By LYNN ELBER
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Alan Spencer, creator of the 1980s ABC police spoof “Sledge Hammer!,” has a new series with a title that’s a dead giveaway: “Bullet in the Face” isn’t playing by quaint 20th-century network standards.
Making a quick bow on IFC, with its six episodes split between Thursday and Friday (10 p.m. EDT), “Bullet in the Face” mixes darkly madcap humor, a silly but sadistic antihero and lots of violence in a stew that even Spencer is hard-pressed to define.
“Maybe the world of graphic novels might be the only influence I could cite,” he said. Then again, he muses, he was interested in exploring the idea of a Euro-style thriller. And he sees a touch of “The Prisoner” in the fact it’s a short-run series.
“I almost wrote it stream-of-consciousness … with a degree of self-indulgence. I was amusing myself,” said Spencer, who otherwise has been keeping busy as a script doctor.
The series stars Max Williams as Gunter Vogler, a sociopathic gun-for-hire who, in line with the title, is shot in the face as the story opens. Police arrange a transplant — why not? — to give Vogler the visage of a detective that he killed, then force him to work against the city’s mobsters.
Eddie Izzard and Eric Roberts play the bad guys and Kate Kelton is the gutsy moll who’s leading several lives, all of them dangerous.
From its frenzied start, “Shot in the Face” gets — impressively — even more frenzied, with Williams, Izzard and Roberts unafraid to chow down on the surreal tale that Spencer has given them.
While “Sledge Hammer!” labored under broadcast restrictions, “Bullet in the Face” has been given free rein on contemporary cable, he said.
Is Spencer uneasy about glorifying violence by dressing it in satiric trappings and making it cool?
“No, because I’ve put it in a heightened fantasy world. It’s not good versus evil. It’s evil versus evil, and you have to decide who to latch on to,” Spencer replied.
The series also is a reflection of “what other entertainment looks like. … with criminals being romanticized as our heroes,” he said. That idea of immoral characters providing an audience catharsis is fascinating to Spencer, and it enticed him to make a villain his series lead.
“That’s what I wanted to explore. People see ‘Diehard’ and are rooting for Alan Rickman,” not the putative hero portrayed by Bruce Willis, he said.
“Sledge Hammer!” verged on that approach, with a lead character (played by David Rasche) who adored his .44 Magnum above all. But the comedy’s 14 million viewers, although impressive in these days of niche programming and splintered ratings, earned it a pink slip after two seasons.
Whether “Bullet in the Face” has a future or not, Spencer said he’s content that he didn’t hold anything back for the possibility of another season.
“That’s how I approach everything: I go for broke every time,” he said. He hopes viewers appreciate his IFC effort for that.
“I don’t want them to be bored. That’s my main agenda … for me it’s criminal to bore someone,” Spencer said. He can’t resist a parting shot: “I don’t want anyone to mistake it (‘Bullet’) for a reality show.”
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