A poor man’s Sacha Baron Cohen, Brit Marc Wootton invades Los Angeles in his new Showtime series, in which he plays three thoroughly obnoxious characters operating on the fringes of Hollywood. Having created the same fey psychic in the BBC’s “High Spirits With Shirley Ghostman,” Wootton is fearless in a way that has people calling him a “fucking idiot” and “fucking loon” in the premiere alone. Still, one’s tolerance for these “Borat”-like shenanigans — which at times border on cruel — is tested by six episodes, and after that visit leaving “La La Land” finally felt like a relief.
Wootton plays three newly arrived, thickly accented Brits, which seems to disarm those stunned by his bizarre behavior: An aspiring actor lugging around his mum’s ashes, a psychic with questionable abilities (the Ghostman persona), and a scraggly documentary filmmaker who isn’t above putting his subjects’ lives at risk to spice up a project.
While Cohen has become the genre’s gold standard (literally and figuratively), even his shtick began wearing thin about halfway through “Bruno.” Given the excesses associated with the genre it’s a long way back to “Candid Camera” — though the underlying principle remains the same.
Given that the cameras aren’t hidden, the real question is what pretense Wootton and company employed to get so many people to participate, from veteran actress Ruta Lee serving as his “mentor” to the parade of producers who visit him at a sleazy motel to hear his outlandish “pitches.” The signature moment, in fact, comes in the last installment, when Wootton’s filmmaker interviews actor/host Alan Thicke — and gets caught trying to steal his silverware.
Then again, it’s hardly the first reality show to capitalize on people’s willingness to play along with just about anything as long as someone’s filming them.
All told, it’s funnier on paper than in execution — like the filmmaker hiring a stripper named Kiki as his assistant — largely because Wootton is so intent on pushing buttons well past the point of discomfort.
There is something intriguing here about the periphery of Hollywood in which Wootton’s characters reside — interacting with life counselors, acting coaches and publicists who will endure (at least for awhile) the eccentricities of an oddball actor or aspiring Michael Moore. Eager for exposure, many of them — including an exorcist, psychics and even a Minute Man who thinks he’s the subject of a documentary about protecting the border — are clearly ripe targets.
At other times, however, you begin to sympathize with those subjected to Wootton’s abuse, such as a middle-aged woman in a later episode manning one of Ghostman’s “psychic” hotlines urged to threaten suicide to a caller.
So while Wootton’s irreverent antics are sporadically funny enough to win him a cult following, the memorable moments ultimately prove too few and far between — designed to make benefit for the glorious pay cable network of Showtime-istan.