Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
When IFC and Sundance Channel president Evan Shapiro departed his post in April, the forthcoming IFC original comedy Bullet In The Face lost its biggest champion. And champions are exactly what a show like Bullet needs considering that the broad, over-the-top half-hour may be the most violent comedy in television history. According to sources, when IFC execs screened the six-episode series, there was shock and nervousness in the room. And now the controversial Bullet, which was not mentioned during IFC’s upfront presentation in March, is being scheduled in a very odd pattern: three episodes back-to-back on two consecutive nights, August 16 and August 17, from 10 PM-11:30 PM.
The uncertainty of what to do with Bullet In The Face is understandable. While its first three screened episodes show it to be uproarious and twisted, it’s also rife with cinematic-level violence and wildly politically incorrect imagery. It stars Canadian actor Max Williams as Gunter Vogler, a brutally psychopathic, deliriously misogynistic German assassin-turned-cop. The character is utterly without conscience or filter, shooting people indiscriminately and accompanying it with radically offensive invective. The blood spurts freely and often. Eric Roberts and Eddie Izzard co-star as wacko mob bosses. But here is the kind of stuff that may have spooked IFC into turning Bullet into a two-night event rather than a weekly series: We see Gunter in a church using a crucifix as a backscratcher and casually lumping former VP Dick Cheney with Hitler and Stalin in conversation. He mows down basketball players on a court as if taking target practice. It isn’t difficult to see watchdog groups taking offense at the material and using it to demonize IFC.
Bullet In The Face comes from the mind of creator-exec producer Alan Spencer, the mastermind behind the 1980s ABC classic Sledge Hammer! In announcing the project last year, IFC hinted at its unusual nature. “Bullet In The Face melds the best of the action/thriller genre with IFC’s comedic sensibility,” IFC’s SVP Original Programming Debbie DeMontreux said at the time. “This is television like viewers have never seen before.” The last statement, usually a PR cliche, may prove to be exactly right this time. Still, the network probably expected something more in the mocking and gentler vein of Spencer’s Sledge. Instead, they got an outrageous bloodfest. Admits Spencer: “IFC came to me about developing a half-hour action comedy and it somehow turned into the most violent sitcom ever made. But the IFC team has been very supportive. One episode featured beheadings and their only note was that the heads be tastefully handled.” He adds that the show “did make some people nervous, but mostly over how to position it. A show where people get shot in the face multiple times isn’t compatible with repeats of Malcolm in the Middle.”
Yet the fact that IFC is airing the show at all shows support for Bullet in the Face as there had been speculation that the network might drop the Muse Entertainment production the way History let go of Muse’s controversial Kennedys miniseries. But IFC has stood by Bullet, and the network’s new president and GM Jennifer Caserta maintains that no one feels uneasy about putting the show on the air and that the unusual scheduling arrangement, in which it is paired with pulp classic movies including Sin City, is designed to take advantage of the comedy’s manic, barbaric sensibility. “We think we’ve given it a really great airing window,” she said, adding, “This is a concept that only a network like IFC would take a chance on. We’re calling it pulp comedy. Alan was able to create a world and a cast of characters and real dialogue to fit this new genre we felt we were creating together. It’s incredibly unique in its execution, and that will fit very well with the way we’re scheduling it.” She reiterated this didn’t represent an attempt to bury the show so it wouldn’t be widely seen. “We’ve never run away from content like this before,” she noted, “and we’re not now. We embrace it and laugh at it and celebrate the absurdity.”