Monday, October 13, 2008

Giving Some Thought to a Headcase - "My Own Worst Enemy"

I’ve just finished a lazy Thanksgiving evening of TV watching with the premier of Christian Slater’s new sci-fi rooted spy series “My Own Worst Enemy” and I’m trying to figure out if that’s actually the case for Slater as far as this show goes.

The premise is very Philip K. Dick, with a few ounces of Robert Louis Stevenson, poured into an Ian Flemming glass – what does it mean for your existence if one day you find out you’re not who you think you are? How will mild-mannered Airmiles-racking corporate exec Henry (not so subtle reference to Dr. Jekyll) cope when he discovers that periodically he goes to “sleep” and dangerous international spy and assassin Edward (Mr. Hyde on a top secret agency’s – presumably the government’s - leash) wakes up and goes about his grim business? What happens when the control settings allowing the switch from one personality to the other break down and Henry wakes up in the middle of Edward’s perilous world, or when Edward comes home to pleasure Henry’s wife? What happens if Edward’s business comes to Henry’s home?

The show’s got plenty of slick spy action, which would be pretty entertaining to watch if the plot wasn’t so predictable. The real weak spot of the show though, is Slater himself. He does a great job of portraying the cold, calculating Edward, but is totally unconvincing as Henry. Maybe it’s Slater’s baggage from the roles he’s played previously in his career, maybe it’s that devilish glint in his eye, but you can’t look at him onscreen playing a businessman and a family man and find him believable – he always looks like he’s either up to no good or scheming to be up to no good at a later moment of his choosing. I suppose it’s possible that one could argue this was done deliberately in terms of casting and in terms of how Slater’s playing the character(s) – to give us the impression that Edward’s always looking out through Henry’s eyes – watching, waiting for his chance to strike. I don’t think so. I think it’s the case that Slater cannot believably play an innocent. No more so than Schwarzenegger could in his similar role in “Total Recall”. You couldn’t believe for a minute that Arnold was just some regular guy going to work with a jackhammer on a construction site and eating his lunch out of a box and thermos. Neither actor has the capacity to pull it off. Now, if the producers had really wanted to cast someone with a real talent for making you believe in his characters – someone with the gift of creating multiple personalities (and ones that are completely distinct from one another) within the same story – they would have hired Edward Norton. As it stands, Slater’s only real value is in his Edward persona, where, because it’s Slater, you’re always wondering how far he’s going to go.

Overall, I give “My Own Worst Enemy” a resounding “meh”. The jury’s still out, so I’ll probably watch another episode or two before deciding whether to add it permanently to the Monday night roster or whether to ignore it, thereby leaving me with more time to inflict my opinions on the blogosphere (I can just here it now, cries around the internet of “Watch the show! Please, just watch the show! We don’t want to hear any more out of you than we already do! It’s already too much! Watch the show!!!”)
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