The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Brian Cox (“The Straits”)

The watching of one’s favorite programs has increasingly stretched beyond the TV set and onto the internet, with various online viewing outlets providing exclusive programming for its subscribers. In the case of Hulu, Stateside viewers suffering from Anglophilia have been particularly excited about seeing a flurry of programming from the UK turning up, but now they’re starting to bring us a few treats from down under as well.

The crime-family drama “The Straits,” starring Brian Cox, who you probably know from “Manhunter” or “Braveheart” or possibly even “Super Troopers,” premiered on Hulu a few days back and will be doling out a new episode every week, but once you’ve started watching, between the dialogue, the action, the humor, and, sure, the sex and violence, too, you’ll find that a week will seem like a bloody lifetime

Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to chat with Cox about his new endeavor, not to mention a few other highlights from his none-too-shabby back catalog, but be forewarned: he’s been talking about “The Straits” in the past tense for awhile now – it premiered in Australia back in February – so you’ll see that he has a tendency to slip up and offer spoilers on occasion. Not that they’ll stop your overall enjoyment of the series, but just don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Bullz-Eye: Well, I didn’t have enough lead time to absorb all 10 episodes of “The Straits,” but I’ve knocked out three of them thus far, and I’m really enjoying it.

Brian Cox: Well, good! Good, good, good. [Laughs.] It’s a good show!

BE: It is. A nice blend of drama, a bit of humor here and there, and certainly some darkness.

BC: Yeah, it’s got a black-comedy effect about it.

BE: So how did “The Straits” fall into your lap? Did they approach you directly?

BC: They did! They got in touch. I was doing “That Championship Season” on Broadway, and I just got this call from my English agent…because I have agents here and I’ve got agents in England…and they said, “How do you feel about going to Australia?” And the irony was that I’d been trying to get Australia for about the last four or five years, and I’m thinking, “Well, it’s only ever gonna be a job that gets me out there.” So when I got this call, I said, “I’ll do it! I don’t care what it is. I’m desperate to go to Australia!” [Laughs.] Then they said, “Well, hang on, read the script!” And I read the script, and I said, “Well, this is even better: a great job, a great role, and I get to go to Australia! This is a must!” So my wife came and my kids came, and it was a fantastic opportunity, one which I cherish. And I’m very sad that we’re not going to do some more of it, because I do think we were just…you know, the potential of it is enormous. But they’re a little nervous about it, because it’s about a crime family.  But what I love about this show and what I love about Australia…

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A chat with Yvette Nicole Brown, Gillian Jacobs, Ken Jeong and creator Dan Harmon of “Community”

America loves an underdog; cult TV fans only love underdogs. So it’s no wonder that suddenly almost everyone seems to love “Community.”

TV’s backhanded salute to two-year colleges comes by its underdog status honestly. Seemingly cursed with underwhelming ratings despite wide acclaim, it was put on indefinite hiatus late last year after an outstanding musical episode gleefully spoofing “Glee.” Hollywood naysayers to the contrary, there was clearly plenty of life left in the highly imaginative, frequently surreal show set at Colorado’s fictional Greendale Community College, a sort of academic “Green Acres” where normal logic is permanently suspended.

The show, which airs Thursday at 8:00/7:00 central and is also viewable via Hulu and NBC.com, returned in mid-March to a surprise — extremely healthy Nielsen numbers (2.2/7 in the advertiser beloved 18-49 demo). The credit, the show’s makers agree, goes largely to the intense activist fan base.

“Community” stars comic Joel McHale (“The Soup”) and an outstanding ensemble cast with an ethnic makeup that, shockingly, actually resembles a typical suburban community college. Aside from the three cast members we spoke to, the show also features gifted former “3o Rock” writer and actor Donald Glover, Daniel Pudi, Alison Brie (aka Trudy Campbell of “Mad Men“), and some guy named Chevy Chase. Speaking of Mr. Chase, just as the original version of this piece was posted, the Bullz-Eye staffed noticed a burgeoning net-storm over what sure sounds like a pretty ugly altercation between Chase and executive producer Dan Harmon with possibly inevitable repercussions that we can only guess at.

Nevertheless, spirits were high one sunny Sunday afternoon in Anaheim just a couple of weeks back at the 2012 edition of WonderCon as a bunch of mostly fannish writers met with just a few of the very talented people behind “Community.” Yvette Nicole Brown plays the outspoken, devoutly religious, and disarmingly maternal Shirley Bennett; Gillian Jacobs is high-strung former anarchist Britta Perry; and “The Hangover” heavy and former real-life practicing M.D. Ken Jeong inhabits the role of Spanish teacher turned security guard Señor Ben Chang. Also present was affable seemingly affable creator and showrunner Dan Harmon. As befits a production that blends real intelligence with anything-for-a-laugh energy, everyone had something interesting to say to a table full of committed fans and this enthusiastic “Community” newbie.

Yvette Nicole Brown on the good ratings news.

2.2 is massive…for us that’s like the stratosphere. You could say, “Oh, we’re so fabulous.” No. The fans are fabulous. This is 100 percent flash mobs, black goatees, Subway sandwich buys. They really blanketed NBC and Twitter with their love for the show. I think it made people who had never heard of us go, “Huh. Let’s see what this is.” I’m praying they come back next week.

Creator Dan Harmon on the surprisingly good ratings for the show’s return episode.

I never thought our ratings made sense when they were as low as they were, but now I don’t think that these make sense. It was like a 50 percent increase or something. It was insane. I don’t know who got a Nielsen box or whose cat stepped on the remote. I hope that we can keep it up.

Ken Jeong on the show’s perceived near-cancellation.

The events that have transpired since December have only brought the show and the fans even closer. We have even more love out of it. In hindsight, this has all been such a blessing. You really get to feel the love right now.

Gillian Jacobs on the the role of improvisation on “Community.”

I would say that there’s a lot of goofing around. There’s not a lot of actual improv with the lines. Maybe two percent of what you see in the show is improv. It’s scripted; we try very hard to get it word perfect. It’s just a lot of us making up stupid songs. Stupid raps… We quote the show to each other and we become obsessed with certain lines and repeat them. Lines that probably nobody else cares or remembers, we repeat daily. It’s like jokes on joke on jokes on jokes and we can’t even remember the origin of them anymore.

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