Director: Todd Holland
Writer: Myles Berkowitz
Cast: Jon Lovitz, Bruce Boxleitner, John Astin, Louise Fletcher, Kimmy Robertson, Paul Benedict, Gregory Cooke, Sandra Bernhard, John Kassir, Bob Larkin, Joseph Cardinale, and Jason Kelly
Composer: Jay Ferguson
Air Date: 6/26/1991
Down-on-his-luck actor Barry Blye (Jon Lovitz) auditions for a local production of Hamlet, but must compete with Winton Robbins (Bruce Boxleitner)—an attractive and well-compensated commercial star—for the title role. When Nelson Halliwell (John Astin)—an eccentric director—selects Winton to play a key part in his play, Barry resorts to unconventional methods in order to advance his career.
“Top Billing” is a gruesome but clever satire on the acting industry. Black comedy enthusiasts will thus appreciate this episode, which benefits from an ironic and brilliantly executed twist in the climactic scene.
Despite wallowing in self-pity, the character of Barry prompts a sympathetic audience reaction given the unfortunate and (partially) uncontrollable nature of his circumstances. Notably, Barry exhibits a fervent dedication to the performing arts that will, at least initially, encourage viewers to root for his success over that of Winton—an arrogant, superficial, and unsophisticated rival; therefore, upon being denied the part of Hamlet due to his appearance alone, Barry should elicit compassion from those of a sensitive temperament.
Also worth praising is the performance of John Astin, who, as if channeling his inner Gomez, hams up every line of dialogue in a manner that will appeal to fans of hyperbolic humor. Especially notable, Astin’s character demonstrates a flamboyant and overly demanding approach to directing a simple community theatre presentation—an amusing, albeit not terribly subtle, critique of the stereotypical (i.e. pretentious) drama instructor.
By allowing sour grapes to poison his perspective, Barry fails to consider the validity of Winton’s suggestion to maintain low standards when searching for work—no doubt a commentary on how an entitled outlook can corrupt even the meekest and most unassuming of men.
An entertaining Tales from the Crypt episode, “Top Billing” should be commended for showcasing the combined talents of Austin and Lovitz. Specifically, the goofy, psychotic passion exemplified by Halliwell makes for a hilarious contrast to the subtler, though ultimately homicidal, determination of Barry.
Overall Quality: 9/10
If you enjoyed this post, please enter your email address in the subscription box to stay tuned for more updates.