By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK — Eric Schaeffer likes to talk about, and dramatize, issues other people hold in isolated silence.
Such as eating disorders. That’s a topic he served up brilliantly on his seriocomic series ‘Starved.’ But for whatever reason, viewers didn’t treat themselves to ‘Starved’ during its brief run on FX five years ago.
Now Schaeffer has an even less appetizing idea for a series: suicide, and people who have given it a try.
‘Gravity,’ his offbeat new dramedy, focuses on a support group for otherwise diverse New Yorkers whose common bond is their failed attempts to end it all – and their shared urgency to try again.
The cast includes Ving Rhames as the support group’s leader, a burly ex-Major Leaguer whose bungled attempt has left him in a wheelchair. Rachel Hunter plays an over-the-hill supermodel who attempted suicide after her agent proposed that she appear on a “Where Are They Now?” special. As Lily, Krysten Ritter is a sexy lost soul who flat-lined after scarfing down a hunk of chocolate cake she spiked with crumbled codeine tablets.
Watch the early series premiere:
And Schaeffer plays a cop who investigates Lily’s suicide attempt, then, in the guise of his continuing investigation (“suicide is a crime,” he informs her), indulges in what seems like obsessive vigilance.
‘Gravity,’ which premieres Friday at 10:30 p.m. EDT on the Starz network, is funnier than it sounds. It is also cringingly twisted at times and occasionally very sad.
And it will prove readily relatable to viewers, whether they might think so or not – or so Schaeffer insists.
“We all know that we’re lots of things, all the time, and that’s what makes us human,” he declares. “But for some reason, in our movies and our TV shows and when we’re talking to each other, we’re not allowed to say that.”
To do so, he goes on, would mean “accessing conflicting beliefs in our own personality.”
Schaeffer seems to work overtime accessing conflicting beliefs in personalities – especially his own. In ‘Starved,’ he drew upon a real-life paradox: the eating disorder that continues to plague him today, despite his yoga-toned, 5-feet-8-inch, 165-pound frame. He says he fantasizes about dropping 15 pounds. If only.
“It’s OK in daylight hours,” he says one recent morning between healthy bites of a grapefruit in a diner near his Upper West Side apartment. “The problem is: Do I eat cake and ice cream, and how MUCH of it will I eat, and how often, late at night, alone, on my couch? That continues.”
Fortunately, suicide isn’t such a pressing matter for him.
“But I have an ability to slide into a dark side,” he allows.
He’s been sober for 27 years, he says, adding, “I used to smoke cigarettes, and my own personal belief is that there’s a self-hate attached to smoking _ some slow form of suicide for people who smoke a drug that everyone knows will kill you years earlier than you’re supposed to die.”
Death on any terms has his attention more than ever at age 48. It terrifies him.
“I’m depressed a lot,” he sums up, “but I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky guy in the midst of my angst. I’m pretty much a lover of life.”
The New York native’s credits as actor and indie filmmaker include ‘Fall,’ ‘If Lucy Fell’ and his 1993 breakthrough film, ‘My Life’s in Turnaround,’ whose sequel he is now editing.
His 2007 memoir about his quest for a life partner, ‘I Can’t Believe I’m Still Single,’ inspired his starring role in a Showtime reality series of that name whose third season he is also editing. Meanwhile, he continues to pursue the perfect woman, to whom he grew up believing that, as a man, he was naturally entitled.
The debut season of ‘Gravity,’ with all 10 episodes directed by Schaeffer, was filmed late last year. It resulted from a call from his co-creator-to-be, Jill Franklyn. “She said she had a seed idea: ‘Suicide for Dummies,’ as it was called at that point, would be a show about a group of people who tried to commit suicide but survived.” Dan Pasternack, Schaeffer’s partner on ‘Starved,’ came aboard and they got started writing, even hopefully charting out a story line that reached two more seasons beyond the first.
Weighty with a standing-on-the-precipice outrageousness, ‘Gravity’ emerges as Schaeffer’s latest show of obsession with human obsessions.
Or is it just more of his vision of everyday life?
“It’s life experience as I see it,” he says, “and I do it with confidence that many other of my fellow humans will identify. I’m hoping that if the world wasn’t ready for ‘Starved’ five years ago, that they’re ready for ‘Gravity’ now – and it can have a nice, long life.”
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