Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman Season 1 Ep 6 (2006)

The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman
Episode title: Peyote Ugly
Directed by Adam Kassen
Starring Laura Kightlinger, Nicholle Tom
Genre: Drunk-com

“Enjoy the cape!”

Perhaps the greatest innovation in television comedy in the 00’s has been the Completely Irresponsible Protagonist. Sure, this character has cropped up before, but usually as a sidekick: Leave it to Beaver’s teenage creep Eddie Haskel is clearly the proto irresponsible asshole, followed quickly by that whiny cretin Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. And who could forget Jack Tripper’s morally dubious best-bud Larry Dallas, or the willfully anarchic evil-nerd Squiggy? But it was in the past decade that these chaos-creating imps took center stage, from the UK Office’s clueless prick David Brent to Peep Show’s perverse loafer Jeremy, Trailer Park Boys’ drunk-bull-in-a-China-Shop Ricky, the entire cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and, perhaps the most irresponsible man…er, cup…in all of TV land, Master Shake from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Granted, he’s a milkshake, so it’s not like he’s beholden to the laws of a polite human society, but even for food, he’s a total asshole.

There are several reasons why this type of character would rise in prominence at this point in civilization. For one thing, they represent mayhem, and mayhem has quite suddenly become a major part of our lives, from the oppressive threat of terrorism to a cratered economy to the sheer terror of weather-gone-wild. We used to have a handle on mayhem. Now, it pretty much runs the show. Also, the internet’s relative anonymity has allowed many of us to unloose our inner id, flaming and trolling with remarkable cruelty, saying things that no sane individual would, if they had to attach their name to their statements. In essence, Master Shake IS the internet, come to goop-spurting life, outing you for the lame-o you are, right in your stupid face. The Completely Irresponsible Protagonist is us, if we were willing to get punched in the nose every single day.

However, despite the fact that there are just as many girl-jerks on the internet as boy-jerks, television still favors the be-testicled asshole. On TV, at least, ladies are still the voice of reason, with a few very notable exceptions. Selma Blair’s Kim, from the short-lived American version of the long-running Australian series, Kath and Kim, was an amazing ly obnoxious character, a preening, over-aged mall-princess with so many different glares and withering stares she often appeared to be suffering from chronic facial tics. Sure, she was based entirely on an already established character, but even so, it’s rare to find a female lead in a sitcom that’s so gleefully repellent. Also worth noting is Nighty Night’s remarkable horror Jill Tyrell (Julia Davis, who also wrote the series). This pitch-black Brit-com (2004-2005) starred Davis as a beauty salon owner, stalker, and unrepentant sociopath who just might be the most disturbing sitcom lead of all time, ever.

And then there’s Jackie Woodman.

Laura Kightlinger was/is a mid-level stand-up comic who found fame and fortune as a sitcom writer for Roseanne and Will and Grace. She was also, briefly, a writer and cast member of Saturday Night Live (1995), and she’s acted in various TV shows and movies – from Lucky Louie to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy – since the early 90’s. Despite her mainstream success, much like fellow SNL alumni Norm McDonald, she always seemed more cynical and with-it than her roles and writing gigs would suggest. The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman, which ran on IFC for two painfully brief seasons in 2006-2007, certainly gives this theory some credence. In it, Kightlinger plays the titular Jackie, a boozy, drug-fueled entertainment journalist for a snooty LA magazine that she despises. She aspires to be a successful screenwriter, but is usually too drunk/hungover to accomplish anything. Her best friend, Tara (Nicholle Tom) is a ditzy, sexually-impulsive blonde-mess. In essence, they are the living embodiment of Master Shake and Meatwad, a lazy psychotic and her dimwitted companion out for cheap thrills. Kightlinger has stated that the show is, mostly, based on her own life, and that the stories are “85%” true. While that is clearly bad news for Kightlinger’s liver, it brings a gruesome sort of gravity to the show; Jackie is Laura without the dough, connections, and lucky breaks.

The first season was a straightforward raunchfest, but the following season added a few dollops of poignancy here and there. For example, in one episode, Jackie has to decide who she hates more – her mom's homophobic new boyrfiend, or her snotty, dismissive, gay coworker; in another, she has a pregnancy scare, which sobers her up for five minutes. Luckily, these dramatic moments are usually offset by a bolt of shock humor: Jackie and her drug-buzzing new boyfriend beat a punk rocker to a pulp in a club men's room, Tara has sex with a premature ejaculator wearing a clown mask, Jackie and mom guzzle whiskey and play Russian roulette. Shit like that. It's like Kightlinger knows, deep down, that she's supposed to have “feelings”, but she just finds them much less interesting than moments of druggy chaos.

Jackie Woodman was just hitting its stride when IFC pulled the plug; I imagine Laura would have pushed Jackie and Tara into doing some truly unspeakable things by Season 3. Luckily, we've still got these sixteen hair-raising episodes to remember Miss Woodman by.

In Peyote Ugly, Jackie wins a $10,000 grant from a Native American charity association to shoot a short-film; she applied for the grant as “Jackie White Pigeon Woodman”, justifying her actions by explaining to Tara that her grandfather lived on a reservation. Sure, it's because he was a down-on-his-luck drunk, but still. In a rare moment of moral outrage, Tara tells Jackie she thinks this is a bad idea.
“Well, there's two schools of thought on this,” says Jackie, sucking down a morning beer.
“One, suck it. And two, we already have the money, so who gives a shit?”

So, they cash the check and go shopping. Jackie spends $9000 on a belt and a lace shawl. The counter girl calls it a cape. That's gotta be a bad sign.

Back at Jackie's, Tara needs something to clean up the bloody Mary she just spilled, so she grabs Jackie's award letter. While she sops up the tomato juice, she reads what the letter says. Turns out Jackie has to submit five edited minutes of her non-existent Native American-themed film within two weeks or she has to return the money. Yikes. What to do?

Well, Tara smokes some weed. Meanwhile, a suddenly panicked Jackie digs up her original proposal and finds out it's supposed to be some bullshit about how the white man has driven the sacred Native American peyote ritual underground. Her theoretical film would document one of these “Sacred spirit quests”. Of course, you really have to be a member of a tribe to attend one of these things, so that's gonna be tricky.
“I need you, Tara,” Jackie implores. “You have this ability to connect with, and if the situation calls for it, to fuck, the common man.”
Tara agrees.
“Great. I'll go find my camera, you go find some Indians.”

Tara decides to hit the online personals to find a Jackie's “Indians”. She comes across a fledgling Native American actor named Russell Two Clouds, who agrees to get them into a peyote ceremony if they put him in their movie. Done and done.

Two Clouds turns out to be kind of a douche, reciting Shakespeare and mugging for the camera and whatnots. At least he makes good on his word, and takes them to the ceremony.

Here's the thing, though; once you're in the circle, you gotta drink the peyote punch. Those are the rules.

After projectile-vomiting on their guests, the now stoned-to-the-tits phony documentary filmmakers stagger away.
They both have a weird psychedelic trip with lots of bright colors and groovy sounds. Tara wanders off to renew her passport (or something), while Jackie stops at an oasis cafe where a mustachioed girl serves her drinks and seats her with a turtle who talks to her in her mother's voice.

After a day of tripping balls, night falls on the desert, and the girls decide to camp there for the evening. Luckily, the tribesmen have provided them with some sleeping bags. Tara doesn't think she can sleep, though. Jackie says she has just the thing, and lipsynch's Nancy Sinatra's “Sugar Town”.

That does the trick, and the girls slip off to slumberland.

And then they wake up a few hours later, covered in cuts and scratches from falling asleep in a patch of cactus.

Cut to: later that morning. The girls are back at Jackie's, wrapped in bandages.
“I work in an office, Jackie,” Tara whines. “I can't afford to be an insane fuck-up. What am I gonna do?”
“Call in sick,” Jackie suggests.
“And then what?”
“And then we'll buy a hat.”

Sounds about right. Oh, and what about the movie? Jackie sends 'em a cracked DVD. Hey man, it's not her fault if the post office destroyed the only copy of her masterpiece.

If you're a fan of chemically-dependent lunatics, you owe it to yourself to check out The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman. Season one is out on DVD. Season two...well, it's around. Snap 'em up to see Laura Kightlinger in the role she was born to play: Evil Laura Kightlinger.

- Ken McIntyre

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