I’ll be honest, I really like the current phase of Greg Kinnear’s career. All things considered, 2010 to 2018 was a major career rough patch. A few indie gems (Stuck in Love, Brigsby Bear) were masked by Greg’s performances in poorly-reviewed inspirational family films (Heaven is for Real, Same Kind of Different As Me) and numerous unwatchable duds (Murder of a Cat, Salvation Boulevard, I Don’t Know How She Does It, andThe English Teacher). But then 2018 arrived and Netflix decided it should add GK as added spark in several of its series’ final seasons.
Kinnear stepped into the final season of House of Cards to generally positive performance reviews. This comes as no surprise, since his devilishly narcissistic character channels his excellent work in movies like Nurse Betty and Mystery Men. Kinnear was also recruited for two episodes in the final season of Kimmy Schmidt. If his first episode is rather unremarkable, his second is unforgettable. In ‘Kimmy is Rich*!’, the show (probably relatively easily) convinced Kinnear to perform as ‘Greg Catnear’ in the musical Cats. It, my friends, is glorious:
This picture speaks 1000 words, including: “Thank your lucky stars Greg Kinnear’s career is at a place of adding sizzle to Netflix finales.” But, if we’re honest, this wonderful “Netflix Greg” was only made possible by the lean years of 2010-2018. During these years, Kinnear ventured into TV work. Long before Amy Adams was in Sharp Objects, Julia Roberts in Homecoming, and every Hollywood actor took TV gigs; Kinnear portrayed JFK in The Kennedys (2011), starred in the American adaptation of Rake (2014), and played Joe Biden in a TV movie. You could say Greg blazed the trail for Hollywood actors crossing over to TV shows (but you probably shouldn’t).
The lean years also saw Greg take more movie cameos. He was in one of the short films comprising Movie 43 and was one of 1,000 actor cameos in Anchorman 2. It was only a matter of time until “TV Greg” married “Cameo Greg” to become “Netflix Greg.” To gain further insight into “Cameo Greg,” I watched Anchorman 2and have notes on the movie followed by a deep dive into Greg’s three scenes.
Anchorman 2 (2013)
I’ll safely assume everyone’s seen the first Anchorman, and liked it as much as they like Will Ferrell. Ferrell always plays a man-child, stressing either childlike innocence in Elf or sex-crazed sleaze in everything else. I do love Ferrell’s hilarious HBO baseball special, but am otherwise not a fan. So it comes as no surprise that I thought Anchorman was ‘just okay’ and Anchorman 2 was ‘just bad.’
Instead of having an actual plot, writer/director Adam McKay distracts viewers with hundreds of jokes and cameos. The jokes are mostly low-brow humor if that’s your jam (I found a few quite funny). But any goodwill is ruined by an uncomfortable, long-running race joke about Ferrell insisting his new boss (Meagan Good) is African AND American, later stressing the ‘interracial sex’ he’s about to have with her, and then imitating black culture as he meets her family. Luckily (?), the cameos come faster than the jokes. Cameos include Harrison Ford, James Marsden, Kristen Wiig, Greg Kinnear, Kanye West, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Liam Neeson, Jim Carrey, Marion Cotillard, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kirsten Dunst, Will Smith, Drake, and Vince Vaughn. There are numerous rankings of the Anchorman 2 cameos, because what else was there to write about?
Oh yeah, the plot. Ferrell and Christina Applegate are married with a son, aka the worst child actor ever. The couple coanchor the nightly news in NYC, until their boss (Harrison Ford) fires Ferrell and promotes Applegate. Ferrell insists Applegate chooses him or the job, and she chooses the job. Ferrell moves to San Diego and works at Seaworld for a few months before he’s fired for constantly being drunk. About to kill himself, Ferrell is interrupted by Dylan Baker and recruited to a new 24-hour news network.
Ferrell reassembles the first-movie news crew (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner) and returns to NYC. Ferrell’s team is given the 2 AM to 5 AM slot, and they choose to fill it with Instagram material. Instead of actual sports, Koechner shows home run montages. Instead of weather reports, Carell stands in storms. Ferrell & Rudd show cat videos, give sex advice, etc. Their ratings soar, surpassing those of Ferrell’s in-studio nemesis James Marsden.
Ferrell visits Applegate to win her back, but learns she has a new lover–Greg Kinnear! This motivates Ferrell to work harder than ever, and his ratings are soon the best in town besides Applegate’s. However, this obsession with success (and a refusal to air actual news) isolates his team (Rudd/Carrell/Koechner), and they bail on him. Ferrell takes on the whole newscast himself, and finally gets better ratings than Applegate by narrating a very OJ Simpson-esque police chase live. There is a big party to celebrate, where Marsden trips Ferrell while ice-skating (a shout-out to Blades of Glory, I guess). Ferrell goes blind, and this is where the movie loses any semblance of plot.
Ferrell moves to a lighthouse, where he is depressed until Applegate comes to help him recuperate. He adopts a baby shark, learns to paint, and gets back on his feet. He has surgery to reattach his retinas (obviously) and returns to the news. But his first TV slot overlaps with his son’s piano recital. He decides to bail on the news, and races across town for the recital. But in Central Park he’s interrupted by every other news anchor in the world who want to battle him. Literally every actor you can think of is present. Here’s the scene:
Obviously, Ferrell makes it to his son’s recital and all ends well.
I must say, I laughed hard at a few early jokes. When we meet Koechner (i.e. Todd Packer from The Office), he runs a fried chicken restaurant where he substitutes bats (“chicken of the cave!”) for chicken. It was hilarious. I also laughed quite hard when we first meet Kinnear. Ferrell brings a gift of lingerie, but after seeing Kinnear insists it’s a gift for his son to be new superhero, “lace man.” I laughed as much as I cringed. But these early highs were counterbalanced by the lows of the second half. The race jokes were very poorly executed, and the baby shark joke was incredibly stupid.
So what did I think of Greg’s cameo? I loved it! Kinnear only had three scenes: (1) where he’s introduced as Applegate’s lover and a psychiatrist, (2) where he waits with his pseudo-step-son at a science fair knowing dad Ferrell won’t show up, and (3) the final battle. But these scenes are jam-packed with so many great GK moments. Let’s list them.
- GK dons his best wig to date, a classy man bun. Behold the glory:
- Greg’s immediately established as Will Ferrell’s rival. As we saw in Bad News Bears and Mystery Men, arch-nemesis Greg is the best Greg. Here, Greg mostly keeps his cool to Ferrell’s macho man but it works.
- Greg is a master of facial expressions, and his face exudes worry, pity, confusion, and disgust all at once when he meets Ferrell. Ferrell is trying to ‘save face’ by insisting his lingerie gift is intended for his son, so this is the proper GK reaction.
- Ferrell insists psychiatrists read minds, and GK’s line-reading of “Ron, do you even know what a psychiatrist is?” is pitch-perfect. This starts a medium-running joke where, whenever GK is mentioned, so are his mental powers.
- It would’ve been cool to leave this as a joke, but the final battle scene makes it literal. Greg uses his mind to stop an axe in mid-air, levitate, and foresee that Ferrell will do good in the future. If nothing else, Greg had a blast with this scene.
In sum, analyzing cameos is making mountains out of molehills, a phrase which here means extracting excessive meaning from a small sample size. But Greg seems to have a ton of fun with his cameos, and will do just about anything asked of him. That includes becoming ‘Greg Catnear’ to sing in Kimmy Schmidt or donning a man bun to gain mind powers in Anchorman 2. This is yet another wonderful defining trait of Greg Kinnear, and the marriage of “Cameo Greg” to “TV Greg” gave the world modern-day “Netflix Greg.” What Netflix series will Greg appear in next? Black Mirror? Chef’s Table? The Crown? Stranger Things? (He does have a connection with David Harbour…). It’s anyone’s guess.
I won’t contaminate the Kinnear Meter with Catnear Cameos, so you’ll have to wait for its return next post where we review As Good As It Gets. This movie is Greg’s Oscar-nominated performance and now on Netflix! Go watch it.
All names, trademarks, and images are copyright their respective owners.