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Fisher 'roasts' herself in HBO's 'Wishful Drinking'

Carrie Fisher is all of the following:

1) One of the funniest human beings alive;

2) The daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds;

3) The ex-wife of Paul Simon;

4) The author of many books including the best sellers "Postcards from the Edge" (in whose movie version she was portrayed by Meryl Streep) and "Surrender the Pink;"

5) An actress so exhaustively marketed as Princess Leia in "Star Wars" that she knows what it's like to become both a Pez dispenser and an 8-foot sex doll;

6) A gay icon;

7) An admitted alcoholic;

8) A bipolar graduate of electroshock therapy.

Which means, all together, that you should DVR the daylights out of the debut of her one-woman show "Wishful Drinking" when it premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO.

Sophisticated consumers of Sunday cable, of course, aren't going to let anything get between them and Showtime's finale of a pretty good season on "Dexter" -- where everyone's favorite serial-killing vigilante has paired off homicidally and romantically with a female counterpart majestically named Lumen (played by the prosaically named but splendid Julia Stiles).

But you don't want to miss "Wishful Drinking" on HBO, because its first half is as funny as anything I've seen on TV all year.

And its finale is, in its way, as close to a confessional of palpable personal pain as TV is ever going to allow you, no matter how many tears Barbara Walters can squeeze out of Oprah.

When a portly, middle-aged bipolar woman (she tells us she Googled one description of her "now looking like Elton John") tells you that she has named her up and down moods "Roy" and "Pam," you're close enough to a real behavioral edge to send postcards.

"Hi, I'm Carrie Fisher and I'm an alcoholic" is the opening line of "Wishful Drinking," which, in her not-entirely-kidding description is "me talking about myself behind my back."

At the end, Fisher tells us that a year after giving birth, "I was invited to go to a mental hospital. You don't want to be rude. So you go." And, as one of her final flourishes, shows us a slide of the Los Angeles Times calling her "Bi-Polar Woman of the Year."

While its finale may make itself entertainingly at home in Carrie's cuckoo's nest, its first half including Carrie teaching a class about Eddie and Debbie and Liz and Harry and Paul, etc. that she calls Hollywood 101 -- is another kind of howl altogether. "Hollywood inbreeding" has never been presented for us better.

Fisher's humor is dark, to put it mildly. And understated. "Blue-blooded white trash" is how she describes her ancestry.

"My mother [Debbie Reynolds, of course] is a good person. Much like Sarah Palin. Only smarter."

Debbie's marriage to father Eddie Fisher? An inspiration to Carrie. "Paul Simon is a short Jewish singer. My mother made the blueprint. I followed it to the letter."

The stuff about George Lucas, "Star Wars" and Simon himself isn't quite as funny as the evocation of the truly incomparable oddness of being the child of the once-ubiquitous Eddie and Debbie, who, she explains to younger generations, were the Brad and Jennifer of their day waiting for Liz Taylor to slink into Eden as their very own Angelina Jolie. (Liz remains the iconic lusty Hollywood home wrecker in American mythology.) .

But in the middle of all that rue-turned-toxic, there is enough genuine brilliance for any 90 minutes of Sunday television.

Celebrity, she says immortally, is just "obscurity biding its time." As her relationship with Paul Simon proceeded, she says, "things were getting worse faster than we could lower our standards," which seems to me as witty a line about curdled affection as any since Noel Coward. (Mike Nichols, she confides, described Fisher and Simon as "two flowers without a gardener.")

That's a comic voice, I submit, that the world will always need no matter what celebrity she currently resembles or what cultish audience adopts her or what the doctors are writing on the chart dangling from the end of her bed.

Especially when that voice is brave enough to take you all the way backstage in the shadowy theater of mental disturbance.

Among the more remarkable things about the past two decades of American entertainment is how pervasive Alcoholics Anonymous and the rituals and images of 12-step recovery have become in popular entertainment.

The whole premise of Monday's first episode of "The Closer" in the show's return was the difficulty of a police investigation of the knifing of one of the show's cop regulars as he walked to his car following one of his regular AA meetings.

It was a fantasy of maintaining the anonymity of those whose secular religion depends on it while finding out exactly who did bad things and why.

It was one of the more clever episodes yet of "The Closer." To me it was heartening for the show's future as the show approaches the TV series equivalent of middle age.

That's where "Dexter" will be headed, too. The show's one plot for almost every episode -- will Dexter's twisted vigilante justice be discovered? -- has sometimes been as tedious as "24's" threats of apocalypse.

But having Stiles around to press her sullen, bee-stung lips against Dexter has been a nice bit of light in the fall TV season.

Too bad the show goes temporarily dark after Sunday night.

Which is why I say make sure you DVR -- or TiVO, or whatever -- "Wishful Drinking."

(This column appeared Dec. 10, 2010 in The Buffalo News.)

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

 

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