You can scarcely look at your computer, pick up a newspaper or turn on your television these days without seeing something about Russell Brand. Unfortunately for him in recent times, the vast majority of this press coverage seems rather more concerned with his failed marriage and his recently reignited sex life and although his sex life has always been subject of intense media scrutiny (Brand often adding fuel to this particular fire) in recent days it's become overbearing and it seems many are forgetting what it is Russell actually does to make a living. In case you've forgotten let me remind you, he's a comedian and more recently he's been trying his hand at acting.
Russell's forays into film so far have featured a kind of watered down Russell Brand lite. And it all started so promisingly for Russell after his movie stealing performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the hype surrounding him was considerable.
Russell Brand is facing something of a crossroads in his career, as he enters the world of film, he feels the pressure of striving to obtain a more mainstream appeal but he is at risk of losing and/or jeopardising the attributes that got him there in the first place. It's his quick wit, spontaneity, and the sense that he was forever on the precipice of creating controversy that have all been sorely lacking from most of his performances thus far. Film feels too restrictive for a talent such as Russell's as he struggles to shoehorn his personality into every role he's taken thus far.
And indeed Russell himself is perhaps growing disillusioned with his new Hollywood life as indicated by him in recent weeks. Several times in recent interviews he suggests the lure of being in films is more financial than anything else. As well as sounding vaguely mournful as he talks about how he prefers the immediacy of stand up and instant gratification it brings with it.
So it perhaps makes sense that Russell Brand's latest offering, Brand X, seems to be a return to what Russell does best. Airing on FX in America and Sky Atlantic on this side of the pond, Brand X is reminiscent to the show which kick started his meteoric rise to the top, Big Brother's Big Mouth. The format allows Russell free reign to improvise, riff and interact with the audience and it becomes abundantly obvious that the show is a showcase for Russell to play to his strengths. And one need only listen to his radio show or watch his stand up to acknowledge that this is a medium in which he can flourish. He drags members of the audience onto the stage, sets fires to money, rifles through a woman's handbag and clambers through the crowd to sit on the laps of his audience members. It's this sense of anarchy that Brand revels in and the show succeeds in creating an environment of uncertainty and excitement. Russell is actively seeking the kind of frenzied mania absent in the filmmaking process and it's this atmosphere of hysteria that Russell is obviously at home in.
This is not to say that the show is not without its flaws, not least the baffling role of the Harvard educated sidekick, Matt Stoller. Matt's function on the show remains unclear and at one point in the third episode Matt starts a sentence with 'the reason it's funny' as if Russell's humour needs some additional explanation.
It remains to be seen whether American audiences will accept Russell Brand and much of the humour derives from his self imposed 'outsider' Englishman in America status. His turns as presenter of the various MTV award ceremonies haven't done as much to endear him to the American market as he may have hoped. Brand X itself has received mixed reviews as the critics struggle to deal with the bizarre/innovative (delete as you see appropriate) format. But ultimately there is no denying his talent and as the series develops it is undeniably funny. He's undoubtedly charismatic, eloquent and his sharp wit makes his interactions with audience members hilarious.
Although Brand X is by no means the perfect show; it serves as a timely reminder of where Russell's talents lie. Perhaps it's time for Russell to return to the skill set that got the ball rolling from minor digital television presenter to film star and Brand X certainly seems to a tentative step in the right direction.
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