occasional moments of genius from guests like Liam Neeson.


Steve Coogan in "The Trip"

Coogan's a maestro at subtly self-lacerating self-portraits, and in Michael Winterbottom's six-part series (which was also cut down into a feature film) he builds on the version of himself he played in "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," an actor who's constantly being reminded of the ways in which his personal and professional life are not matching his aspirations. The relationship his character has with Rob Brydon, his best frenemy, speaks volumes -- literally, as the two have nothing to do but talk and eat on their journey through northern England. Coogan constantly slights and holds himself over Brydon, but of course can't help but give into endless duels over impersonations, and it's implied that Brydon, in putting up with the abuse, pities the man.

This article is related to: Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, Television, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David, Life's Too Short, Warwick Davis, Steve Coogan, The Trip, Jennifer Grey, It's Like, You Know..., Louie, Louis C.K., TV Features