Television: The Roles of Their Lives

HBO's Unscripted is clever and fun, but how many inside-show-biz sitcoms do we need?

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The new HBO series Unscripted (Sundays, 10 p.m. E.T.) looks at the lives of entertainers in Hollywood, with celebrity cameos and show-biz humor. That may remind you of another current HBO comedy. Actually, it may remind you of every other current HBO comedy. Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage are also insider takes on Hollywood. And Lisa Kudrow is preparing an HBO sitcom about--surprise!--a washed-up actress making a comeback.

Two shows about the same subject is a coincidence. Three is a theme. Four, you're bordering on mania. After the election, we heard about TV executives seeking to sign up shows about the flyover red states. But HBO remains the bluest of the blue networks--as blue as the Pacific, a Santa Monica bus, a Dodgers cap--confident that its subscribers are unendingly interested in the angst unique to those poor souls unfortunate enough to have a SAG card. Nor is it alone. In March Showtime will debut Fat Actress, starring Kirstie Alley in a fictionalized version of her travails as a 200-lb. woman trying to land work in show biz. Never has TV been so true to the rule Write what you know.

Or in Unscripted's case, Improvise what you know. The half-hour dramedy comes from producers George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh, who gave HBO K Street, an ambitious improv fiasco about Washington lobbyists that threw together actors and real political players. Here the stars are Krista Allen, Bryan Greenberg and Jennifer Hall, who play three actors--Krista, Bryan and Jennifer--who take advice from a pretentious acting coach (Frank Langella) and try to find fulfilling work and/or pay the bills.

It's more or than and. Jennifer is talented and cute but too pudgy to land hot-chick roles. Instead, she's playing Ophelia in a production of Hamlet with fewer audience members than actors and doing "stand-in" work on George Lopez (literally standing in an actress's place so that the crew can set up the lighting). Krista has the opposite problem. A full-on babe (in real life, Clooney's ex-flame) and single mom, she has been in Baywatch and the Emmanuelle series of soft-core flicks. Typecast and getting no younger, she wants to play serious roles, but her agent lands her a job as a spokesmodel for Cuervo tequila. Of course, he promises she doesn't have to wear a bikini, and of course, she does. Bryan is an easygoing up-and-comer whose friends encourage him to doctor his r??sum??. ("You can take well-known films," one says, "and make them into a sequel. A Beautiful Mind ... 2.")

Unscripted is far better done than K Street, maybe because its "real" people--actors like Hank Azaria and Bonnie Hunt, directors like Garry Marshall and Sam Mendes--are used to Hollywood fakery. It does, however, dip into show-biz-is-a-bummer clich??s, especially with Jen and Bryan. One story line has another actor horning in on Bryan's auditions, a plot recently explored on NBC's Joey--not the kind of comparison HBO generally angles for.

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