Mayhem has broken out at DirecTV's El Segundo headquarters.
On this mid-June morning, the small production studio normally reserved for the satellite TV provider's sports-themed Red Zone channel has been temporarily transformed into a Westside L.A. restaurant, all violet lights, splashy red artwork and gleaming silver. At the moment, however, the whole place appears to be coming apart at the seams in a not entirely metaphorical way during the final day of shooting for the first season of Full Circle — the series TV debut of acerbic auteur Neil LaBute — which winds down amid plot twists so jarring that precisely nothing more is allowed to be said.
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Later, down a warrenlike hallway, executive producer Nick Hamm ducks into an editing bay to call up some less top-secret footage, and suddenly there's David Boreanaz on screen, revving into a rat-a-tat tirade that's a world away from his bantering romantic lead on Bones.
Structured as a series of two-person scenes, all at the same Los Angeles restaurant, Full Circle's 10-episode season, set to premiere Oct. 9 on DirecTV's Audience network, rotates through 11 lead actors, who are paired up to eat together in a kind of thespian chess match. Storylines get passed along the chain as each episode carries over one character from the previous installment, La Ronde–style, in a manner meant to tease out hidden connections between them.
Those with even a passing familiarity with LaBute's work will know to brace themselves for what's coming. Boreanaz's character, a provocative comedian named Jace, has made a homophobic joke under the guise of artistic freedom, which leads to tragic consequences once social media fans the flames. His self-absorbed agent, played by Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck), is embroiled in his own personal mess.
In another episode, Ally Sheedy plays a mother with a discomforting rapport with her teen son — and that's not the only unsettling parent-child pairing in Full Circle. Eventually, someone dies in a plane crash and ultimately all hell just kind of breaks lose.
Gesturing brusquely at the monitor, Hamm, a fast-talking Brit, sums it up with a LaButean turn of phrase: "This ain't your regular fucking network TV show."
What the show wants to be is a combination of theater and television, not unlike the two-person episodes of HBO's In Treatment.
"It harkens back to the days of live TV," Hamm says. "It's television unplugged, acting, directing unplugged. We take away the normal artifice, the subplots and car chases. ... A lot of TV is puffed-up nonsense. If you invert the conventions of storytelling, you go back to the three basic elements — character, an inherently dramatic situation, and a great script."
For DirecTV's suits, these scripts sold them on the idea, but the format of the show sweetened the pot. Self-contained on one small soundstage, the entire production, from casting to shooting, was completed in two months, neatly sandwiched between the end of pilot season and the start of shooting for the fall's shows.
Working within such a compressed time frame — each actor had to be available for only about a week — allowed a host of familiar names to sign on to the project, including Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights), Kate Walsh (Private Practice) and Cheyenne Jackson (30 Rock).
"I read it, and was like, Jesus, that's quite a piece," Boreanaz says. "I saw it as a piece that's extremely challenging, that I'm afraid of, and something that will require a lot of hard work in order to go there."
In addition to those caustic bon mots, the series revolves around familiar LaBute themes, such as human weakness and big-picture morality. "Jace just represents this man who, God, he's just so manically obsessed with his own self-righteous ego that just gets way out of control, and he just thinks he's above it all, and he gets slammed down and becomes very humble in a very sad way," Boreanaz says.
The actor has been a fan of LaBute's ever since meeting with the writer-director in 2007 about possibly starring in a production of Fat Pig, the writer's typically confrontational play about our poisonous obsession with appearances.
Primarily known as a home for critical favorites salvaged from other networks when their ratings got too low (as with Friday Night Lights and Damages) and unconventional foreign acquisitions (such as Hit and Miss, in which Chloë Sevigny stars as a transgendered hitwoman), DirecTV has only recently begun creating its own original scripted programming, which hasn't drummed up the same good notices thus far. Its first dramatic offering, Rogue, the Thandie Newton cop drama also executive produced by Hamm, which debuted earlier this year, got renewed while nevertheless failing to impress critics. The show has undergone some retooling for preparation for its return.
LaBute wasn't granting interviews at press time, but teaming up with the often outré creator was a key part of senior VP Chris Long's ambition to define the DirecTV aesthetic.
"I think we put on a lot of edgy television, and I think [Full Circle] is in line with that," Long says. "You just have to be cognizant that you're not being — gratuitous is the word I would like to say."
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