Unscripted is the on going tales of three out of work actors navigating the rough terrain of Los Angeles. In a land where the universal word for actors is "No", Unscripted takes a look at these three kind souls just trying to survive. Bryan is the nice guy suffering the indignities of a young actor from backstabbing to humiliation. Krista is a girl trying to break the mold of always being the sexy girl but continually finds herself in print advertisements as the bombshell. Then Jennifer is a young girl virtually antagonized for her looks but maintains a healthy attitude. As these three mutual friends sit in on an acting class, lead by the legendary Goddard Fult, a man of many words which can be occasionally harsh but constructive criticism and genuine passion for the craft show in his teachings. Written by
George Clooney and Stephen Soderburg's Section Eight production company hits a home run on just their second try. "Unscripted" follows in the reality-bending mold of their faux political docudrama "K Street": real people play themselves improvising in fictional situations shot around real events and injected with other actors playing characters. Got all that? "Unscripted" takes this neo-classic format and gives us three people at the center of it that are so endearing, they take it to the next level. What was before just a technical feat to be admired in "K Street", is now an emotionally wadded experience to be loved in "Unscripted".
"Unscripted", in every frame, is about stars Krista Allen, Bryan Greenburg, and Jennifer Hall. It captures the plight of a young, idealistic actor struggling to make it in this bizarre world of Hollywood with more insight and empathy than any other show. The Hollywood of "Unscripted" isn't glamorous, where the burning desire to act goes hand-in-hand with a daily gauntlet of humiliation.
To make sense of it all is Goodard Fulton (Frank Langella), the hard-nosed acting school teacher, defining pretension, whose many priceless monologues about every high and low of the soul-consuming "craft" of acting serves as a sort of narrated tour guide to keep his students surviving the Hollywood machine. He tells his students the only way they will be able to do this will be if they "can't not do it".
Bryan Greenburg looks like he is on the fast track to stardom. Having a brush with fame on "One Tree Hill" and "Life with Bonnie", he later lands a starring role and a trip to New York in the Meryl Streep/ Uma Thurman movie "Prime". At the coaxing of his roommates he pads his resume and uses his daily life as a training ground to immerse himself in a limping, stuttering character for a role. But what happens to those friends if Greenburg hits it big?
"She's just so green" says a casting agent about Jennifer Hall. The adorable singer/songwriter of her 2-chick band Black Liquorish, Jennifer's credits include a line on "Yes, Dear", a brush with Keanu Reeves as a "featured extra" and playing the statue of liberty on the corner of Liberty Car Wash with more gusto then you can imagine anyone else in the world doing.
The biggest revelation here is Krista Allen, whose storyline involves a quest to become a real actress despite the reputation of being in "Emmanuelle" ("the James Bond of soft core movies") hanging over her head. There is a sitcom element to the stories of Greenburg and Hall, but watching Krista Allen I became completely convinced I was seeing a documentary - to the point where you have to step back and remember that Allen is playing herself, not being herself. Allen is subject to some particularly stinging humiliation, which results in her taking a role in a 16-year-old's backyard film. While much of this is motivated by the chance to strike back at a Hollywood that won't take her as anything other than a sex object in a 2-piece (the men around her are shown to be pretty creepy), Allen's "character" is a dichotomy that doesn't see using her sex appeal (which includes an affair with Goddard) to get what she wants as undermining her mission. A series highlight is when an enraged Allen tells off a casting director who told her 6-year-old son that he was "not funny". Krista should be proud of this show. This is great work by any standard.
Other actors and would-be actors in Frank's acting class include "Tru Calling's" Jessica Collins, Jennifer's increasingly close friend "Dragon" who fights actor outsourcing ("Why did 'Lost in Translation' have to take place in Japan", he asks), and Nick Paonessa who steals Bryan's contacts and accidentally finds himself in a genital warts commercial - a bit that on any other show would be purely sitcom stuff, but here is so well played it gets the biggest laughs of the series. If anything "Unscripted" recalls the UK masterpiece "The Office", a show that finds laughs in total humiliation and refuses to allow its characters a victory until the last possible second.
George Clooney (who has proved his classic directorial skills on the big screen) directs the first 5 episodes and Clooney regular Grant Helslov, picks up the last 5. They do one hell of a dynamite job. Each episode is constructed masterfully with an assemblage of audio and video that looks like a documentary and doesn't feel linear. It is a sitcom for people who hate sitcoms. You might call it organized chaos, which at first might not look like it knows where it is going and then brings itself into focus. Where "Street" was foggy, aimless, distant and pretentious, "Unscripted" is sharp, clear, thoughtful, fluid and heart-felt.
"Inside Hollywood" shows are a dime a dozen, particularly on HBO. From the scripted wish-fulfillment series "Entourage" to the day-to-day documentary "Project Greenlight" to the celebrity behind-the-scenes cameos of "Curb Your Enthusiasm". "Unscripted" is the best. The best. The only flaw here is that it didn't last long enough to really flesh itself out. I watched the 10 episodes slowly, trying to savor everything, not wanting it to end as soon as it does. The mind wonders what a few more years of Goddard speeches would be like.
It is the rarest show that you don't just enjoy watching every episode, but instantly want to watch them again. That, and a desire to know what is happening with the "characters" after the show was cut to an end, is about as high a compliment as you can give a series.
* * * * ½ / 5
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