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"Out of Order" Review

By Shawn McKenzie 06/02/2003

I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that Showtime has been trying to compete with HBO (the leader in premium channels) by making their original programming somewhere between HBO’s R-rated content and Cinemax’s (or Skinemax, as a lot of people like to refer to the channel) soft-core porn content.  This is certainly different from their previous strategy of science fiction with graphic violence and naughty words from a few years ago.  It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, especially if there is a good story to go along with the graphic sexual content.  A sexually explicit show with a good story and good acting is creative freedom; without them, it’s just porn.  Showtime’s new limited-run show, “Out of Order,” is not porn, but it is certainly saucy.


Mark Colm (Eric Stoltz), a 40-year-old Hollywood screenwriter, is a relatively lucky man…on the surface.  He has a nice house, drives a Mercedes, knows celebrities by their first name, and has an intelligent 9-year-old son named Walter (Dyllan Christopher) with his wife of 16 1/2 years, Lorna (Felicity Huffman.)  He writes popcorn flicks with Lorna, but is having trouble on the latest screenplay, because Lorna has been suffering clinical depression for the last couple of years.  She had been suppressing the physical abuse her stepfather, Frank (Lane Smith), had given her when she was a child, and the sexual assault that her older brother Peter’s friend, Ralph Dell (Andrew Johnston), had done to her when she was seven-years-old.  Her mother, Carrie (Celia Weston), was no help when Lorna tried on several occasions to garner her assistance.  Even finally confronting her parents on Thanksgiving has done nothing to help her depression.  She resorts to heavy drinking and pot, sometimes with her pot friend, a washed up movie producer named Steven (William H. Macy.)  This results in her frequently fighting with Mark and missing several important events in Walter’s life, like soccer games and school plays.  Mark has been faithful in their marriage the whole time, but he has a wandering eye.  At one of Walter’s soccer practices, he meets a soccer mom named Danni (Kim Dickens) who he is drawn to instantly (her bellybutton ring brought him to her initially…oh, and you never meet her son Dylan.)  The two of them pal around at the soccer practices and games, where they talk about all sorts of topics.  The one thing that Danni mentions to him is that she doesn’t think monogamy is natural, and at one point, during a separation from her husband Brock (Adam Harrington), she slept with other men.  After the soccer season ends, Mark finds himself missing her.  He calls her and asks of they could hook up sometime.  She says no, because she is married, but he points out her monogamy statement.  She then points out to him that she makes sacrifices for the sake of her marriage, and they decide just to be friends.  Besides, Mark has offers elsewhere; one of Lorna’s friends, Annie (Justine Bateman), wants to have sex with him badly, but he resists her.  Mark and Lorna have other problems than just marital; they have been working on their latest screenplay a little too long.  The movie’s director, Zach (Peter Bogdanovich), likes the stuff they have so far, but wants it sooner.  He ultimately dumps them and decides to write it himself.  With his birthday coming up and his marriage crumbling, Mark wonders what he can do to make his life happier.  One thing he tries is to experiment with Ecstasy on his birthday.  He says it is for research on the script (this is before Zach dumps them), but it might just be a substitute for his chocolate habit.  At the party, everyone except Danni has a tablet of Ecstasy that Mark’s friends, Boston (Aaron Douglas) and Liz (Sarah Deakins), hook them up with that night.  It makes everyone act wild, resulting in dirty dancing and skinny-dipping in the pool.  After everyone except Mark and Danni leave the pool, the two fool around in the water.  This happens to be right under the noses of their spouses.  Later they discuss what happened, and Danni doesn’t want it do go any farther.  After both of them have even more troubles in their marriages, they decide to have an affair after running into each other at the grocery store.  For the rest of the series, we will discover how they got where they are now and where they are going from here.


The show sounds like a barrel of laughs, huh?  Well actually, it is quite funny in places.  The whole show is from Mark’s point-of-view, and at various points, he imagines his life as a scene in a movie.  He will picture a crew feeding him his lines, or when Lorna is on a bender and he is feeling down, he will watch old tapes of the happy times in his life.  Two things in the pilot episode cracked me up.  The first one was that he imagined hearing the thoughts of their many animals and plants.  The cats complained that they should have been fed five minutes ago, and the plants complain that the cats always come before the plants in being fed (and that they weren’t getting Evian water.)  The other thing that was hilarious was their nod to Stoltz’s big screen debut, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, as one of Jeff Spicoli’s stoner buds.  It was sort of a reenactment of the pool scene where Judge Reinhold’s character Brad fantasizes about Phoebe Cate’s character Linda while in the bathroom.  They even play the Cars’ “Moving in Stereo” in the background!  Very funny stuff.


I know it will all be revealed in future episodes, but I thought the pilot left many unanswered questions.  Why weren’t they more concerned about losing the movie deal?  Why hadn’t Lorna been depressed earlier in their marriage?  Why did Walter not seem to care that much about his mother’s frequent absence?  Why did we never meet Dylan?  Will Mark give into Annie’s sexual offers?  Fortunately, the show is good enough that I have the patience to find out the answers to these questions.

Some people have been comparing “Out of Order” to HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” but I disagree.  Both shows deal with depressed people and contain odd humor, but I think “Out of Order” is funnier, and it doesn’t have that whole morbid death thing going for it.  The show has a stellar, feature film-quality cast (okay…an indie film most likely) and great writing and directing from its creators, the screenwriting husband-and-wife team of Wayne and Donna Powers (who loosely based the series on their own lives.)  It is very raunchy (in fact, Showtime is supposedly going to air an even raunchier version of the pilot episode on June 4…I might check it out note 6/5/03: I checked it out and it wasn’t all that raunchier), but it is very entertaining story wise.  Even though these people do despicable things, like taking illegal drugs and cheating on each other, you can’t help but sympathize for the characters and hope they can work things out.  Like its Showtime sibling, “Queer as Folk,” it may be sexually explicit, but it isn’t porn.  In fact, the main problem with it might be that there are only five episodes.  Then again, that might be all they need to tell this tale.


Ratings System:


Try to catch this show every week...

If a better show is on, tape this one...

If nothing else is on, maybe this will be good...

If this show is on, change the channel immediately!


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