The Manhattan Beach Project

The Manhattan Beach ProjectCharlie Berns is back, this time in the frighteningly absurd world of reality television. Merely four years after winning an Oscar (as readers of “The Deal” will recall), Charlie is flat broke once more, reduced to living in his nephew’s pool house, kiting credit cards, and attending meetings of the Brentwood chapter of Debtors Anonymous. At one of these twelve-step meetings, he meets a CIA agent named Kermit Fenster, who pitches him the concept of a reality show about an Uzbek warlord — “Tony Soprano meets Genghis Khan.”

Charlie puts his tap shoes on again and manages to sell the series to a covert division of ABC, called ABCD, which operates out of an unmarked office building in Manhattan Beach developing the kind of extreme reality shows that the parent company – the vertically integrated conglommerate with the amusement park in Anaheim — doesn’t want to be too closely associated with. The analogy is “The Manhattan Project” during World War II, in which scientists worked in top secret developing the Atomic Bomb.

With the aid of Kermit Fenster, Charlie finds a colorfully ruthless warlord in Western Uzbekistan named Izbul Kharkov, hires a Polish documentary film crew and begins to shoot the daily life of the warlord and his family — the sullen fundamentalist son who runs away to join the Taliban, the lesbian daughter who takes showers with the Polish camerawoman, the absent wife who is either hidden away in her room or in Azerbaijan getting a face life.

Taliban decides to issue a fatwa against the show as blasphemous and shut it down; the Uzbek Mafia tries to elbow in on the Georgian Mafia’s extortion racket; and, as if all that weren’t enough, “Entertainment Tonight” sends over a crew to do an on-site interview with the cast of the new hit show. All at the same time. It hits the fan. Big time.

And it takes all of Charlie’s nimble skills to tiptoe out of this mess. Smelling sweet no less.

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