Lay off the Steakums

This article in The New York Times about Judd Apatow made me all kinds of happy — and only a little sad. It’s so rewarding when a guy you’ve been pulling for gets feted by the mainstream press, and especially a guy like Apatow, whose career you’ve been following since 1992 when he was an executive producer of The Ben Stiller Show and then followed that up with a dizzying run of standout credits: writer on The Larry Sanders Show (1993-98), cocreator of NBC’s Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000), and creator of Fox’s Undeclared (2001-2002) — not to mention a hilarious unaired pilot starring Amy Poehler, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and Judge Reinhold called North Hollywood that ABC let die on the vine in 2001.

But newfound mainstream success for the cultish can also be damaging. One problem that seems to happen with disturbing regularity to these sorts of directors, writers and actors once they finally “make it” is that they get the Ben Stiller disease. Because they know more people in the business and are less interested in alienating them, and because they need to angle for bigger audiences in order to justify their increased paychecks, the edges are often rounded off their work, whether by design or by groupthink, so as to make them safer for general consumption. And of course there’s cronyism. Instead of breaking new actors, formerly cultish directors “trade up” by casting, say, Gene Hackman instead of Brian Cox; actors who used to excel in smart indie films or on fringe TV shows get lost in a world of witheringly dumb romantic comedies and over-the-top farces. It hasn’t happened yet in Apatow’s pet projects — and casting an unlikely hero as Seth Rogen in Knocked Up is exactly why I love Apatow — but he is friends with Ben Stiller and it’s a quick freefall from where he’s at now to directing A Night in the Museum 2.

Then again, maybe something like that could be as beautiful as this clip from Undeclared:

A random image from the 1980s just popped into my mind: Michael Douglas’s faceplant into Kathleen Turner’s crotch in Romancing the Stone. WTF?