Entertainment Talk

Forgetting Sarah Marshall keeps getting better

Forgetting Sarah Marshall Jason Segel Mila Kunis That '70s Show and How I Met Your Mother
While Forgetting Sarah Marshall writer and lead actor Jason Segel has not made many headlines of late, Mila Kunis has repeatedly reminded us of Rachel Jansen in real life. Meanwhile, two of their former costars are building on their roles with award-winning results. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The masterminds behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall can take delayed secondhand satisfaction in Bill Hader’s Emmy triumph.

The co-creator and title player on HBO’s Barry, Hader was named outstanding lead actor in a comedy series Monday night. It was his first solo Primetime Emmy victory and first for a live-action performance. (He previously shared in South Park’s 2009 win for outstanding animated program.)

But the way the Emmys categorized Barry as a comedy is somewhat limiting. The Internet Movie Database more accurately files it under comedy, crime and drama. Others, such as the AV Club’s Danette Chavez, have aptly evoked the term “tragicomedy.”

Between the hardware and otherworldly approval ratings, the rookie season of Barry cements the 40-year-old Hader’s broad genre horizons. And while it was a small harbinger, Forgetting Sarah Marshall gave a hint when he was going on 30.

Released 10 years ago last spring, the Jason Segel vehicle features Hader as Segel’s character Peter Bretter’s stepbrother, Brian. Minus “Me on the moon” and “I’m in Hawaii too,” Brian is a no-nonsense foil to the uncontrollably emotional Peter. He is there to (at least try to) “pump the brakes” on Peter’s overreactions and rash decisions.

That represents a departure from his roles in two other Judd Apatow products released one year prior. Hader has a more prominent part in Forgetting Sarah Marshall than he does in 2007’s Knocked Up. As Brian, he is also decidedly more serious than his half of the irresponsible cop tandem he forms with Seth Rogen in Superbad.

Those films are both comedies with a possible side of romance. But by 2008, Hader was emerging in what IMDB declared a hybrid of comedy, drama and romance.

With Trainwreck, where he plays Amy Schumer’s love interest, he has since thrown in more of the same. But as he was staking his claim to top-tier status in the middle of this decade, he started turning heads with the decidedly more poignant The Skeleton Twins in 2014.

Thematically speaking, both that movie and Barry are a far cry from Sarah Marshall. Yet the accolades on the former illuminate the latter as a crucial baby step all the more.

Ringing Bell
With Hader’s Emmy, prominent Forgetting Sarah Marshall alums have combined for two consecutive years of mainstream TV acting accolades. Title role player Kristen Bell won the 2017 People’s Choice Award for favorite actress in a new TV series.

Before, during and after the film, Bell already had a measure of small-screen prominence via Veronica Mars. For that title part on the UPN/CW series, she won a 2006 Saturn.

But beyond that specialized academy for science fiction, fantasy or horror, she was not drawing much gold.

That was until the 2016 debut of NBC’s The Good Place, her first major role on a single-digit network show. As lead character Eleanor Shellstrop on the Michael Schur creation, she has effectively built on her antagonistic guest spots as antagonistic Eagleton councilwoman Ingrid de Forest on Parks and Recreation.

The first season of The Good Place yielded instant gratification. With last year’s People’s Choice pick, Bell claimed her first prize at a general award show.

The winning role even evokes a little of her title performance in Segel’s screenplay. Eleanor is not quite “the g****** devil” that Peter pronounces Sarah to be at their final encounter. But she is somewhat out of place in a heavenly setting, and has more than a little to learn, much like Sarah.

After Peter cuts off her attempt to take him back, we know only of two developments in Sarah’s professional life. A faux promo for her new show, Animal Instinct, cuts into the closing credits. Later, in the spinoff-sequel revolving around Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), we get a glimpse of Blind Medicine. The launch of the latter signifies a short lifespan for the former.

One can only speculate as to whether she earns a rebound from her romantic failures offscreen. But NBC viewers can settle for rooting for her Good Place doppelganger’s hard-earned redemption.

Forgetting Jackie Burkhart
Rachel Jansen remains one of, if not the closest reflection of the Mila Kunis from magazine and talk-show interviews.

Turning 24 in the film’s production year, then 25 after its release, Kunis was the youngest of Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s twentysomething core cast members. Likewise, a decade prior, she was the youngest in the teenage sextet on That ’70s Show.

The common threads between her first TV starring role and first major theatrical part end there. Unlike the insufferably self-centered, out-of-touch Jackie, Rachel is the moral catalyst of the Sarah Marshall storyline. As such, she stands out in making it what San Francisco Chronicle critic Mark LaSalle singled out an exemplary “romatic comedy for guys.”

Rachel enters the equation by booking Peter an on-the-house suite. She invokes the spontaneous discount upon digesting the awkward scene of his ex showing up with her new flame.

As her part in picking up and reassembling the shards of Peter’s heart escalates, Rachel is poised to literally jump into a good time. With no unreasonable malice, she shows Sarah where she went wrong in her relationship and breakup.

Yet she has sound boundaries that leave no open inches for foolishness. Her standard for empathy holds up just as strongly when she rescinds Peter’s room and relationship for cheating on her.

In Brian’s absence for the Hawaii scenes, Rachel is responsible for ensuring Peter gets what he needs and deserves. He benefits from his hiatus from relationships and gets his act together, just as Brian had initially admonished.

If any moment in Kunis’ repertoire comes to mind when you think about her November 2016 open letter slamming sexist shenanigans in her industry, that has to be the first. Fortunately, it is just as easy to stay on her good side as it is to understand the consequences in case you stray.

What about Jason?
As it happens, Segel is the Sarah Marshall key cog we have heard from the least in recent years.

For a time, it looked like his first screenplay would start a pattern of puppet-oriented features. After all, his second original work, 2011’s The Muppets, featured songs that fetched more acclaim than even the Dracula musical.

Yet he has logged all of two supporting gigs in independent films over the last three years. That dry spell promises to end soon with AMC’s Dispatches from Elsewhere. The new anthology series, which he will write, produce, direct and perform in, was announced in late July.

An otherwise empty IMDB page labels the program a pure drama due for a 2019 debut. From that point forward, we shall see if Segel can match Hader and Barry as a TV-series jack-of-all-trades.

Regardless, Forgetting Sarah Marshall remains his magnum opus. It cannot help that as long as those who brought it to life deliver reminders of it elsewhere.

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Al Daniel

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