A TV show which goes inside the political views of K Street lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and people who they give advice to, including senators and congressmen. Some lobbyists are real people, such as James Carville and Mary Matalin, and some are fake, like Tommy Flannegan, Francisco Dupre, and Maggie Morris. The first half of episodes of this TV program were about the lobbyists' relationship with the government, clients, and the law. The second half portrayed a leak, giving away the CIA's identity, and Tommy's relationship with his wife. Written by
They say politics is Hollywood for ugly people. In an age where the line between news and entertainment has been crossed and 24-hour cable channels find their dramatic narratives, heroes and villains in Washington politicians, Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney's Section Eight production company flips around the mirror and blurs the line even more. "K Street" is not entirely successful, but at only 10 episodes, it is too unique a show to have such a short run.
A happy side effect to the reality show fad is that it has given people that do have imaginations an opportunity to play with the expectations of our reality and our TV reality. "Street" is brilliantly original - difficult to figure out and even harder to describe. A seamless mix of reality and fiction, film and television, done in a way stranger and more brazen than other improv comedy/reality show hybrids to date.
Set in the summer of 2003 amidst the Democrat presidential primary and the birth of a CIA leak scandal, "K Street" follows political pundits Mary Matalin and James Carville inside their image consulting firm Bergstrom Lowell, fictitiously taking us behind the scenes of actual political events. Looks and sounds like a documentary so far, but mixed in with their reality are characters and story lines of pure fiction. Matalin's aid is the professionally effective, but personally pathetic Maggie Morris (Mary McCormack, given a cleverly unfold character arc about her personal life). Carville's aid is Tommy Flannigan (John Slattery, "Ed") who has his own problems at home. All of which are suspicious of their newest employee Francisco Dupre (Roger Guenveur Smith), a character who seems to defy every possible human label. Elliot Gould makes a few appearances as Bergstrom, a reclusive oddball who wastes Dupre's, and our's, time.
Shot on the streets of the nation's capital, "Street" shows us slivers of the D.C. lifestyle. We see parts of conversations between Morris and Flannigan and politicians playing themselves such as Rick Santorum and Tom Daschile. In the first episode, "Week 1", Carville and Paul Begala coach Howard Dean for the primary debate. Say what you will about his politics and approach, but Carville is a hilarious character and the banter between Washington's most unlikely married couple is entertaining. At one point Carville stops the coaching because the bus boy passing through might be bugged. Another funny moment is Carville's tirade over the telephone to Matt Drudge's answering machine. This guy deserved his own show.
In the cookie-cutter medium of TV, it is rare and refreshing to watch a show that you aren't quite sure how they put together, and I was somewhat flummoxed and excited wondering how "K Street" was pulled off. No doubt Clooney has a stock pile of massive resources in Washington that allow him to get these big-name cameos. On the other hand, when has a politician not jumped at the opportunity to be on TV? "Street" is probably not as grand a magic trick as it first appears.
But the mechanics behind what pulls "K Street" off are more interesting than the happenings in the show itself. Maggie is slapped with a restraining order, Tommy sees prostitutes and the company is under FBI investigation for their involvement with a group suspected to aid terrorists that's pretty much it. The dialog is improvised, with the same pauses, repeated sentences and awkward verbal mis-steps that reflect the way people really talk, the drama in the lives of the fictional characters is pretty uninspired. The show puts a lot of focus on the personal lives of Morris and Flannigan to the detriment of the political discussions it does well.
Every single episode of "K Street" is directed by acclaimed film director Steven Soderbergh and co-executive produced by Clooney. It looks like a Soderbergh movie. It sounds like a Soderbergh movie. It is dry, banal, static, self-indulgent and shot with a shaky camera. Soderbergh's style is not what you'd call a crowd-pleaser. The show is equal parts engrossing and maddening as Soderbergh spends time beyond the point of annoyance on characters sitting in silence or something like the image of feet running across a pavement. Soderbergh's movies have the luxury of being buoyed into public consciousness by a nation of critical praise, but on the pure democracy of TV, where there is rarely a real-time critical campaign for any show, even a big-name talent like him has been left out to dry.
"The West Wing" is considered by most to be the gold standard in fair, insightful, political-minded entertainment, but as a different take behind the Washington sound-bytes, "K Street" will be worth a look for die-hard "Wing" fans although very little of substance is said. As frustrating as it can be, Matalin and Carville make it worth watching. It's good, but not great.
This is Soderbergh's first effort at parlaying his cinema success on TV, but without a strong theme behind the material (as all his films, particularly "Traffic", have) this is all just masturbation. It is hard to suppress the "what the hell" from your throat as the pretentious silent credits cut in signifying the end.
* * ½ / 4
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