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Tuned In: Adult, foul-mouthed 'Action' still great entertainment

Thursday, September 16, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

"Action" is the funniest new show of the season. It's also the raunchiest.

Therein lies the dilemma.

Do I praise a show for being smart and sophisticated or do I condemn it for further coarsening the culture? The only way to be true to my interest in praising a great TV show for adults and to my own sense of decency is to do both, schizophrenic as that may be.

Jay Mohr, who played an obnoxious sports agent in "Jerry Maguire," stars in "Action" as an arrogant Hollywood movie producer. He's Peter Dragon, whose latest film, "Slow Torture," is about to premiere.

But he's got other problems besides worrying about how his movie does at the box office. He can't decide whether the sequel should be called "Slow Torture 2: It Still Hurts" or "Slow Torture 2: It's Unbearable."

Then there's the writer mix-up. He wanted Alan Rifkin's "Beverly Hills Death Squad," but his company bought Adam Rafkin's "Beverly Hills Gun Club."

"Are you telling me we spent a quarter of a million dollars and we got the wrong Jew?" Dragon screams at his president of production (Jack Plotnick).

Shocked? Just wait.

There are jokes about urinating in Cobb salad, penis size, prostitutes and loads of profanity. And not the kind of curse words you hear on "NYPD Blue." We're talking the worst words possible. They're bleeped, but you still know exactly what Dragon is saying.

That's where my respect for this hilarious behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood from writer Chris Thompson begins to wane.

I wouldn't be as concerned about content if "Action" aired on HBO or another pay cable service. Parents have to invite HBO into their homes by paying for it. Fox comes in uninvited.

Broadcasters argue they have to compete with cable by offering the same types of shows cable serves up (and then turn around and say it's unfair to have network shows compete with HBO's "The Sopranos" at the Emmys), but "Action" would be just as funny without so much profanity.

Given the subject matter, there's no way "Action" could be anything but an adult comedy (I don't expect to hear euphemisms for curse words, just leave them out), but the realistic spewing of profanity becomes excessive.

On his way to the "Slow Torture" premiere, Dragon accidentally picks up a prostitute, Wendy Ward (Illeana Douglas). Turns out she's a former child star with a knack for picking quality scripts. So Dragon hires her as an executive with his company.

Dragon employs his Uncle Lonnie (Buddy Hackett) as his own security guard/chauffeur and feuds with his ex-wife (Cindy Ambuehl), who left him to be a beard for gay studio boss Bobby Gianopolis (Lee Arenberg). Dragon has an adorable daughter, Georgia (Sara Paxton), a Hollywood kid who listens to him practice rants he'll later use.

Executive producer Joel Silver snags real celebrities for cameos in "Action," and it's a neat gambit popularized by "The Larry Sanders Show." Keanu Reeves appears in the pilot tonight at 9, and Salma Hayek guests in the second episode at 9:30.

Reeves attends the "Slow Torture" premiere with Dragon and offers this faint praise of the film: "Much better explosions than the last one."

As Dragon, Mohr has the cocky smirk to be entirely believable as the soulless Hollywood shark. And the show's theme song -- "Nice Guys Finish Last" by Green Day -- perfectly complements his attitude.

But as funny and smart a send-up as "Action" is, I still have reservations about it. What price is society willing to pay to be entertained?

On Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman and conservative former Secretary of Education William Bennett gave "Action" a Silver Sewer Award for aiding and abetting in the destruction of American values.

Even though I get a kick out of "Action," it deserves that dishonor.

But it won't stop me from watching.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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