Weekly Web Series Review: Between Two Ferns

Hosted by Zach Galifianakis at his most awkward, “Between Two Ferns” represents what television talk shows might actually be like in a much more interesting world. Filmed to look like a low-budget public access show, but with big-name celebrity guests, the series mines uncomfortable humor to the fullest. Galifianakis frequently mispronounces the names of his guests and openly insults them, creating an environment of hostility that often feels almost too real. When not blatantly mispronouncing names, he is prone to making intentionally terrible puns out of them, like when he asks Jon Hamm if his middle name is “Honey-Baked,” or if he has considered changing his name to something like “Stewart Turkey-Link.”

The discomfort starts strong right out of the gate in the first episode, in which Galifianakis basically molests Michael Cera. There is a common thread of one-sided sexual tension in many of the episodes, and certainly not just with the female guests, though it may be strongest in the episode featuring Natalie Portman. It is a testament to her skill as an “acteress” that this episode is one of the most authentic, as if she were actually just in the midst of a nightmarish interview set up by the most incompetent agent imaginable. Other episodes are more clearly staged, and perhaps the weakest is the one with Will Ferrell, if only because the two are generally too chummy with each other, at least until the end.

The series is at its best when Galifianakis is openly hostile to his guests, like the episodes featuring Ben Stiller and “Brad Lee Cooper.” Though this hostility is common throughout the series, only “Conan O. Brien” gets an explanation, which is that Galifianakis thought he had a shot at “The Tonight Show.” Another especially convincing episode features Galifianakis’ “twin brother,” Seth, interviewing a wooden-faced Sean Penn, who really seems like he might haul off and punch Galifianakis at any moment. As with Portman, it is Penn’s acting skill that pulls off the joke so well.

A pitch-perfect spoof of bad, desperate public access talk shows, “Between Two Ferns” is easily one of the best offerings from the always enjoyable Funny or Die. Even the opening and closing theme music feels authentic, though it is actually lifted from Bernard Herrmann‘s “Taxi Driver” score, which adds to Galifianakis’ creepy, angry vibe. I’m not sure how well it would work as a full-length show on television, but in the small segments available online, it is hilarious.

  

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A Chat with Ray Liotta (“Snowmen”)

Bullz-Eye: I was able to check out “Snowmen” – they sent me a screener – and it was a great little movie. My highest praise is that I’ve got a 6-year-old daughter, and I’d be comfortable with her watching it with me.

Ray Liotta: Yeah, it’s really a good movie, and it definitely…it’s more than just entertaining. It definitely touches on a lot of issues for grown-ups or kids.

BE: How did you find your way into the film?

RL: It just so happens that the producer has a kid in school where my kid goes, and they were gearing up and had cast all the kids, and they were thinking about the adult roles, and my name came up. We talked, he gave me the script, and I loved it and decided to do it.

BE: So how much of the character was on the page, and how much were you able to bring to the character?

RL: It was all on the page. All of it. It was really well written. I mean, my job is to make it as real as possible and try to add as much depth and dimension to it as I can. To pretend that I was a dad whose son was sick and thinks he’s going to die, the bills that I have to pay, the guilt that I have from just working too much to pay those bills, maybe missing some of the things that are going on in his life.

BE: How well did you and Bobby Coleman get on? You seemed to have a pretty strong father-son dynamic going on.

RL: Yeah, he’s a really special kid. He’s a really nice kid, and he’s been acting for awhile now. He’s just serious about the work, so he was very committed to every scene. He had done his homework and knew his lines, and he was raring to go. He was in the pocket. So it was easy. One of the great things when you work with a kid is that you really realize something that, as an  adult, you sometimes forget: you’re just playing pretend. He pretends that I’m his dad, and I pretend that he’s my son. You just play pretend, and that’s it. It’s nothing more or less than that.

BE: A film like “Snowmen” is one which may surprise some, since you’re not generally perceived as Ray Liotta, Family-Friendly Actor, but you’ve been doing family-friendly films as far back as “Corinna, Corinna” and “Operation Dumbo Drop.” Does that get frustrating, that people try to put you in a particular niche?

RL: Yeah, within the business, it gets frustrating. But then something like this comes along and you get a chance to do it. I did a movie with Tobey Maguire called “The Details,” and that’s a little more…I’m not a nutjob in that one. [Laughs.] See, what happens is that even if people see the movies – and I think it’s true with any actor who plays good guys and bad guys –  the bad guys just tend to stand out in people’s minds. You can’t expect everybody to see every movie you’ve done. I had one woman come up to me at the gym the other day, and she said, “Oh, my gosh, all you do is play bad guys. Why are you always such a bad guy? You scare me!” And I’m…I mean, I’m not going to sit there and list the movies that she hasn’t seen. It just kind of goes with the territory.

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