Venice Director Nancy Hower Gains Fast Laughs with Hulu Show ‘Quick Draw’
By Paul Chavez, Venice Dispatch
The halcyon days of summer inched closer to ending Monday with the season finale of the hilarious Western comedy Quick Draw, an Hulu original series co-created, co-written and directed by Venice resident Nancy Hower.
The eight-episode season launched Aug. 15 and stars co-creator and co-writer John Lehr as new Sheriff John Henry Hoyle, a proud graduate of Harvard University who in 1875 employs the emerging science of forensics to the small, unruly town of Great Bend, Kansas.
The show’s title refers to Hoyle’s speed and accuracy with his revolver, but also could describe the pace of the ribald jokes delivered in first-rate improv style.
Scripts run about 30 pages of single-space text, have no dialog, read like a short story and the actors never see them, Hower said.
“The improv style allows us to bring out lines that are less written sounding and, obviously, John is an incredible talent and he’s able to generate so much great material,” said Hower, noting that Lehr also does an admirable job supporting his fellow actors with their improv.
Lehr, who memorably portrayed a GEICO caveman early in the popular advertising campaign, likened the show’s sense of humor to Spinal Tap and Monty Python.
“On the one hand, it sort of feels modern,” Lehr said. “But on the other hand, it feels like a throwback to comedy that isn’t trying too hard, or isn’t too precious, or too mathematical, which is really nice. As an actor, it’s really fun.”
As a viewer, it was also a fun summer ride beginning with the first episode fittingly dated August 1, 1875.
The new sheriff quickly established himself early as a regular customer at the town brothel with a particular liking for Honey Shaw, the saloon owner and madam played cunningly by Allison Dunbar.
The range of their love-hate-paid sex relationship became evident when Honey collected bets for the New Sheriff Death Pool in which the whole town laid wagers on when Hoyle would die.
“I just have learned about the sheriff death pool,” Hoyle complained in a high-pitched voice after watching Honey update the odds. “I find it very hurtful. This is a human being who came all the way here to help who? Help you. Help you. … You can forget about the barbecue at my place on Sunday. … Miss Shaw, I will see you at 8 a.m. for my morning intercourse.”
Hower and Lehr said a historian friend gave them real-life source material that became the foundation for characters such as bandit Belle Starr, her daughter Pearl Starr and the Bloody Benders family of serial killers who lived in Kansas.
“I am from Kansas and I heard a lot about the Bloody Benders and my mother at one point took me to a museum,” Lehr said. “It’s really cool because these people actually existed, one of the first serial killers in American history.”
The show also revolved a later episode around the real town of Nicodemus, Kansas, that remains the only western town established by blacks after the Civil War.
In Quick Draw fashion, the only white man in the all-black town is the blacksmith and the progressive community features flex time for working mothers, readily available financial estate planners and an active community marriage support group.
Along with Lehr and Dunbar, the regular cast also includes Nicholas Brown as Deputy Eli Brocias, who has survived the last five murdered sheriffs; Alexia Dox as Hoyle’s outlaw stepdaughter Pearl Starr and Robert Clendenin as town undertaker Vernon Shank.
Dox stood out in particular as her character befuddles the sheriff who can’t tell if she’s intent on going straight, even as she becomes a prostitute at his quasi-girlfriend’s brothel. The winsome actress displayed a quick wit and strong comedic timing in each scene.
“Are you my daughter or are you an outlaw?” Hoyle asked her while she cooled her heels in a jail cell.
“Can I be both?” she replied after a thoughtful pause as he whipped away the cell keys.
The show also featured a wickedly funny guest appearance by Robert Cuthill as Hoyle’s Harvard roommate Xavier Pearson who engages in a close-range gunfight with Hoyle until being fatally shot by his deputy.
Xavier as a dying wish asks Hoyle for a kiss and he dutifully obliges in an awkward exchange.
“You really got into that at the end,” his deputy quipped.
With its rapid-fire improv and strong cast, Quick Draw comes across as a blend between Blazing Saddles and Get Smart and has a slow burn that makes it more endearing after each episode.
Hower said it’s been exciting to join the online entertainment wave that continues to gain momentum with increased audience share, critical acclaim and Hollywood awards.
“It’s such a learning curve for everyone,” she said.
Hower and Lehr worked with a union crew primarily hailing from Venice on the show.
“We work out of Venice and we love it,” Hower said.
Hower said she gained creative inspiration by taking a walk on the beach only yards from her home on a Venice walk-street.
“I just find this place to be the perfect eclectic group of people,” she said.
If you want to extend your summer fun, check out the show at http://www.hulu.com/quick-draw.
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