Film and TV

The Week in TV: Tracy Morgan That Much Closer to Becoming Tracy Jordan

There hasn't been a lot of TV to watch recently, but repeats still beat going outside (or, apparently, braving the Houston Beer Fest). This was the week in TV Land:

• Apparently bored between seasons of 30 Rock, Tracy Morgan got into some trouble recently for some jokes he told at a recent stand-up show in Nashville. Morgan's act at one point devolved into some wildly homophobic remarks -- one attendee said Morgan said being gay was clearly a choice because "God don't make no mistakes" -- which led to some walkouts, which led to some backlash, which led to some hasty apologizing and spinning from Morgan's camp and colleagues. Tina Fey piped up and said that some of the violent imagery of Morgan's bit was upsetting to her, and she even got in a friendly dig by saying that Morgan "is generally much too sleepy and self-centered to ever hurt another person." Yet Fey's comments also touched on the fact that comedians "have the right to 'work out' their material in its ugliest and rawest form in front of an audience."

From a performance perspective, the problem wasn't necessarily what Morgan was going for, but the way he was going about it. The way to pull off that bit is to be so extreme that your rant becomes an indictment of your persona's mindset. You can't actually appear to believe these things; the joke is that you are blustering like someone who does, to an insane degree. Then again, that's a high-wire act that requires a comic of considerably greater skill than Morgan can bring to bear, which means he's screwed from the start. Ironically enough, his biggest break was playing a buffoon that riffed on the excesses of bad comics. There's something in there about art and life imitating each other into oblivion, but you'll have to figure it out on your own.

• It's been quite the week for HBO, which announced a fleet of projects with the BBC designed to bring in even more Emmy trophies, which will then be melted down and reshaped into an idol for all to worship. The network's got a movie in the works about WikiLeaks that they're co-producing with the BBC, and it was announced last week that Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later, The American) has come on board to write the script and that Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy will produce. HBO has also nabbed the remake rights to I, Claudius, Robert Graves' novel that was turned into a BBC miniseries in 1976. Special effects and nudity clauses have come a long way since then, so expect the new version to be a lot less PBS and a lot more Starz. Finally, in a move that signals that we are officially running out of ways to package and sell stories about World War II, HBO announced a miniseries titled Parade's End that will be co-produced with the BBC and follow a group of soldiers in World War I. This is a departure for the network, which has been riding waves of critical acclaim with Band of Brothers and The Pacific, so only time will tell if they're able to build a similar brand out of a war that's less familiar to most viewers. Regardless, it will still rake in some more awards, which is really what this is all about, right?

• David Simon is a curmudgeon. He's a brilliant writer -- creating The Wire pretty much gives him a lifetime pass in the industry -- but he's also, well, a pissy little man who is not to be trifled with, even unintentionally. Case in point: A few days ago, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared with some of the cast members from The Wire on a panel designed to address the issues of drug trafficking as they relate to kids, and while there, Holder used part of his time to half-seriously ask Simon and crew to bring the show back. "If you don't do a season, do a movie. ... This is a series that deserves a movie." It was nothing but a cute moment until Simon responded in an open letter at the end of last week with a typically world-weary plea of his own: "We are prepared to go to work on season six of The Wire if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing persecution of our misguided, destructive and dehumanizing drug prohibition." In other words, Simon says Holder should cut it with the nice talk and actually watch The Wire and absorb some of its lessons and warnings. You have to hand it to Simon for always sticking to his guns. Really, though, there's no way Simon would ever green-light more Wire; he's too busy experimenting with plotlessness and boredom on Treme.

• It feels quaint to even think like this, but there was a time when Fear Factor was an edgy reality show that was markedly different from everything else on TV, especially on NBC. It wasn't a good show by any stretch: It was a masochistic train-wreck that wanted you to vomit while watching someone else vomit while trying to eat animal penises. Yet, back in 2001, reality TV was still a tiny fraction of NBC's schedule, which meant that even a questionable show like Fear Factor could stand out just for being itself, warts and all. In an attempt to recapture the cultural cachet that comes with shoving people into tanks of roaches, NBC is bringing Fear Factor back for next year, either in midseason or for summer. NBC: We'll try anything twice! Or more than that! Just watch!

• Jane Lynch has been tapped to host this year's Emmy Awards, which will air Sunday, September 18, on Fox, so expect a metric shitload of promos for that wrapped into Glee repeats this summer. Lynch is a great comic performer, and she looks likely to continue the recent trend of Emmy hosts that emphasize fun and theatricality, following in the steps of Neil Patrick Harris and Jimmy Fallon (the 2008 awards had five hosts from reality TV -- Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst, and Ryan Seacrest -- and was generally a logistical clusterfuck, not to mention boring). Speaking of Lynch and fun: here she is with Bill Maher reading the transcripts of the flirtatious messages sent between Anthony Weiner and one of his many dalliances.

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Daniel Carlson
Contact: Daniel Carlson