Patrick Stewart surprised everyone when, after a long career with a largely dramatic (and science fiction) bent, he introduced audiences to Starz’s Blunt Talk. A live-action comedy produced by Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) and created by Jonathan Ames (Bored to Death), its raunchy first season followed Walter Blunt, a Los Angeles-based British-born newscaster with a penchant for alcoholism, drugs, and dubious sexual liaisons. While landing in moral quagmires, Blunt spent most of season one hosting his own nightly news program (à la fellow Brit Piers Morgan’s three-year stint on CNN) and populating it with what he considered to be important stories everyone should see.
Aside from a DUI, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings skipped for hookups at Sexaholics Anonymous, and the occasional bit of post-traumatic stress disorder, Stewart’s Blunt came off as genuine. With the season two premiere just around the corner, however, the 76-year-old performer and his collaborators must satisfy a blind second-season order that — despite the first’s big but faltering ratings — came before Starz had a chance to understand what Blunt Talk could, or would be. Judging by the five episodes made available for review, Ames has mostly accomplished this goal with a slightly better sophomore season. The writing has improved and, per the new season’s Chinatown-esque story arc, become tighter and more coherent.
Blunt Talk isn’t perfect, but the more Ames lets the cast banter with each other (or at Stewart), the better. Consider the opening scene of the premiere episode, in which Blunt’s valet Harry Chandler (Adrian Scarborough) puts the final touches on his appearance before accompanying him to the studio. Along the way, Blunt’s production team tag along for a pseudo West Wing walk-and-talk complete with discussions of personal grooming (with Karan Soni’s Martin Bassi), strep throat (with Timm Sharp’s Jim Stone and Dolly Wells’s Celia Havemeyer), marathon-length cunnilingus sessions (with Mary Holland’s Shelly Tinkle), and workplace sexual harassment (with Romany Malco’s Bob Gardner). Every one of these exchanges happens within the first minute, and it serves as the best possible reintroduction to Blunt Talk‘s wonderfully outrageous cast.
Of particular interest is Stewart’s pairing with Scarborough, a fellow British actor whose credits consist mostly of television programs and films outside of the U.S. Stewart suggested Scarborough’s casting to Ames, and judging by the duo’s various escapades in seasons one and two, it’s one of the better decisions Blunt Talk‘s creator made. In interviews past, Ames has often cited Laurel and Hardy as a blueprint for Walter and Harry’s professional and personal relationship — especially during a slapstick scene involving the two trying, and failing, to lift a heavy piano up an enormous flight of stairs.
As Ames told us in a recent interview, however, there’s far more to them than the occasional bout of raunchy comedy. Especially since the novels of British writer and humorist P.G. Wodehouse, a figure with whom “not a lot of people are familiar,” had such an effect on Ames. “He wrote lots of books about this man and his manservant,” he said, “and that was a big influence on me.” There’s the obvious employer/employee dynamic to Walter and Harry, but as the writing and Stewart and Scarborough’s performances revealed toward the end of the first season, their relationship goes much, much deeper. Judging by where audiences will find them at the beginning of season two, the PTSD they’ve both suffered from hasn’t disappeared altogether, though it seems far more manageable. Or at least it does whenever their occasional in-house fencing matches aren’t interrupted by a kick in the groin from Harry’s live-in porn star girlfriend, Sylvia (Monika Smith).
Yet it all comes down to the ensemble. The show-within-a-show nature of Blunt Talk brings the team together regularly, and whenever this happens, the results almost always elicit the show’s best laughs., like the story gimmick pitched by Celia about colon and rectal cancer, and the stigma surround their treatment and prevention in the first and second episodes. Conversations with her colleague/boyfriend Jim and his mother inspires the piece, which culminates in a live broadcast of an unwilling Jim’s colonoscopy with the first of many wonderful guest spots by Rob Huebel. The broadcast itself is a joy, with Huebel’s proctologist trying multiple fake TV doctor poses for the camera and a hallucinating Jim telling his boss, “I feel like my eyes are prison bars and my head’s a space helmet.” However, bookends like an interrupted conversation about anal sex and an unrelated next step for Jim and Celia’s relationship make the scene that much better.
New York Times critic Mike Hale wasn’t wrong when he described Blunt Talk‘s first season as “an amusing showcase” for Stewart “as we haven’t seen him before.” In season two, this remains the same — albeit with one important update. Blunt Talk isn’t just a showcase for Stewart’s late comedy boom, but a stage on which he and his rich supporting cast can bicker at and bite one another in an outrageous send-up of the cable news industry.
Blunt Talk season two premieres Sunday, October 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Starz. Until then, here’s a preview.