Brought to You by the Letter K

K StreetPolitics is one thing I can’t seem to get enough of these days, so I was happy to see the debut of Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney’s “K Street” earlier this week. Conceptually, this new ongoing series is something like a verité mockumentary, a kind of cross between the work of D.A. Pennebaker and Christopher Guest — I realize that putting it like that would seemingly confound distinction, but there’s not an easy way to describe the tone of a series that pits a small handful of fictional characters mingling and interacting with real-life politicians and Washington power brokers, and that is designed to be conceived, written, shot, edited and aired all within the span of a week. It’s a bold concept, and the result is generally worthwhile; “K Street” is by turns revealing and lightly comedic, but it also bears the creakiness of an improvised enterprise.

Messing with Reality Television

For the most part, I liked what I saw last night when I watched the premiere episode’s ‘encore performance’ on one of HBO’s hundred and eighteen thousand supplemental channels. That is, I liked the fact that James Carville and Mary Matalin got plenty of airtime, that Howard Dean got a juicy role as the episode’s centerpiece, and that Soderbergh and Clooney — who as celebrity producers wouldn’t disappoint very many people by taking on a much less conceptually ambitious project — are making a serious and concerted effort to reveal the way that power works in the nation’s capital.

Still, they have a format problem here, mostly in the form of their very small cast of professional actors who are there to help integrate fiction with real politics. I don’t have a problem with fudging reality here, and in fact I really applaud the fact that, while watching “K Street,” it’s sometimes very difficult to tell what’s happening in the real world and what’s happening by virtue of dramatic license.

The Key to Acting Is Not Looking Like You’re Acting

Actually, my main complaint is that the three actors — whose purpose, presumably, is to serve as the producers’ dramatic grease — are poor performers; they don’t do a good enough job of fudging reality. In the context of larger than life characters like Carville, Matalin, Paul Begala and Don Nickles, these actors are simply out-classed and out-performed. Any screen time devoted to them simply brings all drama to an uncomfortable halt, and the result is a painful reminder of the format’s shortcomings.

One answer, of course, is to turn “K Street” into a standard form documentary. There’s little doubt that spending time with Carville and Matalin would result in hours of entertaining footage. But I think the basic concept here is sound, that it truly has the potential to yield some very powerful, ground-breaking drama. They just need to select a more talented cast of actors for it.