Here’s an actor who was practically born to be a walking YouTube virus: from his infamous tuxedoed, lounge-style interpretation of Elton John’s “Rocketman” to pretty much anything from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (directed by guess who), Shatner’s self-possessed, over dramatic quasi-obliviousness has made him our premiere pop culture icon of kitschy LOLs for several decades. It only makes sense that he should cash in on the immediacy of the Net and the access it affords him to a new generation of viewers (and not just Star Trek fanatics) hoping to watch him at his nuttiest, most pompous, and perhaps, realest.
Of course, as Shatner’s stint as the face of Priceline has painfully demonstrated, Captain Kirk has also been in on the joke of his own existence for some time now, to the point where it’s difficult to conceive where else the joke can possibly go (where no man’s gone before?). Thankfully, The William Shatner Project eases up on the hip of Shatner’s squareness and instead offers him in all his quotidian glory.
While The Project has been regularly posting highlights from Shatner’s new Biography Channel talk show, Raw Nerve ever since it premiered in the past December, it’s largely a repository of unspectacular yet revealing moments from Shatner’s family vacations, behind-the-scenes celebrity appearances, and direct responses to fans. It’s still an ego trip from a well-known egotist, but it’s at least endearing and not pointlessly narcissistic.
As aided by daughter Liz, who often plays the role of interviewer, Shatner uses usually one to three minute videos to confirm or deny Star Trek rumors such as talk that he might appear in J.J. Abrams’ new movie or, more controversially, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth takes on Shatner’s ongoing feud with former Trek co-star George Takei. Though many of the postings are vainly frivolous (“Teen Stars Congratulate Shatner,” Shatner accepting a Giants of Broadcasting award), most others will be manna to fans desiring intimate looks at Shatner minutiae, such as his surprisingly chagrined look back on “Rocketman” (“I feel badly about it, because I never intended this song to see the light of day”), the story behind his fabled close encounter with a UFO, and a detailed analysis of Kirk’s perfectly executed dropkick, as requested by a fan writing in.
Less geeky are Shatner’s off the cuff family moments. Shatner’s made a reputation of being somewhat of a narcissistic jerk, but it’s hard not to warm to the guy in clips of him driving with Liz and wife Elizabeth (the latter holds the camera askance, much to Shatner’s friendly irritation) and espousing his theory about driving as a contest of intimidation, sharing coffee with them in a Seattle shop (and walking outside surrounded by gawking onlookers), or embracing his inner Star Trek V and singing to whales. And though it’s not exactly a family moment, I’d be remiss not to mention Shatner’s happy holidays message.
Despite the stereotype of Shatner’s signature halting, hammy delivery (best spoofed by Kevin Pollack, IMHO), his now finely roughened voice and calm demeanor lend a soothing authority to what I consider a very beautiful heartfelt warm wishes. Totally without irony. Totally sincere.
As for the Raw Nerve highlights, they aren’t bad, but they’re also nothing special—if we’ve come for the Shatner do we really care about Inside the Actor’s Studio “art of the craft” and Oprah-esque relationship divulgings from Jenna Jameson, Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, and Fran Drescher? Alright, Leonard Nimoy makes sense. And it’s kind of hilarious to see Shatner at his arrogant best when seriously intoning “This gifted child” when cutting in on Brady’s explanation of his early acting aspirations, or painting a too-detailed description of Jon Voight’s domestic setting (Voight is unable to suppress his laughter at Shatner’s obsessive free association: “So you go home alone. Is it dark, have the lights been turned off?”).
We get some behind the scenes after-interview stuff here as well, but I’d trade the whole lot of ‘em for a Shatner proclamation of himself as The Big Kahuna on a golf course in Hawaii. Just keep being your wacky self, James T. Kirk, and you’ll be just fine.