Fresh Hell Review
Then there’s Brent Spiner, the actor who portrayed the android Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both the man and the character are amongst the most popular from the Star Trek universe, and Spiner continues to attend conventions in order to interact with the fandom. By all indications, he is a class act with great range as a thespian and an inherent sense of humor. All three of those characteristics shine in the comedy web series Fresh Hell, in which Spiner mockingly portrays himself as a fallen celebrity living a lonely and isolated life in a small apartment after his own high-profile meltdown, simply referred to as “the incident.”
“Where you lost everything,” a talk-show host comments about the event. “Your family, your home. Your wealth, your career. Your adoring fans.”
Fresh Hell never reveals what it is that Brent Spiner did to make him a toxic outcast, but the first episode of the web series portrays “the incident” as an extreme example of celebrity misbehavior. “I can imagine a scenario where OJ (Simpson) redeems himself,” a guest on the same talk show later remarks. “I mean, it’s not like he’s Brent Spiner.” The host simply replies, “We had a guest on yesterday whose face was literally ripped off by a pit bull. You know what she said to me? ‘At least I’m not Brent Spiner.’”
While the specifics of “the incident” are left for the imagination of the viewer, Spiner’s quest for rehabilitation falls on the shoulders of next door neighbor and wannabe porn star Dakota (Kat Steel). Through the course of Fresh Hell, she convinces the once-famous persona to be her partner at an acting showcase—with a “lost episode of Friends” as their script—as well as introduces him to her boyfriend-slash-agent and the psychic-slash-personal-manager who lives upstairs in their apartment building. The encounters only add to the level of hell that Brent Spiner finds himself in as the trio of characters are both sitcom-style quirky and funny in their own right.
Agent Tommy (Brian Palermo), for instance, tells Spiner that he can arrange meetings between the former Data and writer/directors J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon but needs to see his penis first. “I’m putting something out there—my time, my energy, the great name of this firm—and I think you should put something out there, too,” Tommy explains before discussing how he helped British actress Judi Dench with her own career. “She sat in that chair right there, slowly crossed and uncrossed her legs and BOOM! that very day I had her in a film with Vin Diesel.”
Psychic Valerie (Karen Austin), meanwhile, later pleads with Spiner to hire her. “I’m the perfect manager for you,” she says. “I’m borderline delusional. Have been for years. I follow my instincts no matter how much hard evidence I come up against. And I will put those skills to work for you. I will believe in you delusionally and as your manager, I will infect other people with that delusion.”
While season one effectively introduces the characters and concept of Fresh Hell, season two focusses on Spiner’s attempts to rise above the ashes of his life and reinvigorate his still-dead career. In true screwball comedy fashion, however, those attempts only lead to more mayhem. Inspired by Dakota’s desire to be a real actress, for instance, Spiner forms an acting class for other aspiring porn stars who would like to learn the craft. It turns out, however, that the small group of wannabe thespians is more interested in taking their clothes off than hearing recitals of Shakespeare.
“My balls hang really low,” one of them states. “I’m afraid I might lose jobs because the actual penetration is obscured by my very heavy balls.” Jeff Lewis from the highly-successful web series The Guild portrays the aforementioned “actor,” and his naked performance as Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross is a true comedic gem as he continually interrupts the more serious conversation between Spiner, Dakota and her boyfriend Tommy with his recital.
The Brent Spiner of Fresh Hell also attempts to make lemonade out of the large basket of lemons at his disposal when his is hired to play Spock from Star Trek: The Original Series at a young boy’s birthday party. When he discovers that the father of the child is a movie producer, Spiner finds a way to insert the St. Crispin’s Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V into his performance in order to impress the Hollywood bigwig. Although Fresh Hell is predominantly about “Brent Spiner the actor” rather than strictly Star Trek, season two does contain an earlier episode in which the former Data attempts to borrow money from his Next Generation colleague LeVar Burton. “So what is your plan?” Burton asks. “Every few weeks, you hunt up your old pal LeVar the Softie and hit him up for a couple of Benjamins?”
Despite the fact that he is considered a toxic outcast on Fresh Hell, the fictitious Spiner continually displays concern and compassion towards Dakota and Valerie. In this sense, Spiner is similar to Jeff Bridges’ character from the big screen motion picture The Fisher King. During the film, Jack Lucas experiences his own fall from grace after comments made on his popular radio talk show induce a caller to commit mass murder. He finds solace in both alcohol and a low-end video store owner named Anne, only to achieve personal redemption and a resurgence in his career after assisting Robin Williams, whose wife was one of the victims in the shooting spree. Lucas is later faced with a different dilemma, however—with the old life of success that he has craved suddenly within reach, does he abandon those who stood by him during his dark years in exile in order to reclaim it?
Brent Spiner finds himself in a comparable situation at the end of Fresh Hell. The opportunity to defend his actions and potentially revive his own career is counterbalanced with various personal crises surrounding all three of his newly found nuclear family—Dakota, Tommy and Valerie. Does he desert his friends at their hour of need for public redemption, or are the personal relationships that he has recently crafted more important within the scope of life?
“When people begin to reevaluate Hitler by saying, ‘At least he’s not Brent Spiner,’ you’re just some cat I used to work with,” LeVar Burton tells Spiner, but Fresh Hell makes it clear that the epitaph does not really fit either the fictitious or real life Brent Spiner. Although Fresh Hell is a fresh comedy in a sea of entertainment choices, it ultimately stands as a testament to the claim that fame and fortune are merely fleeting, and the bonds of friendships that one forms during life’s journey are all that truly matters.
Anthony Letizia (August 13, 2012)