More than 5 years after its short-lived run on Fox, "Action" has come to DVD! I never liked American sitcoms. Never found them funny. Can't stand laugh tracks. But this raunchy no-holds-barred showbiz satire had me hooked on the first episode. "Action" was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I rearranged my schedule to watch this show in 1999. And it doesn't have a laugh track! It doesn't need one. It's actually funny. "Action" was cancelled after only eight episodes. Fox had put it up against "Frasier", "Chicago Hope" and WWF (now WWE) wrestling on Thursday nights. The stiffest competition on television. "Action" apparently did ok in urban markets but no where else. That's not surprising, since half of its audience was watching the WWF. Now all 13 episodes, including some never shown on network television, are on these 2 DVDs. The order of the episodes is different than it was on television, and it's not clear to me what the intended order was. Expletives that were bleeped out on television have been restored, although they were funnier when they were bleeped, truthfully. The "beep"s became part of the joke.
"Action" follows the outrageous antics of Hollywood producer Peter Dragon (Jay Mohr) as he tries to produce "Beverly Hills Gun Club", his latest action-comedy and hopeful hit. Peter's production company Dragonfire Films specializes in "event films", meaning ultra-violent action, and Peter needs to redeem himself after an expensive flop. Peter's boss at the studio is domineering, gay billionaire Bobby G (Lee Arenberg) -who is married to Peter's ex-wife Jane (Cindy Ambuehl). His Vice President of Production is blunt, savvy Wendy Ward (Illeana Douglas), a former child-star-turned-high-priced-hooker. Stuart Glazer (Jack Plotnick) is his much-abused Head of Production. Peter's driver and security man is his Uncle Lonnie (Buddy Hackett). His leading man (Fabrizio Filippo) is a junkie. But Peter will stop at nothing to make his movie -in a culture that is socially deterministic, to put it mildly. Exhausted, put-upon screenwriter Adam Rafkin (Jarrad Paul) is caught in the middle of it all.
"Action" has been called the "filthiest" and "meanest" television show ever, but I never thought of it that way. I just think it's hilariously blunt. It's not dirty for dirty's sake; it's dirty for funny's sake. In spite of their faults, these are characters that people in the audience would want to know in real life. They talk the way people really talk and think like people really think. And they enjoy it. For all of it's cynicism and lewdness, "Action" might be the least neurotic sitcom in recent decades. The characters have a certain joie de vivre that is infectious. That was a big part of the show's appeal for me. The writing is so economical that there is no filler. It's non-stop smart comedy. I found myself convinced of the writers' brilliance while watching an episode that revolves around a frog-up-the-butt joke. Now, I don't like scatological humor. But I couldn't stop laughing. Anybody who can make a crude anal joke funny for a half an hour is a genius. Warren Zevon was the perfect choice to write and perform the theme song. (Too bad his first proposal was rejected by the network.) There are cameos by Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Salma Hayek, Scott Wolf, Tony Hawk, David Leisure, and David Hasselhoff. Jay Mohr plays Peter Dragon to sharp, hilarious perfection. Jack Plotnick performs to near-equal brilliance as Peter's used and abused lackey. These guys have a surprising ability to evoke real emotions in the midst of an orgy of brutal satire and dirty jokes.
When I first saw "Action", I thought that the blunt, horny producer of over-the-top action films might have been inspired by notorious producer Don Simpson. But apparently the incidents in the series were based on stories that producer Joel Silver told the writers as well as on the experiences of the writers themselves. I've heard a lot of speculation on why "Action" had so little audience, even though the writing is among the best ever on television. Some say the show was "too hip for the room", too "insider", or "too edgy". I don't buy that. "Action" is jam-packed with insider jokes. So is "The Producers". But the behavior in is so hilarious that the audience doesn't need to get all the jokes. I think the problem was simply the time slot. The perfect spot for "Action" would have been Monday nights after "That 70s Show", the spot that "Titus" -which has a similar audience- succeeded in as a mid-season replacement. On Thursday nights, half of "Action"'s audience was watching the WWF, a well-established show that never has re-runs. It's disappointing and a little puzzling that Fox was not willing to move the show to save it at least for one season. There is very little I wouldn't have given to see "Beverly Hills Gun Club" through to its premiere.
The DVDs (Sony Pictures 2006): All episodes are about 23 minutes long. Disc 1 contains episodes 1-8 and an audio commentary for Episode 8 ("Love Sucks"). The audio commentary is by writers Jim Vallely, Matt Silverstein, Dave Jesser, producer/sometime director Don Reo, actor Jarrad Paul, and writer/co-executive producer Ron Zimmerman. Unfortunately, there isn't much information offered. It's clear that these guys think the show's jokes still hold up, but I'd rather have had more commentary and less chuckling. We know it's funny. Tell us something we don't know. Disc 2 includes episodes 9-13 and more bonus features: audio commentaries of the "Dead Man Floating" and "One Easy Piece" episodes, featuring the same group of writers and producers, plus writer/story editor Will Forte. "Getting Into the Action" (26 min) is the bonus feature you really want to watch. It examines the life cycle of "Action", from genesis to cancellation, through interviews with executive producers Joel Silver and Chris Thompson, producer Don Reo, the writers, and Jay Mohr. "Trust Me: Useful Words and Phrases" presents about a dozen movie industry terms with accompanying clips from "Action" either illustrating or spoofing them. No subtitles.