“It’s the flailing. You can’t flail on network television."
No one will let me poke the 900lb cannibal with a stick. And my morbid curiosity is killing me. It’s not like he could do much but flail his beefy arms, helplessly, even if I did. But I’ve been told that the 900lb cannibal cost $130,000 before salary, and I’m not allowed to put a dent in him. Allstate doesn’t offer a comprehensive plan on collision with a fat suit.
I’m hanging out with Executive Producer and Creator Tim Minear on the set of his new show, The Inside, standing behind the monitors, hiding behind Tim and peeking out over his shoulder, whispering in his ear, “There he is….there’s the fat guy. Omigod, how does he wash himself? With a Swiffer?”
This is all ridiculous, since it’s just an actor in a fat suit, LOST’s William Mapother (Ethan), floating in a hundred pounds of latex and paint. But it just looks so real. They had to build a tent outside to house the actor between takes.
The premise of the episode is that the 900lb cannibal eats anorexic women he lures from the internet into his mousetrap-like lair, rolling his motorized wheelchair over a carpet of old potato chip crumbs. I love sick shit like this. I’m also reminded of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies macabre ABC’s.
R is Rebecca locked in a cage, T is for Tim yelling “CUT!” on the stage…
The last time I visited this set was right before Christmas, when everything was new and shiny and freshly painted. It’s a tiny bit more lived-in, now, the whiteboards in Minear’s office are filled to every edge with madness filmed weeks ago and some things that never made it to screen.
There’s only three days of filming left to complete the thirteen episode order of the show, and things are hectic. Minear’s assistant, John, juggles three cell phones, all of them ringing at a steady clip. I keep thinking I want to free him from the cell-tether and toss the chirping beasts off the Santa Monica pier, but he seems to have developed a symbiotic relationship with the metallic bloodsuckers and I fear that if they died, so would he.
The evening began with me sitting uncomfortably in Tim’s office, trying to resist the urge to rummage through everything. Just so you know, if I’m ever invited to your home, I will absolutely search your bathroom for evidence of psychotropic medications. It’s a flaw. I’m working on it. Just before I succumb to curiosity and start pawing through his desk for some sort of proof of deviance, the man bounds through the door and hugs me like he means it. I take a good look at his face, and notice that the worry line on his forehead is a little deeper than it was when I saw him six months ago. It’s caused by a perpetual raised eyebrow, like he’s constantly listening to something urgent.
“Wanna go see the set? Or do you wanna watch an episode? Which one do you wanna watch? We need to go to an edit, first. An edit, then the set, and then an episode. Do you mind running back and forth?”
None of these things are actual questions, it’s just a To-Do List rumbling through his skull. And so I’ll happily follow him around while he makes checks on the mental scratch paper.
Settling in to watch some edits, the first scene on the monitors is a Man On Fire! flailing about.
“The censors want it cut,” laments Minear. “He can be on fire, he can drop, but they don’t want him to wave his arms around.”
“But he’s on FIRE,” I try to reason.
“It’s the flailing. You can’t flail on network television,” Minear sighs.
I always think every program can be greatly improved by a Man On Fire! flailing past a camera. I would’ve enjoyed Tru Calling if only Eliza Dushku had been running to save people while engulfed in flame.
The editor takes notes, Tim makes suggestions about the sequence, and then he’s off like a greyhound chasing a rabbit down a track to the set. This is where I meet Rachel Nichols, bubbling over with energy and in constant motion. I get the feeling that if she stood absolutely still for more than 45 seconds, she might just burst into flame herself. She’s casual in jeans in sparkly fuzzy baby blue slippers. I once told Tim she looks like a Botticelli, and he said, “She’s a couple of ‘em.” She’s actress-thin, and I wish I could give her half my body fat. Then we’d both look fabulous.
Rachel seems to be holding up well to the mixed reviews of her work on The Inside. Descriptions of her as ethereal or haunting don’t cut into her brain the way the negative reviews do, and Minear offers comfort. She’s mentions that all of her co-stars have wrapped, and she’s feeling alone. Minear says that actor Jay Harrington (Paul Ryan) has a healthy sense of humor about the business of television reviews. “When Rachel worries about a review, he says, ‘Hey! I was in (the US version of) Coupling. What bad reviews?!’”
None of this affects Rachel Nichols’ ability to get shit done. She’s going to be in a scene where a 900lb cannibal is going to take a tumble and almost crush her tiny frame, but she’s jovial when I whisper to her that I want to poke him and see if he’s filled with jelly like a human Krispy Kreme. She’s all about helping me sneak a peek into the circus tent housing the actor in his latex prison. We tiptoe about, whispering, peeking around corners to catch a glimpse. When he finally emerges, it’s just so epic. He’s a huge, waddling, mass of foam rubber. He doesn’t even need to be on fire. He’s mesmerizing.
And then Tim is back chasing the rabbit in his head to the picnic table outside the offices, calling after me to grab lunch and bring it up to the office so we can watch an episode. I don’t know if anything can compare to what I have just witnessed. I can die now, content, having seen the 900lb cannibal. But I want yummy pot roast and mashed potatoes first. The vision of the cannibal has made me hungry in the same way those Truth PSAs with the statistics on lung cancer make me want a cigarette.
It’s surreal watching a television show with the creator of said television show. Avoiding eye contact is key, because I have no ability to keep a “poker face.” If I don’t like or understand something, my face contorts into something Wallace & Gromit-like.
After the ep we stroll out to the picnic tables to discuss it, and I admit that the episode ("Pre-filer," airdate 6/22) didn’t grab me until the middle, during an interrogation scene in which the edges of the television disappeared and I forgot where I was, just soaked into Carrie Preston’s performance of a pedophile’s wife, so raw and painful and she just made my heart ache.
“So you hated the whole episode then?” accuses Minear.
“I didn’t say that. I said it didn’t really grab me until that point,” I clarify.
“So you hated almost the whole episode?”
If I still had my mashed potatoes in front of me, I might’ve flung a sporkful into his eye.
Back on set, we run into Almost Human’s Rob Hall, the makeup artist responsible for creating some of my favorite demons on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, like Big Rubber Disco Satan from season four’s ill-advised “Cordy Boffs Angel’s Baby” plotline.
Rob is doting on the cannibal. Tim wants to know why the 900lb cannibal is eating Baked Lays potato chips. This is a good question. It seems like trying to bail out the Titanic with a thimble. Rob explains that the grease from regular chips break down the latex and makeup and make everything oogey. He didn’t actually say the word, “oogey,” but that’s what I imagine melting latex and potato chip grease must be like.
And then we’re off again, to watch one more episode, "Aidan," which Minear calls “the feel good dead baby episode of the year.” When the gruesome second act break reveals the killer’s complete break from reality, we all erupt into gut-aching mirthful laughter. It’s a lush macabre blood ballet happening in suburbia on a sunny SoCal afternoon. I. Love. It.
Meanwhile, back on set, the crew is happily chowing down on Tommy burgers dripping with chili and cheese, and fries, while staring at the dailies of the cannibal steering his unholy gut around in a motorized Barcalounger. It’s hilarious. I heard the whispering of people calling dibs on the chair before they wrap, and I’m wondering if they’ll let me steal the Director’s Chair so I can sit in my apartment and boss my cat around.
It’s getting close to 2AM, and we’re all ready to pass out so we say our goodbyes and drag our asses across the parking lot. I feel like I’ve spent the day at a carnival. We saw a freak show and gorged ourselves with sugary, fatty treats. If Minear had let me steal his hardtop convertible Mercedes so we could get some extra shots of helicopters from the freeway for an upcoming episode, I would have even had a great ride.