HOLLYWOOD UNPLUGGED

Since we're all still a bit warm and fuzzy from the holidays, let's start with a charitable take on "Unscripted," the new, documentary-style HBO series about struggling actors in Hollywood from director George Clooney and producer Steven Soderbergh: it's better than "K Street." The duo's disastrously received 2003 show about political consultants--which, like "Unscripted," featured real people improvising fake story lines--was a classic case of two well-meaning naifs wandering into foreign turf and getting slaughtered. They've corrected that error this time: whatever riches Clooney and Soderbergh have enjoyed of late, they know a lot more about struggling in showbiz than, say, Lindsay Lohan.

As long as we're being charitable, it says a lot about the two men that they would use their considerable clout to shine a light on the industry's far less fortunate and, in the process, give the opportunity of a lifetime to a trio of actors (Krista Allen, Bryan Greenberg and Jennifer Hall) who are genuinely struggling. And to do it without a hint of condescension, with real sympathy, takes a degree of restraint one would never expect from two guys who just made the criminally smug "Ocean's Twelve."

The problem with "Unscripted," which tails the three actors from one humiliating audition to another, is a simple one: it's boring. As a director, Clooney has nice fingertips for verisimilitude, but not for drama. His episodes are shapeless, and his stars have dismayingly flimsy inner lives considering that they're, uh, playing themselves. (Only Allen--the star of the soft-core porn series "Emmanuelle," now trying to go legit--makes an impression as a dignified woman frustrated by casting directors who are more piqued by her adorable 6-year-old son than they are by her.) It feels awful to say, but there's a reason these actors aren't stars--and why its director is usually in front of the camera, not behind it. Without intending to, "Unscripted" makes the case that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood knows exactly what it's doing.

HOLLYWOOD UNPLUGGED | News