Questions for Discussion (for Idiots)

Questions for Discussion (for Idiots)

Of all the guys who form the book club in “Guys Book Club,” not one appears to have any intention of ever reading a book. Not the guy who goes to church with a bullet wound in his gut. Not the guy who uses children in his cheap con games. Not the guy who robs a bank to pay his rent. No, these half-drunken oddballs are champions of their own pathological stupidity. The cast of “Friends” minus the girls. And the lifestyles. And the looks. And any sense of responsibility or semblance of self-respect. They are lucky to be alive, much less reading books. The anti-cultural bender they’re on is worth watching.

Season two of “Guys Book Club” premiered at the Old Town Pour House on a Saturday afternoon in January. People of all ages came to watch it light up walls of plasma TVs mounted over cafe tables and luxurious booths in the expansive dark paneled bar and restaurant. Fans played with the squirt guns, pom poms, fake noses and plastic glasses offered as props for the red carpet. Friends ate cheeseburgers served with dijon mustard. Filmgoers drank from a huge selection of imported beers. In a short time, the audience worked up a giddyness that continued as the feature began to roll.

Then the opening scene tripped into a blood spattered apartment and cast a spell on them for the next forty minutes.

Chicagoan George Zwierz, writer, director, and creative force behind the web series, has never been in a book club. But a few years ago he realized that the trend was “a popular thing for a lot of females,” so he decided “to do a version of what a male book club would look like.”

Concluding that most of today’s homegrown literary salons are really “an excuse to drink a lot of wine and tell some jokes,” he hired what appears to be a random sample of white guys from a sports bar to join his. He cast a couple bearded dudes, a couple dumpy ones, a possibly-gay guy, and Mort, the exception. Mort combines the startling charisma of Doc from “Back to the Future” with the unbridled frustration of John McCain. He cannot stand anything that conflicts with his philosophy on life, an unpredictable mix of aggression, sarcasm and not paying for lunch.

Working off a script “pulled from everyday situational stuff,” the cast and crew set out to make a web series.

In the first season, the guys don’t go out a lot. They drink beer, they get a stripper, they complain about being married — lots of guy stuff — but they do most of it inside an apartment. Visually, it’s an exciting ride. The footage is sharp and realistic in a Blue Velvet kinda way. The editing is smart and energetic in a Pulp Fiction kinda way. Wierz credits cinematographer Jamin Townsley, a “master of lighting,” for much of the look. The soundtrack is also pretty badass. But it’s the script and the actors who make “Guys Book Club” stand out on the digital screen. Their casual indifference towards absurdity and violence is an acquired taste that keeps getting better.

In one episode, Steve, who Zwierz describes as the “crazy, off the cuff guy,” appears to die. He is the victim of a self-inflicted zap from a taser, a reaction to a confession from a fellow book club member who admits that he watches “Dancing With The Stars.” The rest of the guys are too busy mouth-trumpeting “Taps” and figuring out whose gonna replace Steve to hear him complaining from inside the body bag as he is wheeled out the door. When the paramedics realize that he’s still alive and unzip him, he exclaims “That’s the second time that that has happened to me!” His “resurrection” stuns all of the paramedics except one, who recognizes him from the first time that that happened. They sit on the back of the ambulance and share a joint.

“Season one had nine episodes,” Zwierz says. “Season two was about pushing it even further and making it more cinematic.”

The growth in season two presents itself in a number of ways throughout the series. Besides clocking in at roughly twice the length and double the episodes of season one, it lets the show wander far away from the apartment as well as the premise itself. One episode consists entirely of a bad infommercial for the “Silencer Kit,” complete with a noose, a ball gag and an assault rifle. The price of the product actually increases as the meticulous parody continues.

The script also allowed the actors, who Zwierz considers “amazing,” plenty of room to stretch their own legs. “It evolves a little bit,” he says, “because you start writing for the characters that have been created by the actors.” Midway through the series, the guys find themselves arguing about the sexual orientation of cats and dogs with a group of regulars in a crowded neighborhood bar. It leads to a showdown between Ian, the sensitive one who likes to cook, and Clay “The Carpenter” Guida, the champion mixed martial artist. Without missing a beat, the confrontation escalates into a showcase of physical humor.

All the episodes in the second season are tied together by a quest to pay the rent, although some do not mention it. This is a deliberate technique, because each one is a snapshot of a larger story that will grow into full length when the series is, hopefully, picked up by a network. Zwierz sharpened his industry skills during a four year stint in LA, where he worked after graduating from Columbia College with a film degree. While he valued the opportunity to learn from directors like Oliver Stone and actors like John Cleese, it became clear to him that his hometown Chicago was as good a place as anywhere for making movies. “I felt like the real grit that makes Chicago so cool is hardly ever shown,” he says. So he returned in 2006 and opened his own production company, Purple Stuff Productions. Before long, he established himself in the Chicago film community. Contracting with the likes of Bill Kurtis and Towers Productions, he contributed to projects for Discovery and the History Channel. He also directed, edited and produced a handful of shows for the The Onion, including the live stage tour set for later this year.

Then one day while he was “probably daydreaming in church with his ex-girlfriend,” the idea to create “Guys Book Club” came to him. Armed with with an approachable smile, a gracious attitude and a modern Draperesque fashion sense, he is currently shopping the show to prospective investors. The logline in the press kit describes a cast of married guys who “attempt to recapture their manhood” and a promise that “hilarity ensues.”

Given Guys Book Club’s weirdness, desperation, and profound lack of dignity, the description may be a little misleading. Viewers hoping for the happy-go-lucky slapstick of 90’s buddy sitcoms like “Seinfeld” should recalibrate their expectations to the controversial absurdity of contemporary dramas like “Breaking Bad,” which Zwierz’ friends have compared it to. During the premiere at the Pour House back in January, the aftermath of an apparently violent attempt to get that rent money hushed an entire bar load of happy fans who had arrived to watch. In typical GBC fashion, the mood was quickly lightened up with a successful punchline. But more often than not, the show’s gritty suspense and abrupt irreverence masquerade as everyday boredom that dares the audience to laugh.

The sensation echoes Charles Baudelair’s observation of Paris in his 19th century poem, “The Seven Old Men.” In it, the French Romantic describes a “swarming city” where “the specter in broad daylight accosts the passerby.” It is one of 347 parts that make up “Les Fleurs du Mal,” an epic description of pleasure and decay. Critics of the time called it everything from prodigious to putrid. Government officials prosecuted the author for insulting public decency. And an article that compares its themes of urban madness to the idiotic capers of “Guys Book Club” 150 years later is, no doubt, entirely too deep.

Then again, Zwierz found the ambulance featured in season one’s dead-Steve episode when “some guy who lived in it” responded to an ad on Craigs List.

Season two of “Guys Book Club” premiered on April 2nd —