Tuned In: Carrie Fisher turns book into therapeutic HBO stage show "Wishful Drinking"

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If you grew up watching Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" films, Carrie Fisher's "Wishful Drinking" shows off a completely different side of the actress who will forever be known for a futuristic 'do that put buns of hair on either side of her head.

HBO's "Wishful Drinking" (9 tonight) takes Fisher's stage show, based on her book of the same title, and stages it for television. Ms. Fisher appears on stage in front of an audience, telling the story of her life, which includes her family, addiction, electro-shock therapy and some bizarre episodes that are devastating and, in Ms. Fisher's telling of them, hilarious.

"If my life wasn't funny, it would just be true, and that is completely unacceptable," Ms. Fisher says as the show begins. "Let's say something happens and from a certain slant, maybe it's tragic and even a little bit shocking. And then time passes and you go to the funny slant and now that very same thing can no longer do you any harm."

Ms. Fisher tells the story of the time she woke up to discover a friend dead in her bed.

"He didn't just die in his sleep. He died in mine," she says. "He was not my boyfriend or anything. He didn't die in the saddle, which would have made me the saddle."

The 80-minute program begins with a brief, sweet tribute to Ms. Fisher's father, Eddie Fisher, who died in September. An interview with Ms. Fisher's mother, Debbie Reynolds, can be viewed at HBO.com. In her show, Ms. Fisher explains her tangled lineage and the tabloid headlines surrounding her parents' divorce.

"Celebrity is kind of like American royalty," Ms. Fisher says. "I like to think of celebrity as obscurity just biding its time."

There's no question that Ms. Fisher is razor-sharp smart and a clever wordsmith. She's the author of several books, including "Postcards from the Edge," and her observations throughout "Wishful Drinking" are incisive and funny.

But at times the production, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, gets a little bogged down in minutiae. A lesson using the Fisher family tree goes on entirely too long, like an extravagant joke with a payoff that's not worth the time it takes to build up to it.

"Star Wars" fans will appreciate the attention she devotes to it, including some self-deprecating humor about her fluctuating British accent throughout the first film.

"George Lucas ruined my life," she says, "and I mean that in the nicest way possible."

At an HBO press conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., in August, Ms. Fisher was more than happy to poke fun at her "Star Wars" past.

"Only someone who is actually mentally ill would wear something like that," Ms. Fisher said as she walked on stage wearing a Princess Leia wig. Later she said the gag made her feel like "a complete, undignified jerk-off."

In one clip from the "Wishful Drinking" documentary, she declares, "If you haven't been merchandised for the past 30 years, you haven't lived.

So why make a show about her life including potentially embarrassing details?

"What I realized was when I got sober -- after I overdosed, went to a mental hospital, guy dead in my bed -- all these things went in the paper and my thing was, wait a second, if it's going to be out there, please let my version be in it," she said. "Also, there is the saying you're only as sick as your secrets. If you can claim it, it has very little power over you.

"My life is just one, long joke. I'm waiting for the punchline," she said. "Hopefully, it doesn't come too soon."

Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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