Much like my previous entry in this category, LUCKY LOUIE, this is a show that I didn’t watch when it originally aired, back in 1999, I’m not sure I even remember hearing about it at the time. Many years later some cable station aired it in reruns and that’s how I caught it.
This is a half-hour comedy, but not a sitcom, there’s no laugh track. Jay Mohr stars as Peter Dragon, a very successful (& morally ambiguous) movie producer, known for making big blockbuster action films ala Michael Bay. In the first episode his latest film, Slow Torture, premiers and then bombs at the box office, and Peter finds himself desperate to prove that he hasn’t lost his touch by making sure his next film is a hit. So the rest of this 13-episode season focuses primarily on Peter’s efforts to make another film and ensure its success, from finding the right script, to getting funding, to casting, to finding a director, and finally overseeing the production of the film.
Lee Arenberg plays Bobby G., the billionaire owner of the movie studio that Peter works for, who doesn’t have much respect for Peter and is the only man Peter is ever afraid of. Bobby G. is gay, which Peter and almost everyone else seems to know, but Bobby publicly denies it and is in a sham marriage to Peter’s devious, gold-digging ex-wife Jane (Cindy Ambuehl). Bobby G. repeatedly threatens to ruin Peter’s career if Peter’s next film isn’t a hit, which just ads to Peter’s desperation and willingness to take any shortcut he has to in order to get the film made, including taking one actor out of rehab in order to get him in the film, and getting an actress painful illegal lipo-suction to get her to lose a dramatic amount of weight for the film. A running joke in the series is that Bobby has a huge penis, which he twice reveals in front of Peter just to intimidate him. Peter and Jane have a young daughter, Georgie (Sara Paxton), who mostly behaves as a sweet young child, but also shows glimpses of being just as arrogant and rude as her father is.
Illeana Douglas plays Wendy Ward, an ex-child star who grew up and became a prostitute. Peter accidentally picks her up on the way to the Slow Torture premier and spends the night with her. When she picks out the right movie script for him, he invites her to come work at the studio with him and help him make film. She’s particularly effective at raising funds for the film, getting her ex-pimp Big Dick (Keith Diamond) and wealthy Arab playboy Momo Shabong (Edouard Saad) to invest in it. Peter and Wendy continue a sexual relationship that is originally portrayed as just business (she continues to charge him for sex), but then she starts to develop feelings for him. The development of their relationship is the 2nd major subplot of this series.
Jack Plotnick is Peter’s openly-gay assistant Stuart, who is constantly demeaned by Peter and resents Wendy’s sudden rise in the studio. Jarrad Paul plays Adam Rafkin, a struggling young writer whose script for a film called Beverly Hills Gun Club was bought by Peter by accident (Peter told Stuart to buy a script from Alan Rifkin, but Peter got their names mixed up). Nevertheless, after Wendy’s suggestion, it’s Adam’s film that is chosen to get made. A running plotline throughout the series is Adam’s attempts to be taken seriously and treated with respect, which no one gives him despite the fact that it’s his movie. Rounding out the main cast is the Late Buddy Hackett, as Peter’s uncle Lonnie. who works as Peter’s chauffeur and bodyguard.
Several Hollywood personalities, including Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Salma Hayek, make appearances on the show playing fictionalized versions of themselves. Plots in various episodes involve the first actor hired to star in the film deciding to come out as gay, the first director dropping dead under questionable circumstances, Peter himself having a small heart attack and a brush with cancer, the film going $10 million over-budget, and the revelation that during a drunken one-night stand Peter and Jane had sex again and now she was pregnant with his 2nd child, a son, whom Bobby G. intends to raise as his own.
The show is shot with a single-camera, and is very fast-paced, with script directions often flashed on the screen to indicate times and settings. The characters, especially Peter, curse on camera but it’s bleeped out. Jay Mohr really makes this show work, as his portrayal of Peter Dragon makes him seem like an over-the-top maniac yet, somehow, you can’t help root for him. Every once an awhile his soft side shines through, however briefly. This show is really fun and it’s a shame it didn’t last. I think it was ahead of it’s time. If it were airing today on Showtime or Starz (I could see it paired with House of Lies or Californication) I bet it would be a hit.
13 episodes were filmed, released on DVD as ACTION: THE COMPLETE SERIES