If one thing can be said of the denizens of Hollywood, it's that they are a humble and retiring bunch. An Audio Commentary is the rare single example of an actor wanting to talk about themselves
Contrary to popular belief, it is very difficult to deliver a consistently entertaining and informative commentary over an episode of TV or a feature length film. There are only so many things that can be said about the experience, before sheer boredom kicks in and the talent begin to repeat themselves. Only, they don't repeat just themselves, but every other commentary ever recorded. This is the basic formula for a commentary as we know and love it:
1) Introduction and mutual backslapping and highfiving
The host (Director or most popular actor) introduces the show and the commentary, while introducing the assorted cast and crew that will be delivering it. Much co-complimenting transpires; expect the words "brilliant" and "talented" to be traded like a wartime currency. It will be immediately clear from how long it takes the first person to start speaking and how long a pause there is after the introduction how interesting the commentary will be.
2) Is there a special guest star/Did the episode feature a unique gimmick ending?
God help you if there is, because this is going to be the ONLY topic of conversation. And if the Special Guest joins the ranks for the commentary, congratulations, you're about to hear a feature length fellating session.
3) "Spoiler alert! I hope you're not watching this commentary before you watch the...!"
Everyone says this at some point in a commentary. EVERYONE. Who watches the commentary before they watch a film? I put it to you that no one ever in recorded history ever has, and that no one ever will. And yet this shit attempt at banter will continue to resurface like an inevitable American Pie sequel, and just as evil
4) Every actress is THE most beautiful, graceful, talented woman in the industry
Seriously, has there ever been a bad word said about anyone in any commentary? The grapevine is overflowing with tales of on-set diva outbursts and bustups, and yet the commentaries are never anything but tearful oscar acceptance speeches. And it's the worst for actresses. No-one will approach anything less than deification when it comes to describing how it was to work with "insert contemporary actress here".
5) "Both our listeners will have turned off by now.../No-one listens to these things..."
There's humourous self-deprecation, and theres a mass cultural flogging of a mutilated comedic horse. Another omnipresent feature of commentary banter is the many references to the fact that no-one is actually listening. Sarcastic meta-reference, or telling insight into the tortured soul of the artist?
6) "We're just watching now...!"
The only thing worse than an awkward silence is an awkward silence on an audio commentary. The longer it lasts, the harder is to break, until finally some genius chimes in with this line. Guaranteed to be followed with variations on "Look at us, laughing at our own jokes!" et cetera. No-one to date has addressed the fact that they invariably end up "just watching" the show because that's what's actually meant to happen.
7) The Wrap Up
The host wraps up the commentary as the credits roll, with a callback to the introduction via a mutual festival of praise. Expect an assurance that "the next one" will be a lot more interesting. It never is.
Some commentaries go above and beyond the tired formula detailed above. Some actually have the balls to be interesting, detailed, or God forbid...funny. These include:
The Jackass Commentaries: As you would expect, the commentaries featuring the cast of Jackass are not noted for their respect for social norms. The constant stream of bleeping and cut audio renders the commentary borderline indecipherable. I watched the things with subtitles on and was still confused most of the time. Despite this, they manage to be way more entertaining than the standard fare offered up by more formal types.
Arrested Develpment - "Mr F": This commentary is notable for one main reason - creator Mitch Hurwitz phones cast member Jeffrey Tambor, who has given an excuse to avoid giving the commentary. Rather than finding him at a "play rehearsal", he is caught out having a day off. Embarrassment all round.
Family Guy - Any one where Seth MacFarlane discusses FOX: Seth is not one to keep his opinions to himself, and never more so than when it comes to his relationship with the Fox network. While embittered and possibly comically exaggerated, the tales he tells of his constant struggle for validation within the network are always hilarious and fascinating.
Walking Tall - The Rock In the only example of a one-man film commentary I've ever seen, The Rock takes on the duty of describing the film Walking Tall with his usual gusto and unique flair. Slipping in and out of character as Dwayne Johnson and The Rock respectively, it is equal parts informative, engaging and laugh-out-loud funny.