Or, "James Lipton, Martin Lawrence, and The Craft of Acting."
James Lipton's Inside the Actors Studio starts its eighteenth season this month. It's always purported to feature serious conversations about craft, but though Lipton occasionally brings in a guest with some substance (see Kevin Spacey), most episodes are heavier on banalities and back-patting. Here are the five worst offenders from the show's long history.
5. Richard Dreyfuss (2000)
It turns out that Richard Dreyfuss is kind of annoying. I now fear being left alone with him while the friends we have in common go to the bathroom. In the episode, he answers every yes/no question by building up to his response with a seemingly endless series of long-winded talking points. As we're reminded repeatedly, he's an esteemed actor. Very esteemed. But given that the movie that made him famous, Jaws, birthed the blockbuster and effectively killed the surge of independent filmmaking we were seeing in the 1970s, it's odd that he comes off as so stuffy and aloof. ("What turns you off?" "Rock 'n roll.")
4. Tim Allen (2006)
Tim Allen is a humble man, but maybe not the first person you think of when you reflect on the noble craft of acting. Perhaps fittingly, Lipton reads off a list of emotional states and has Allen express them via his signature grunt. This results in three solid minutes of grunts, ranging in mood from "sympathetic" to "confused."
3. Charlize Theron (2004)
No one told Charlize Theron that every guest on ITAS (of course) gets a standing ovation on the way in. She stands there awkwardly for what feels like an hour. Okay, that's an understandable mistake, but what's really weird comes later in the episode, when Theron's mother (who's in the audience) gets a standing ovation herself for having killed her husband in self-defense — a truly bizarre moment confirming that James Lipton and his fans can react to just about anything as if it's the feel-good hit of the year.
2. Martin Lawrence (2006)
How Lipton managed to have a straight-faced conversation regarding Bad Boys is beyond me. He might be better off nixing guests altogether and teaching the nuances of acting himself. This episode does, however, feature a couple of Lipton's most quotable lines ever ("Let's give our audience a treat, and have a look at the incomparable Shaneneh"). By the time Lawrence gets up to do his "iconic" dance from the film Blue Streak, the episode has become a full-on minstrel show, with Lawrence running through his cavalcade of stereotypical black characters, much to Lipton's delight. ("That was a tour dé force, what we just saw!")
1. Jennifer Aniston (2011)
Jennifer Aniston is an affable guest. She's also a star of terrible movies, and her insights on acting include such gems as "I like to get all my lines down, and then I can play from there." Lipton follows that up by asking how she stays in shape (and probably by silently cursing Daniel Day-Lewis for turning down his invitation to appear on the show). Our favorite host is usually pretty smooth in his sycophancy, but he doesn't seem to know what to do with Aniston. She's not a bad comedienne, but her sense of humor falls flat on Lipton; their back-and-forth gets so awkward at times (with each making jokes that fall on the other's deaf ears) that you almost want to watch Picture Perfect instead. Almost.