October 5, 2017 will be a day that will go down in Hollywood history, the date that The New York Times published their shocking expose on Harvey Weinstein, detailing decades worth of sexual harassment charges. A few days later, another report from The New Yorker, by Ronan Farrow (the son of Mia Farrow and stepson of Woody Allen), levied even more serious charges, with three women coming forward to accuse the now-disgraced producer of rape, including actress Asia Argento, the daughter of famed Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. At some point when these accusations were being first brought forth, I couldn't help but think of the short-lived satire series Action, especially the series finale. It has always been one of my favorite cult classic shows, because it was so far ahead of its time in terms of its dark humor... and now it serves almost as foreshadowing of the despicable acts that took place in the shadows of the Hollywood spotlights.
Action first aired on Fox in the fall of 1999, with the network giving the show a 13-episode order for this biting satire, starring Jay Mohr as a hit Hollywood movie producer named Peter Dragon. While the show was praised by the critics, it was largely ignored by viewers, causing Fox to cancel the show after just eight episodes, refusing to air the final five, even though they had already been completed. The full 13-episode run would later air on Spike TV and then on Comedy Central, where I first discovered it in the early 2000s, as something I randomly happened to come across at 2 AM after the bars had closed.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2008, I picked up the uncensored DVD set and watched the whole season in order. I was blown away by how brilliant the show was, and equally blown away by how forgotten the show had become, even though it was basically the precursor to Entourage (but much funnier). I had watched the whole series/season because a friend and I were writing an Action script, set in present day, a decade after the events of the show, which was definitely a fun experience, even though it ultimately went nowhere (Not-So-Pro Tip: don't write stuff based on an existing IP unless you have the rights to said IP...). Throughout the past 10 years, there were a handful of times when I'd pop in that DVD again and revisit the series, just as a reminder of how brilliant the show is... but that's not why I re-watched it again over the past few days.
I'm guessing that most, if not all of you reading this, have never seen the show, so I supposed what follows would be a spoiler alert, 18 years later, but it's kind of a chicken or the egg scenario, since you can't really be spoiled if you've never heard of the show before reading the spoilers... but we're getting sidetracked. The whole first season followed Peter Dragon as he tries to recover from his first ever box office flop after a string of hits. Peter surrounds himself with some very unique company, such as Wendy Ward (Illeana Douglas), a former child star turned high-end prostitute turned Peter's new development executive, Stuart Glazer (Jack Plotnick), the president of production at Peter's production company whom Peter treats like a lowly intern, Bobby Gianopolis (Lee Arenberg), the secretly-gay head of the studio who is also married to Peter's ex-wife Jane (Cindy Ambuehl) and Adam Rafkin (Jarrad Paul), the writer of Peter's new film, Beverly Hills Gun Club.
Throughout the course of the first season, we follow the process of Peter going through pre-production and the early stages of production on Beverly Hills Gun Club, with a slew of celebrity guest star cameos as themselves (Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Salma Hayek, David Hasselhoff, Scott Wolf, Tony Hawk), not to mention some early performances from stars in the making such as Sara Paxton, who appears in two episodes as Peter's young daughter, Maya Rudolph as a birthing teacher and Leslie David Baker as a security guard. And that's not even mentioning the talent behind the scenes, with Chris Thompson (Jumpin Jack Flash, Bosom Buddies) creating the show with a writing staff that included Will Forte and Drawn Together creators Dave Jesser and Matt Silverstein. But the season/series comes to close on a rather poignant and, as it turns out, eerily prescient note, offering a hint of Harvey Weinstein's history of sexual harassment, almost two decades before it was uncovered.
In the finale, Peter learns that, while they are already three weeks into production, that he actually doesn't really own the script that he bought from Adam Rafkin... since he had sold basically the same script with a different title to a pair of overweight super-producers known as The Rothstein Brothers... This leads to Peter meeting with Bill Rothstein (Stuart Pankin) and Elliot Rothsein (Harris Laskawy), to see if some sort of an arrangement could be worked out. Peter meets them at his normal restaurant, Le Prix (likely a reference to the late 90s/early 2000s hot-spot Le Dome), where the brothers are seen pigging out with a massive spread of food at their table. The Brothers' proposition was for Peter to give them $1 million for the rights to his own movie back... plus they'd both get to spend the night with Wendy Ward, in the Elephant Princess (the show she stared on as a child) costume they had made for her. Peter spends the night in his limo, outside the Rothstein mansion, with Wendy coming out in the morning, handing Peter the signed release from the Rothsteins that gives Peter and Wendy their movie back. However, the unspoken events of that night were so traumatizing for Wendy (even after her years as a prostitute), that she decided to move out of L.A. and to some place "clean." To this, Peter Dragon has the following response:
"Let me get this straight. You're quitting show business just because you had to f-k two fat guys to get a script back? I think you're overreacting."
To which Wendy responds:
"I know you do, and that's exactly the point, that's why I'm leaving."
It was, then and now, a truly brilliant way to end the series, but looking at it now through this prism of current events and the avalanche of sexual assault allegations, it just goes to show how much of an "open secret" Harvey Weinstein's behavior truly was. They never actually show what happened to Wendy Ward, but she's clearly affected by what happened in a profound way, which is even more powerful given the types of things she's referenced in her former line of work as a prostitute throughout the series. And when you look at that scene, against the dozens of women who have spent years in silence with their stories of abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, it's even more powerful. Basically, these characters, The Rothstein Brothers, represent the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, for Wendy Ward, after making a living off her own sexuality to begin with. Sure, this show isn't necessarily based on true events, but anyone who has seen the show and is familiar with the industry knows there are more than a few kernels of truth spread throughout the fictional Hollywood landscape of this show.
The show always operated on the highest levels of satire, with biting dialogue ("What am I, Jerry Lewis? How am I supposed to raise 50 f---ing million dollars?" "I don't know, you can always sell your soul to the devil." "Really? What are you going to give me for it?"), colorful side characters like the mad PR genius Connie Hunt (Amy Aquino) and references to legendary Hollywood tales like Milton Berle's supposedly massive penis. There is a behind-the-scenes video featuring Jay Mohr, Chris Thompson and several of the writers, where they admit that one scene where a Disney executive paid a prostitute to clean her carpets, while dressed in drag, is based on a true story they heard, just like another scene where the star of Beverly Hills Gun Club vehemently complains that his cod piece isn't big enough, was based on a real story as well. There is no shortage of truth among the satirical fiction of Action, which is what makes the show so brilliant both then and now... but also may have served as a bigger, and earlier warning to everyone outside of Hollywood that this behavior has been going on for years.
The pilot episode features Keanu Reeves as himself, who is seen at the premiere of Peter's movie Slow Torture that bombed, and the second episode features Salma Hayek, whose own tale of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein was shared by the actress earlier this month. Salma Hayek appears at herself at Le Prix, who gets a table right away while Peter and Adam have been waiting for hours. When Peter comes up to talk to Salma, she tells a story about how he asked her to audition nude... for the role of a nun. It was also mentioned in that aforementioned behind-the-scenes video that Peter Dragon is somewhat loosely based on Action executive producer Joel Silver, and while he hasn't been named as one of the myriad of Hollywood heavyweights accused of sexual harassment, there is plenty of talk about Peter Dragon's history with sexual harassment on the show. There is a cameo early on by Sandra Bullock, who confronts Peter about filming them having sex while they were dating several years ago... and then selling that tape through his DragonFire Films company. While it's unclear if there was actually a producer who wanted Salma Hayek to audition naked for a nun role, or if a producer really did try to sell a sex tape with Sandra Bullock... the show reflects a culture where these kinds of things happen every day, and that was almost 20 years ago.
Now, 18 years after Action both premiered and went off the air, there are only two ways to watch this series, on the Sony-owned Crackle streaming service (Sony Pictures Television produced the series), or by purchasing the Complete Series DVD set (right now it's about 10 bucks on Amazon). Both versions of which are uncensored, so be warned, there is PLENTY of R-rated language within this sitcom, since they shot uncensored for their Fox run and simply bleeped out the curse words. I always thought the series itself, for its outrageous satire and wicked sense of humor was far, far ahead of its time, in terms of the actual content and quality of the show itself. But it was also ahead of its time for showing us that this kind of behavior was always out there, whether we wanted to admit it or not.