Robert Wuhl, a knock-about comedian until he landed the lead in HBO skein “Arli$$,” has found another pot of gold with this dissection of history in front of college kids. “Assume the Position” is a smart and uproariously comic romp that connects the dots between pop culture, textbooks and legends, and it deserves more than just a half-hour: HBO should consider this fodder for a series.
Wuhl’s premise, whether he is discussing the founding fathers, the Hundred Years’ War or Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” is that the easy-to-digest stories are the ones people glom onto, whether the story was told in a book or poem centuries ago or aired on television last month. He is a firm believer in a line from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” — “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend” — and he unspools one legend after another along with the names of people who were shortchanged when “legend became fact.”
With his captive audience (NYU film students) Wuhl tries to generate some give-and-take with historical and contempo factoids, which leads to some humorous ad-libs. He’s the teacher everyone wishes they had in college: the one who would debunk traditional wisdom, swear a lot and make the classroom feel like a community.
Crude but clever animation that’s beamed in the classroom helps his observations scoot along. But it’s not clear why three people are listed as director, or exactly what is being directed: This is Wuhl as standup with a few brief interview segs.
Nearly two decades ago, Dennis Miller debuted a politically driven standup routine that felt like it had required a lifetime to write — a routine that would not have a sequel. The idea that he could cobble together another similarly themed act seemed remote, and he defied the odds by turning his observations into rants for a series. There’s a similar feeling with Wuhl: Is he spent or is this just the start? Only way to find out is to go the series route.