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'Out of Order' may be real, but who cares?

Friday, May 30, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette Tv Editor

Showtime's new limited-run series "Out of Order" (10 p.m. Sunday) is pretentious Hollywood tripe. This series will resonate in a 20-square-mile area of Los Angeles, and that's about it.

Mark (Eric Stoltz) continuously imagines his life as a movie, which means too many fantasy sequences with talking animals and imaginary film crews. His wife, Lorna (Felicity Huffman), is a pill-popping, boozing, pot-smoker with a trauma-filled past that should elicit sympathy. But Lorna is a terrible mom and completely irresponsible.

Mark addresses the audience as "the jury" that will judge him on his actions after he meets Danni (Kim Dickens), a mother Mark chats with while attending his son's soccer games.

"I don't think it's natural to be monogamous," Danni says, telegraphing where the story will go.

Lorna stays home, sleeping long hours due to her depression. When she does go out, it's usually to smoke pot with Steven (William H. Macy, Huffman's real-life husband), a washed-up film producer.

When Lorna is coherent, she and Mark make a living writing movies, including a script for a top director (Peter Bogdanovich). She's barely coherent in Sunday's premiere, which will be followed by four one-hour episodes airing Mondays at 10 p.m.

"Out of Order" was written by the husband and wife team of Donna Powers and Wayne Powers (Wayne also directed the first episode). At a January Showtime press conference, the Powerses said the series is inspired by their own 16-year marriage and partnership writing Hollywood movies, including new release "The Italian Job." When asked to be specific about similarities between their lives and the characters and events they inspired, Wayne Powers hemmed and hawed.

"I think it would be a disservice to the piece to sort of cherry pick and say, 'This is exactly what happened' and 'This didn't,' " Wayne Powers said. "Our goal was to have a piece that feels authentic throughout and feels real."

Maybe they're real, but the characters and their behavior won't go over well in the heartland. Basically, these are contemptible, hedonistic characters who think they're saying profound things when they're really just making lousy excuses.

In the closing moments of Sunday's 90-minute premiere, the whole cast is seen lying on the beach.

"I'm truly guilty of only one thing ...," Mark says ethereally.

"Of being human," he says. Then every other cast member, in artsy, self-conscious style, echoes his line.

"Of being self-absorbed" would have been more accurate.

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

Carole Segal

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