The Bald and the Beautiful
Like many women, I am a sucker for fashion magazines. You know the type. They purport to solve relationship woes, give sound career advice, and show the path to an eternally flat tummy. They tell us what hemlines are in, what diets are out, and they have a lot of advertisements for things most of us will never be able to afford. They display a fantasy world I doubt I shall ever enter; they suborn my staunch feminist ideals with their focus on cellulite-free thighs; they make me wonder how I shall ever manage a successful relationship if I can’t even figure out which answer in the monthly Quiz will give me the highest score. Yet I find myself oddly compelled to read their words of alleged wisdom.
Which is exactly why I decided to watch the sitcom Just Shoot Me, set in the offices of New York-based glam mag Blush. It is also why I enjoy Just Shoot Me so much… because the show understands the irony of independent and intelligent women reading such trash as well as I do, a fact that it established in the very first episode.
Maya Gallo (Laura San Giacomo), a very serious journalist, suffers a career disaster and must ask her loving but absent-minded father, publishing magnate Jack Gallo (George Segal), for a job. She soon finds herself with a shiny new office, a desk full of whiz-bang stationary, and the realisation that she is now that which she has always despised: a fluff writer. Her assignments include such world-shaking topics as “The Ten Sexiest Lipsticks” and “Orgasms in Three Easy Steps,” and Maya is not pleased. Add to this her new colleagues—ex-model fashion editor Nina Van Horne (Wendie Malick), lothario photographer Elliott DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni), and snarky receptionist-type Dennis Finch (David Spade)—and her nightmare is complete.
Over the years, the main attraction of this sitcom for me—and, after all, it is only a sitcom—has shifted. I now watch mainly for the relationships. These people palpably hate each other at times (and nothing is funnier), but they also share a real affection. Jack is thoroughly dependent on his assistant, Dennis Finch, who regards his employer with a mixture of hero-worship and complete disdain that makes what could be a one-dimensional character real… and kind of endearing. Nina’s occasional moments of clarity reveal her to be as vulnerable as the next gorgeous woman, and an on-again-off-again romance will always capture my interest: in this case, it’s Maya and Elliott who can’t make up their minds whether or not to be together. At the moment, they’re thinking not.
Now in its sixth season, Just Shoot Me continues to deliver the odd dynamics and oh-so-clever bon mots, as well as the borderline fantastical situations endured by its increasingly quirky cast. The fall season premiere saw the conclusion of last year’s cliff-hanger, with Finch fired from his job as Jack Gallo’s assistant as a result of being caught in flagrante with Jack’s much younger—and estranged—wife, Allie (Kristin Bauer). Desperate to get his job back, Finch tried bribery and flattery, but was eventually reduced to taking on a new client: Snoop Dogg. Jack eventually forgave and forgot and wooed Finch back into his service, leaving Snoop (yes, the real Snoop) to pine: “I’m gonna miss that little blonde cracker.”
Snoop Dogg is merely the latest of a legion of Just Shoot Me guest stars who are actually, well, stars. While many have played themselves—cameo appearances from the likes of Mark Hamill and Woody Allen come to mind—while others have stepped on stage as family members and co-workers. From Brian Dennehy as the diminutive Finch’s manly father, to French Stewart (3rd Rock From the Sun) as Maya’s beau, to Xena herself (Lucy Lawless) as Elliott’s hooker-cum-date, rarely does an episode go by without a familiar face or two making an appearance.
Chief among these, of course, are the models: Carmen Electra, Amber Smith, the omnipresent Tyra Banks. They have all stretched their acting ranges to appear as… uh… models. Even former Models Inc. star Cassidy Rae showed up as a covergirl med student, and Finch somehow managed to marry (and then quickly divorce) nymphomaniac supermodel Adrienne (X-Men‘s Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). In an internet poll, when viewers were able to choose the ending to one episode, the options consisted of: 1) Finch makes a move on Brooke Shields, 2) Finch gets picked up by Brooke Shields, and 3) Don’t pick this one, it gets weird. Unsurprisingly, the third option won by a landslide.
The culmination of all of this star-studdedness was in the evocatively titled episode, “A&E Biography: Nina Van Horne,” when such luminaries as Jamie Farr (you know, Klinger from M.A.S.H.), Jeri Hall, Don Henley, and Vanna White reminisced about that most raucous of former party girls. Notably absent from the documentary was Nina’s beloved best-friend Binnie, the eternally drunk, coked-up, plastic-surgery-addicted creature of whom much has been said, though we have never seen her in the flesh. (And since she’s set to die in the episode airing on Oct 25, it seems unlikely we ever will. Oh, woe!)
Still, it matters not how illustrious the guest stars, talented the comedians or beautiful the extras, if the writing doesn’t deliver. Fortunately, in Just Shoot Me, it does. The situations are often absurd and the dilemmas cringe-worthy, but all of that pales before the moments of cutting derision and good-humoured wit that spring forth from the mouths of these improbably hilarious New Yorkers. From Finch’s habitual spite (“Oh I just remembered. You’re boring… and my legs work”) to Nina’s tales of her dubious past, to Maya’s earnest, determined enthusiasm, each character adds a special flavour to the delicious cocktail of cutting barbs and charming self-deprecation.
Primary among these is unlikely Casanova and fashion photographer Elliott. Gloriously bald and puzzlingly attractive, he is the very essence of what makes this show so bizarre, and yet so very enjoyable. The fact that this borderline geek (Colantoni memorably played an alien in Galaxy Quest) can be successfully portrayed as a rakish chick magnet is a triumph of casting. It would have been easy to put a beauteous, bedroom-eyed hunk in the role, to make women’s hearts beat faster and foster the illusion of impossible glamour. Instead, Elliott’s loveable goofiness, and the fact that his position as Blush‘s staff photographer lets a guy like him laid on a regular basis, underline Just Shoot Me‘s point, that the world of fashion magazines is shallow, empty, completely fake… and very, very funny.