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‘Paul T. Goldman’ blends fiction and reality in a way that’s as odd as it is funny

<i>Tyler Golden/Peacock</i><br/>Paul T. Goldman in the docu-reality-comedy series
Tyler Golden/Peacock
Tyler Golden/Peacock
Paul T. Goldman in the docu-reality-comedy series "Paul T. Goldman

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

The term “hybrid” is thrown around too loosely in entertainment, but it genuinely applies to “Paul T. Goldman,” a Peacock series from the director of the “Borat” sequel that combines fiction with sort-of reality, scripted with a behind-the-scenes “making of” docuseries. Quirky and odd, the show’s main point feels like the fact we’re all the heroes of our story, at least in our own highly subjective eyes.

It’s honestly hard to know where to begin in describing the program, which, hilariously, makes note of the fact that after years of shooting and pitching the project, its first nibble was from Quibi. Of course, that “quick bites” streaming service quickly folded, allowing Peacock to step into the void. Critics also received five of the six episodes, and how the show ends, based on what precedes it, is a significant question mark.

For starters, “Paul T. Goldman” isn’t the real name of the central character, who claims that he was fleeced by his second wife, a scam artist who married him for his money and professed to be tending to an elderly relative during her lengthy absences.

Goldman (it gets confusing to call him anything else) became obsessed with unearthing details about the scheme, writing a book and film treatment about the experience. So Woliner shoots those scenes with Goldman as the awkward star of his own movie opposite real actors — including recognizable players like Dennis Haysbert, Frank Grillo, James Remar and Dee Wallace — then makes the viewer privy to all the off-screen shenanigans, as Goldman interacts with his confused but polite co-stars, who (understandably) don’t seem to know what to make of him.

“I’m a regular guy who got caught up in extraordinary circumstances,” he contends during the direct-to-camera interviews, insisting that “Nobody could make up” this story. Later, though, Goldman freely admits that parts of his screenplay version have been fabricated or embellished for dramatic effect, further blurring the lines.

Just to complicate matters further, Woliner himself is a regular presence in the film — fielding his star’s strange requests and suggestions that Goldman thinks will improve things — while weaving in photos, video and audio of actual characters, sometimes with their faces obscured.

As the episodes proceed, it becomes clear that Goldman has fudged details about much of what transpired, making it difficult to take what he says at face value.

Like “Borat,” there’s discomfort and comedy in this nexus of fiction and manipulated reality, and the extent to which Goldman appears oblivious to how he might look when all of this gets edited together. Is it cruel to indulge his delusions of grandeur? Given that he appears to be having the time of his life, it’s hard to tell.

Produced by Seth Rogen’s company, “Paul T. Goldman” obviously comes during a boom time for true-crime docuseries, which frequently employ reenactments to heighten the drama. Woliner has essentially taken that practice to bizarre extremes, creating something that manages to feel fresh and occasionally quite funny, if a little cringe inducing at times.

The net result is a show that’s as oddly watchable as it is hard to define. If only Quibi had lived to see it.

“Paul T. Goldman” premieres January 1 on Peacock.

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