Tomorrow night, Will Ferrell appears in the comedy stunt Ferrell Takes the Field (10:00 p.m. Saturday, HBO, TV-14). A charity fundraiser, Field showcases Ferrell on a single day of major league baseball spring training earlier this year, as he plays 10 different positions for 10 different teams in a five-game marathon.
Field strives to parody sports specials, with Ferrell, in his patented Really-Obtuse-White-Man role as the amateur athlete taking himself entirely too seriously, throwing tantrums and complaining when he is "traded" from one team to another.
Like the very idea for Field itself, everything about Ferrell's performance is strenuously contrived. He gets to play every position on the baseball diamond but seems to have forgotten his own job: that of entertainer.
This project airs at the end of a summer that has been overstuffed with similar celebrity indulgences, many -- but not all -- involving former "SNL" talent. Ferrell and fellow "SNL" cast member Kristen Wiig played it super straight in their parody Lifetime movie, A Deadly Adoption. Rather than mining the genre for humor, they turned in a rather turgid Lifetime movie.
Ferrell and Wiig also appeared, along with "SNL" alum Maya Rudolph, in The Spoils Before Dying, the arch sendup of old TV miniseries. We've also seen Documentary Now! this summer, created, produced and starring "SNL" talent Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers and Bill Hader. Earlier this summer, HBO presented the aggressively vulgar mock tennis epic, 7 Days in Hell, starring Andy Samberg. You may remember him from "SNL."
In making all of these "ironic" projects, the comedians have been far more successful at amusing each other than finding, or entertaining, large audiences. And it's not just "SNL" talent. Netflix's star-studded Wet Hot American Summer adaptation also has elements of a celebrity home movie. It's central gag was watching all of those professionals wearing bad wigs while appearing in a thoroughly amateur production.
Another example of a big star getting really small is Making a Scene with James Franco. In this AOL web series that entered its second season this Wednesday, Franco and his pals will act out scenes from classic television shows, but set them in different genres entirely. Want to see Gossip Girl as a Western starring Franco in a wig? Help yourself!
Taken individually, such whimsical efforts seem harmless enough. But as a trend they've become rather tedious if not odious, a case of desperate famous players never ceding the stage or the spotlight.
You have to wonder what striving baseball players thought while watching Will Ferrell hog valuable at-bats from their Spring Training audition. And how many truly original series from talented unknowns did IFC pass on so they could air Documentary Now!?
It's understandable that a smaller network might cling to the fame of known "SNL" talent. HBO's participation in this never-ending festival of narcissism is more troubling.
A night after Ferrell's baseball stunt, HBO debuts season two of Doll & Em (10:30 p.m. Sunday). In this comedy acclaimed actress Emily Mortimer and her real life best friend, Dolly Wells, portray acclaimed actress Emily Mortimer and her real life best friend Dolly Wells.
Season two sees the two pals move into a lighthouse to write an off-Broadway play about a subject near and dear to their hearts.
They cast Evan Rachel Wood and Olivia Wilde to play the lead characters, none other than acclaimed actress Emily Mortimer and her real life best friend Dolly Wells.
To quote Dana Carvey, former "SNL" performer, "Isn't that special?"