The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Alan Spencer (‘Bullet in the Face’)

I’ve said before – if not in this column, then certainly elsewhere on the ‘net – how a great deal of my long-term tastes were established during my teen years in the ’80s, and one of the shows that was must-see TV for 16-year-old me was the ABC sitcom Sledge Hammer!, created by Alan Spencer. As a result, my eyebrows shot skyward when I first learned about the IFC series Bullet in the Face, since the press release prominently featured Spencer’s previous credits. Too bad the network’s programming and promotional departments weren’t quite as enthused as I was: the show’s six-episode season was noticed by precious few, resulting in a quick departure from the airwaves.

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Thank goodness for Shout Factory, then, a company who knows a future cult classic when they see one: they released Bullet in the Face on DVD a few weeks back – sorry, I was at the TCA tour at the time, or I would’ve been able to promote it more heavily right as it hit the shelves – and were kind enough to set me up with an interview with the aforementioned Mr. Spencer.

After discussing his most recent endeavor in considerable detail, you will be unsurprised to learn that I took a bit of time to geek out as well, enjoying the opportunity to learn more about his friendships with Marty Feldman, Andy Kaufman, and Anthony Perkins, and to find out if we’re likely to ever see Sledge Hammer! return.

Bullz-Eye: How did Bullet in the Face originally come about? It seems to owe at least a spiritual debt to Sledge Hammer!, but from what I can tell, it appears that the project existed in some form – if only as a vague concept – before you ever came aboard.

Alan Spencer: Well, first of all, there’s nothing spiritual about Sledge Hammer! [Laughs.] Basically, the IFC network… An executive I knew at the IFC network said they had a concept in development that wasn’t working. It was called Dieter Horn in Night Port, and if you Google it or use any search engine, I think you can see information about it. They had made a two-minute trailer – kind of a sizzle reel, as people are wont to do – and a Canadian production company was behind it. The trailer shows a spoof of ‘80s tropes about a German cop called Dieter Horn, who was apparently a bad guy who became a cop, and it’s heavily rooted in the ‘80s. It’s never explained why it was German, by the way. I couldn’t figure that out. But it’s a spoof of a Miami Vice sort of city, and it was…  A lot of people are doing ‘80s parodies – MacGruber, and there’s a miniseries now (The Spoils of Babylon) – and it was an ‘80s spoof, and…that didn’t interest me. And I guess they developed scripts for it and it didn’t work, so it was a piece of… The term is “broken development.”

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Since I’m one of the few people that had done and sustained a successful half-hour action comedy, they came to me and asked if I’d be willing to supervise the writers and retool this. It was basically… I was given, like, carte blanche for whatever I could come up with to fix this. So, anyway, I took the one kernel, one idea from it, and threw everything else out. And the only kernel from it was the German, formerly a bad guy, turning into a cop. So that was it. I threw everything out, re-titled it, and came up with all new characters, an all new milieu, and the kind of a graphic-novel city I set it in.

I also threw out the ‘80s baby with the ‘80s bathwater, because a lot of people can’t reference the ‘80s. I lived through the ‘80s already, and that didn’t interest me to go through it again. I don’t have that hair anymore, I don’t wear the pastels, I wear socks… [Laughs.] So I didn’t want to deal with that at all. I wanted something new and fresh. Also, since I had some creative freedom, I really wanted to go for it, so they were kind of thrilled when I decided to write it myself. I just said, “Let me write it,” as opposed to going through the machinations that we would’ve to find some writers. So they were surprised and happy, but I think that was their agenda all along, to have me write it myself.

So I indulged myself. I didn’t imagine this getting made, so I wrote something very, very extreme, and going further than the restraints that I was used to working on in network television. And then, lo and behold, I was surprised. I got a call from the network saying, “We’re not going to make a pilot for this.” I said, “Oh, all right.” They said, “We’re going to go straight to series!” So it was a six-episode order with the contingency that I write them all. I knew something was up before I got that call, because on Facebook all of a sudden I was being getting friended by IFC executives. [Laughs.] That was kind of the hint that something was in the works. That’s how social media works now, right? If social media was existing during World War II, and if all my Japanese friends were unfriending me, I think I would’ve anticipated Pearl Harbor. That’s sort of how it works.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Chatting with Lara Pulver about ‘Fleming,’ ‘Da Vinci’s Demons,’ and more

Lara Pulver made her first TV appearance in 2009, but she’s quickly racked up a list of credits that’d impress just about any TV viewer, including roles on Robin Hood, True Blood, MI-5, Sherlock, Skins, and Da Vinci’s Demons. In addition to popping up briefly in the current run of Sherlock and returning to Da Vinci’s Demons for its upcoming sophomore season, Pulver can also be found in BBC America’s new limited-series event, Fleming, playing Ann Charteris, the woman who – 62-year-old spoiler alert! – eventually went on to be Mrs. Ian Fleming. Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to chat with Pulver at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, and we asked her about all of the aforementioned small-screen roles while also touching on her film work with Idris Elba, Michael Sheen, and Tom Cruise.

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Bullz-Eye: So how much did you know about Ian Fleming’s life before you signed on to this project?

Lara Pulver: As a Brit, I knew his novels, I knew he was behind the Bond franchise, but I knew nothing about the man.

BE: How surprised were you to learn about him?

LP: I found him fascinating. Like, from a psychoanalytic point of view. His relationship with his mom, the depressive arrogance, his ego when it came to women, his failure as a man when it came to finding an occupation, finding his niche in life… And yet he never really lived long enough to find out the true success of what we now celebrate as 50 years of Bond as a franchise. So I found it fascinating.

BE: Were you a Bond fan going in?

LP: It’s definitely in British arts and culture history. It’s on TV at Christmas. There’s always a Bond movie. And it’s quite fascinating how they’ve been able to reinvent to make it so current 50 years on.

BE: Were you familiar enough with the franchise to recognize the bits and pieces of it that turned up in his real life?

LP: Yeah, and it’s also so interesting, having done Fleming, to see a Bond movie now. That’s even more interesting.

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Blu-ray Review: “Treme: The Complete Series”

If you were offered a trip to New Orleans for just over a hundred bucks, you’d probably take it, right? Well, it is perhaps oversimplifying matters to equate the “Treme: The Complete Series” box set (available exclusively on Blu-ray) with a visit to N’Awlins, but maybe that’s only because there’s nothing particularly simple about “Treme.” Does that mean it’s the sort of series that will blow you away? Not at all. Indeed, “Treme” has no interest in even trying.

For those who missed the series over the course of its HBO run (and judging by its practically invisible ratings, there were quite a few of you), “Treme” begins three months after Hurricane Katrina all but wiped out the city of New Orleans, and follows more than a dozen NOLA residents from all different walks of life picking up the pieces and attempting to move forward. It’s a series about culture, politics, cooking, tradition, and most definitely music, which it revels in. The show dazzles viewers with one great musical sequence after another (all recorded live and with no overdubbing or lip-synching), and the list of artists – usually playing themselves – that appear on the series over the course of its 36 episodes is practically countless.

In many (if not most) ways, “Treme” is anti-television. It seemingly throws out the rulebook that started being written when TV came into existence, playing loose, but rarely fast. There’s a price to pay for this brand of innovative storytelling, though, and that’s that “Treme” does not excite in any of the traditional ways that we’ve come to expect television to. Not once in the entire series will you throw your arms up and cry, “Yeah right! That would never happen!” such is the day to day reality of its goings-on. Indeed, when viewing it, you almost have to train yourself to watch this brand of TV a little differently.

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Entertainment Untethered: What it’s like to ditch TV

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Before we begin, let me backpedal for a second and set the stage for “ditching TV”.

Here’s how I’d word it:

• Watching TV is the actual act of sitting down in front of one to consume entertainment
• Ditching TV is removing all those setbacks that come from viewing

What I’m trying to convey is the difference between being a zombie in front of a TV set versus having an a la carte choice in what shows and movies you watch. Instead of getting stuck with commercials and waiting for shows during primetime – you’re cutting those setbacks so you can binge.

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30 Sexiest TV Actresses of 2013

Television has always been home to a parade of beautiful actresses, and with the explosion of cable TV and now Netflix, the roles have even become sexier over the years. Here are some of our favorites from 2013:

Lizzy Caplan

This sexy brunette oozes sex appeal, and she was perfect as the sexually liberated Virginia Johnson in the new Showtime series “Masters of Sex.” She certainly wasn’t shy about showing off her impressive body as her character dove into her work researching how the female body responded during sex. This was by far the sexiest new show on television this year which shouldn’t be a surprise given the subject matter, and we saw a parade of lovely actresses disrobing as Virginia Johnson and Dr. William Masters began their study, though some of the best scenes took place when the two of them took part in their own study. “Masters of Sex” has established itself as one of the best shows on television as this period drama pulls the curtain on an era where most conversations about sex were taboo, and the show works mostly due to Caplan and costar Michael Sheen as Masters. Check out our interview with Lizzy from 2010.

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Photo courtesy of Showtime by Michael Desmond

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