‘Fargo’ Coming to FX as ‘Limited Series’

It’s a big day for FX, as this morning they announced a new sister channel, FXX (devoted to comedy, with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia being the programming anchor). They’ve also announced the greenlight for a "limited series" based on Joel and Ethan Coen’s Oscar-winning Fargo

"Limited series," of course, is fancy, high-tech talk for miniseries; perhaps the latter moniker brings about memories of trashy, campy projects like North and South. But FX is hoping that this will pay off, and they’re putting a lot of money into the concept, and not just with a TV adaptation of Fargo. According to Deadline:

Additionally, FX president John Landgraf announced several high-profile limited/miniseries projects in development as the genre will become a cornerstone for FX’s sibling FXM (Fox Movie Channel): Grand Hotel from Sam Mendes, about a fictional terrorist plot in Paris; Sutton, from Alexander Payne and Michael De Luca, about the infamous bank robber; Mad Dogs, from The Shield‘s Shawn Ryan, based on the British black comedy/psychological thriller miniseries; and The Story Of Mayflower, from producers Paul Giamatti and Gil Netter (Life Of Pi).

I was dubious at first about the prospect of a Fargo miniseries (what, exactly, would be the point?), but FX seems to have its shit together and is tossing money to smart people. Still, let us not forget the failed Fargo TV series from 1997, which starred Edie Falco in the role orginated by Frances McDormand. The pilot was even directed by Kathy Bates! Let’s get those two women involved in this one, eh?

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‘Happy Endings’ Star Zachary Knighton On The Long Road To Success

With the third season of Happy Endings premiering tonight, Zachary Knighton has finally struck gold. After a decade of looking for the right roles in theater and drama, the actor discovered his natural comedic ability—as well as a supportive family—in the hilarious ensemble comedy. I chatted with Knighton about his life before Happy Endings, the collaborative nature of the sitcom, and how grateful he is for the show’s success. 

Did you start acting right after college?
I went to an acting high school in Virginia—the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk. I kept thinking, “NYU, NYU, NYU,” but my family wasn’t really in a place where NYU was a reality. I decided to go to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. It turned out to be a great decision because I was in a smaller market and got to really work a lot professionally. There were a couple of equity theaters in town and a lot of productions in Virginia, so I got the chance to do some film and television work and finished college with an agent in New York. I spent some time bartending in New York—I actually bartended a BlackBook issue release party! I remember Benicio Del Toro was on the cover, and I met him that night, and I thought maybe one day I would get interviewed by BlackBook. It’s kind of funny to come full-circle like this!

How did you get attached to Happy Endings?
I sort of had this relationship going with ABC for quite some time. After college I went to New York for about five years, and then I came to L.A. with a short-lived series on FOX called Life on a Stick. I had been bouncing around doing pilot after pilot and never having anything picked up and I auditioned and ended up doing that show Flash Forward that was on ABC. Happy Endings was all the way down the road. They had everybody in place except their Dave; I know they tested a lot of people and didn’t find the right guy, and I guess they just thought I was the right guy because I’d done a comedy and they knew internally that Flash Forward was going to get cancelled. And so I did the pilot and the rest is history.

Did you know immediately that it was something special and stood out compared to other sitcoms that were being produced around the same time?
I sort of had the luxury of not really having a choice! I had a few friends that had moved on from Flash Forward—I think I was the first—but there was a group of people that were off doing a lot of other comedies. I wasn’t really aware of a lot those shows and pilot season had already passed, and they came to me with this offer and I just thought it was so cool. I loved the cast, and I just decided to go with this because it was the job that was in front of me at the time. I just really lucked out in terms of the quality of the writing and what it evolved into.

What I love about the show is that it’s a very classic sitcom about a group of friends, which is of course shot in a single-camera setting. Had you done any multi-camera shows before?
Yeah, the first show that brought me to L.A., Life on a Stick, was multi-camera. It was one of those things that was a great experience because working in front of an audience was something I’d done in theater, and it was really a great educational transition into television work. But it did feel a bit dated, and it wasn’t the kind of stuff that I was watching at that time. It was a job for sure. I think that television has changed, especially comedy. Some of my best friends are the guys that created It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I think they’re hugely responsible for the way a lot of comedy television is done today. Them, Arrested Development, The Office… I feel like a lot of shows have really changed the face of comedy, and I think Happy Endings has sort of come in at the right time. I think we’ve played perfectly right in between the lines of an It’s Always Sunny and a How I Met Your Mother. I think we can ride that line pretty well. 

Something I love about the show is that the episodes work on their own as single episodes. But I watched the second season on DVD, so being able to watch it all in one sitting like that allows you to pick up on a lot of those recurring jokes that are very character-specific. It seems so natural the way that you and the cast play those characters and those jokes; have there ever been any contributions on your end of what you think is funny and the writers pick up on that?
Yeah, this job has been the most collaborative job I’ve ever had. Every actor—and this is no bullshit—really, really, genuinely wants everybody else to have a great performance, every writer wants everyone to have a great performance, and we want the writers to have great scripts. So it really is the sort of environment that, if I have a funnier joke in my mind than what’s on the page, these guys are so receptive to it as well as me being completely receptive to them saying, “You know, it’s not really coming across reading the line or the way you’re doing the line.” I’m always open to any performance notes from them, and I’ve just never been a part of a show like that. In terms of bringing our own thing in, it happens all the time. The V-neck thing with Dave is actually me: I don’t wear any shirts that aren’t V-necks—anything that’s cut in the front I will wear. The writers picked up on that and started writing it into the script. I thought it would be really funny if Dave was really bad on camera. I can’t write the jokes, but I can sort of think of something that might be funny and those guys come up with jokes. It’s just a great environment to work in and I think it really lends itself to the comedy of the show.

I saw that you have a new movie coming out next year? Teddy Bears?
Yeah, I just did this movie this summer. It’s just this tiny little indie but really great writers, directors, and the cast in incredible—it’s me, David Krumholtz, Jason Ritter, Gillian Jacobs, Melanie Lynskey, and Ahna O’ Reilly and it’s just a really wonderful little movie. It’s sort of  like a little indie Big Chill. The premise of the story is that David Krumholtz’s character’s mother dies of cancer, and the movie is about this group of friends taking him to this house in Joshua Tree as part of the healing process. It’s three couples, and we get there and David Krumholtz’s character kind of sits up at a toast in the beginning of the movie and says, “I love all of you, thank you for helping me through this, and I just wanted to say that the only way I really feel like I could heal is if I sleep with all the women in our group.” The whole movie is about his character wanting/needing this sort of level of comfort and asking this huge thing of his his best friends. It’s funny and dark, and I’m just really proud of it. I just saw it for the first time two weeks ago. I do these kinds of movies all the time, and I just can’t wait until one of them gets seen. I think this movie and the cast was so great, and I just hope people get to see it.

Did you always kind of have the feeling that you would do comedy more than drama, or film/TV more than theater?
I had that idealistic thing in the beginning of my career that I only wanted to do theater. And then I went to New York and got the reality of what it’s like to do that. It was a stressful and strange time and totally valuable in my evolution as an actor, but then I didn’t want to have to say yes to every job. I just thought that L.A. was a better place for me, and I sort of always rode the line. I would do a really heavy movie or something, and then the next job would be some goofball comedy. I never quite settled into one world or the other. I’d say now is the first time I’ve really settled into the comedy world. All my shows have been cancelled, or the pilots haven’t been picked up, or no one saw the movie. This is the first time that something I’ve been in has been so successful, and I can say that without being embarrassed because it’s the truth. I was getting to a point where I was like, “Man, people they don’t see the shit that I’m doing,” and it was really disheartening. It’s just really nice to be in something that people respond to and like, and it’s a great feeling from someone who has been doing it for ten years to finally have people watch your stuff. So I feel like I’ll be living in this comedy world for a little while.
 

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‘A Very Sunny Christmas’: DeVito’s Daring Bridges Generational Comedy Gap

Danny DeVito is a genius or, barring that, at least one of the bravest men in Hollywood. Let me explain. Over the holidays, the g.f. and I made the annual journey to the ancestral family home in Richmond, Va. ‘Twas an intimate gathering, attended by the usual surfeit of warm feelings, high spirits, and all around good cheer. Of course, somewhere along the line I decided I needed to seriously jeopardize all of that. It seems I’m a slave to what Poe called “the imp of the perverse,” that strange, ineffable impulse that compels one to do the most ornery of things. In this instance, I decided it would be a hot idea to gather the whole family around to watch not A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time, but rather the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Christmas Special, a.k.a. A Very Sunny Christmas.

If you don’t already know the show, well, that’s unfortunate, as it’s truly, often daringly funny. The g.f. and I are very enthusiastic fans and had been looking forward to the holiday special for long enough that I’d become impatient and thus willing to chance it on an older (ages 65-88), rather conservative, and heretofore uninitiated audience—viz., my family. I slapped it in the dvd player (which sees so little use that my father still relies on a set of hand-written instructions to get it up and running) and settled in for what I hoped would be a shared forty minutes of family fun and hilarity. Woops.

It only took a few minutes for the language to kick in. This being a dvd release only, the IASIP gang was liberated from the usual broadcast standards and took every advantage. “Fuck-fuckity-fuck-fuck,” they seemed to be saying at five-second intervals. Now, normally this wouldn’t register with me at all, but with the fam in attendance I was suddenly hyper-aware of any and all billingsgate. Not that the story was any less offensive. Watching Charlie Day bite off Snata’s ear was a bit much for them too. No one objected per se, but all seemed very much at a loss. Was this really a tv sitcom? Why were the characters so mean to one another? Was this supposed to be funny?. There was much shifting in chairs, furrowing of brows, and a generally awkward silence broken only occasionally by my now-very-much-toned-down laughter. Nothing makes comedy less enjoyable than the knowledge that someone else in the room is having a reaction completely antithetical to your own.

Twenty-some-odd minutes in, I got to thinking the whole thing was just a classic blunder on my part. Then something happened. I’ll not bother with context, but rather just come out and say that Danny DeVito crawled, buck naked and sweaty, out of a black leather couch. Instantly, the vibe in the room changed. There were smiles and guffaws, and I’m pretty sure some knees were slapped. Even my grandfather (who thinks tattoos are the devil’s badges) was wracked with all-over, breath-depriving belly laughter. Why this change in attitudes all of a moment? Like I said, DeVito is a genius.

DeVito’s career is too well know to warrant a re-cap here, so I’ll just focus on his portrayal of Frank Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny…, with a special emphasis on this season, during which Frank’s gone off the fucking rails. He’s frequently drunk, has an appetite for drugs, and is unapologetically priapic. There’s lots of drooling, ugliness, and now, nudity, all of which is daring, daring stuff for an actor of DeVito’s age. What other 60 + actor would have the stones to really go there the way he does? I’m so thoroughly involved in and seduced by this performance that I’ve more than once wondered if DeVito himself isn’t also going through an off-screen crisis. It’s that kind of good.

So good, in fact, that he made my family enjoy themselves in spite of themselves. Perhaps a fat sweaty naked man crawling out of a couch is the kind of funny that transcends all barriers of age, taste, and discretion. Whatever the case, thank you Mr. DeVito. Thank you so fuck-fuck-fucking much!