More often than not, Blunt Talk’s punchline is “Isn’t it silly that we got Patrick Stewart to do this?” As the man we’ve grown to love as Captain Jean-Luc Picard or Charles Xavier, Stewart has always been synonymous with stoic strength—an unshakable leader that can take on anything without ever showing the slightest hint of fear or worry. But within the first few minutes of Blunt Talk’s premiere episode “I Seem To Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself,” we see Stewart drunk driving, eating edible marijuana and picking up a transgender sex worker so he can, as he puts it, “suckle on her breasts.” The entire joke is essentially the meta nature of seeing this person we know as typically serious doing crazy things, but what keeps this pilot afloat beyond that are the feelings we quickly develop for Stewart’s Walter Blunt and his good-hearted nature, even when he’s doing the most insane things.
Blunt Talk starts us off by showing Blunt at his worst, depressed over his news show’s pitiful ratings and his recent divorce—his fourth—weighing on his mind. Blunt staggers out of a bar, gets in his Jaguar, pops some chocolate pot and picks up the aforementioned sex worker. Yet despite all of these actions, the lovability of Stewart shines through. As he gets drunk, he tells charming stories about British royalty to the bartender and he’s incredibly sweet to Gisele—the prostitute he picks up—and thanks her for being kind to him. Even when confronted by a fan at the bar (when he clearly wants to be left alone), he’s more odd and amusing than he is frustrated. Almost as soon as Blunt starts to suckle on Gisele’s breasts, the cops appear. One thing leads to another and it all ends with several cops attacked and Blunt on top of his car reciting Hamlet. It’s a testament to Stewart’s performance that we see this as a series of misunderstandings from a man clearly in pain, rather than a debauchery-filled evening that could end his career.
The next morning, Blunt is caught up in controversy and his already flailing show is now closer to cancellation. Blunt trades his Jaguar for one final broadcast, where he interviews himself about his own transgressions, before passing out on camera—the last of many blackouts within the first episode.
Blunt Talk makes it pretty clear from the very beginning that this isn’t a show about Stewart’s Blunt learning from his mistakes or trying to become a better person. It seems content with allowing him to fight his way through another day. This is much easier to do for Blunt, since he has an entire crew of people willing to enable whatever guilty pleasure he has at any given moment. Blunt’s manservant and former brother in arms in the Falklands War Harry Chandler (Adrian Scarborough) is always by his side to provide booze or drugs to pep up his boss. Blunt’s therapist Dr. Weiss (Richard Lewis) prescribes him cocaine to get him through what seems like his last broadcast. His crew of writers—who each seem like they also have their own set of serious problems—are willing to give him whatever speed/Ambien/espresso he needs at any time. It also appears that his coworker of twenty years Rosalie (an underused Jacki Weaver) is completely used to spooning Blunt and punching his nipples to make him relax.
With this great supporting cast that also includes Enlightened’s Timm Sharp, Safety Not Guaranteed’s Karan Soni, Dolly Wells and Mary Holland, Blunt Talk tries to tell its audiences that there’s the possibility for more depth to this series, beyond just watching Patrick Stewart get drunk and high each week. Each one of these characters already has potential to fill this world with interesting stories, however the pilot’s focus is understandably on Stewart. We’ll just have to wait and see if Blunt Talk evolves beyond that.
What worries me the most about Blunt Talk is the team behind the show. Blunt Talk is from Jonathan Ames, who also created Bored to Death, another show that could also seem listless and as if it was searching for a point at times. In a show about a man trying to scrape by while also indulging in whatever he wants at any moment, it’s easy to predict similar issues. Also troublesome is executive producer Seth MacFarlane, who has worked with Patrick Stewart successfully in the past and seems to have been the one to talk Stewart into Blunt Talk in the first place. While I doubt MacFarlane has much involvement in the show, the pilot’s reliance on going back to the same type of drug-and-booze-filled joke over and over again does remind me of McFarlane’s similar style with his animated shows—a style that makes almost every episode indistinguishable from the last.
“I Seem To Be Running Out of Dreams For Myself” is a fun beginning to Blunt Talk that finally gives Stewart an outlet for the comedic chops we’ve all long known he has. But if the show wants to succeed on a long-term basis (Starz has already picked the series up for a second season), it’ll have to focus more on the heart of Blunt than on his liver.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.