‘Bodkin’ Lets Will Forte Be Normal for A Change

But is that what we want him to do?
‘Bodkin’ Lets Will Forte Be Normal for A Change

Warning: contains spoilers about the first season of Bodkin.

When an actor initially comes to the public’s attention as a cast member on Saturday Night Live — a show that requires pretty much all its stars to work in wigs and facial prosthetics, perfect outlandish vocal impressions and do extreme physical comedy — they may choose to show their range with roles that are notably ordinary. 

Amy Poehler’s follow-up, Parks and Recreation, finds her playing Leslie Knope, a chirpy employee of a midsize Midwestern city’s titular department; it took a while for the show to shade in Leslie’s quirks, but other than hoarding and an addiction to breakfast food, the oddest thing about her is her extreme faith in local government. Kristen Wiig is so low-key in movies like Adventureland and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty that viewers might wonder why they bothered to cast her. And Seth Meyers has gone on to host not only a late-night talk show but literally Late Night — one of the steadiest TV jobs a comedian can get. 

One of their SNL peers, however, has continued to find TV roles outside the legendary sketch show that are nearly as eccentric as those he played on it. It’s jarring to see Will Forte in a story that’s grounded in reality, but Bodkin really should have let him weird it up.

Forte’s most high-profile TV role since SNL is undoubtedly in Fox’s shockingly long-lived 2010s sitcom The Last Man on Earth. Forte plays Phil Miller, who as far as he knows for quite a while is the sole American survivor of a viral disease outbreak. It’s a moderate spoiler to say that Phil does eventually find other people and build community with them, though they often end up wishing he hadn’t. Phil steals limited food resources and lies about it. He arranges a shirts versus skins tennis game to try to gain an advantage over heavier survivor Todd (Mel Rodriguez). When he eventually has a baby with his post-apocalypse wife Carol (Kristen Schaal), he disposes of dirty diapers by tying them to balloons and letting them float away to parts unknown. He’s so objectionable that when a far superior Phil Miller (Boris Kodjoe) joins the survivors, everyone agrees that the original Phil should have to go by his middle name, Tandy, from now on. In the rare moments he’s still and silent, Phil even manages to make himself hard to look at.

Forte wasn’t only determined to make Phil credibly annoying on-screen, he had to sport these insane tonsorial styles off-screen as well. 

On SeinfeldElaine’s short hair was just a wig, and half grown out one episode later; commitment like Forte’s is the exception, not the rule.

The rest of the time, when we see or even just hear Forte on TV, he’s playing someone who is, in a word, loony. In Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special, he’s dueting with the headliner as “Michael Fulton.” He’s trying to renovate an absolutely cursed house in the Quibi show Flipped. He’s playing some version of Abraham Lincoln anywhere that will have him. Steven Yeun was able to guest on I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson and still look adorable despite aspersions being cast on his hand-washing technique; Forte’s been on it twice, both times playing men whose hair is a problem either textually or just incidentally.

And while lots of august vocal performers have gone through Rick and Morty over the years, only one of them has played a character named Pissmaster. That performer is Will Forte.

So given Forte’s usual mode, Netflix’s new suspense dramedy Bodkin is a major departure. Dove (Siobhán Cullen) is a journalist at The Guardian who experiences a catastrophic setback in the exposé she’s doing on the U.K.’s National Health Service. To get her out of London until the heat dies down, Dove’s editor Damien (Charlie Kemp) sends her to the small Irish village of Bodkin, in Cork. The paper has partnered with a well-known American podcaster, Gilbert Power (Forte), to do a series on several disappearances during Samhain in 1999 that so devastated the town it canceled celebrations of that holiday for 25 years. As residents prepare to mount their first Samhain festival since the incident, Dove is forced to participate in the podcast project despite neither enjoying podcasts nor even respecting the medium.

Despite being a TV show set in a small town, Bodkin surprisingly manages to keep the folksy quirk to minimum acceptable levels. Yes, the mention of a festival might put you in mind of Stars Hollow, as seen on Gilmore Girls, but it’s clear the people who write this show have actually spent time in real small towns, given the portrayal of a bar full of surly locals and the ongoing runner about the journalists’ hired driver leaving them totally stranded when no other transportation options are available. In other words, the setting is grounded, and so are the characterizations, including that of Gilbert. His enthusiasm for the beauty of Ireland is possibly excessive, but it does feel sincere. His problems are so real they’re banal. He’s overinvested his own money in his podcast company, and since nothing he’s done has hit like his first-ever success, about his wife’s cancer battle, he’s both broke and losing her — since she lived, and feels violated by his telling her story. 

Gilbert is still a Will Forte character, so a little weirdness can’t help creeping in — even if that weirdness is mostly that of an American fish out of water, flopping around amid all the dry Irish humor. Gilbert has a very standard haircut for a man of his age — no big swings à la Tandy — but it always looks slightly off, like he’s using conditioner and shampoo in the wrong order. Gilbert takes at face value residents’ suggestion that the missing people ran afoul of fairies. 

But the weirdest thing about Gilbert is that he’s working on a true crime podcast when he says in so many words that he doesn’t care if the crime they’re podcasting about gets solved. And it’s not even because, as in Based On A True Story, he knows who the perpetrator is but stands to profit more if they’re never apprehended. It’s just because, it seems, he thinks that podcasts are more about vibes and that talking about the story you’re telling is just as important as actually telling it. (How unqualified is Gilbert for this assignment? Guardian researcher Emmy, played by Robyn Cara, has to explain to them why they need to turn a drunk interview subject on his side when they put him to bed. This is 101-level death knowledge!)

Bodkin is being positioned as a dark comedy, but I suspect that’s only because it stars Forte, who has been acting in comedies for his entire career, and Cullen, whose last show to cross over here was the dark comedy Obituary, in which she plays a writer in the titular newspaper genre who falls into murder for absurdist professional reasons. But anyone going in hoping for Only Murders in the Building-level laughs is going to be disappointed by the show’s deliberate pacing and extremely intermittent jokes. But while Forte’s presence usually presages offbeat humor, this time “as weird as he can make his role” isn’t quite weird enough. 

If there’s a second season, maybe Gilbert can take a break and give his spot to MacGruber.


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?