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Series / Bullet in the Face

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A Viciously Funny Comedy

Bullet in the Face is an ultraviolent, blackly comedic Canadian-American television series created by Alan Spencer (Sledge Hammer!) that premiered on August 16, 2012 on IFC. It follows sociopathic criminal Gunter Vogler (Max Williams) who, after being shot by his lover and partner-in-crime Martine (Kate Kelton) during a botched jewel heist, wakes up in a hospital three months later with the surgically-transplanted face of the last man he killed.

Brüteville Police Commissioner Eva Braden (Jessica Steen) gives him an ultimatum: die or work for her undercover to take down the city’s powerful crime lords, Tannhäuser (Eddie Izzard) and Racken (Eric Roberts). Aided by Lt. Karl Hagerman (Neil Napier), the partner of the man whose face he now bears, Vogler must adapt to life as a cop if he wants revenge on those who betrayed him.

A police procedural with clown shoes, the story takes the Boxed Crook theme to its logical extreme: The Joker being poached by law enforcement to help solve crimes. Just as Sledge Hammer was a pastiche of 80's cop shows, the jokes also draw inspiration from John Woo films (particularly Face/Off) and Dark Age graphic novels such as Sin City.

This show provides examples of:

  • A God Am I: Tannhäuser thinks of himself like this.
    Martine: You think you're God, don't you?
    Tannhäuser: No, he thinks he's me.
  • Agent Peacock: Hagerman and his old "partner" bonded over a mutual taste for musical theater and crochet. Gunter's loft is full of Barry Manilow and Xanadu CDs, and a flashback reveals Braden trying (and failing miserably) to stimulate his transplant donor sexually. Nevertheless, Gunter's victim seems, from what little we see of him, to have been an inordinately badass detective.
  • Ambiguously Gay: But just barely. It’s strongly implied that, in addition to working together as police officers, Hagerman was a different sort of “partner” to the man who originally owned Gunter’s new face.
  • The Atoner: Averted.
  • Axe-Crazy: Gunter Vogler and all of the other criminal main characters (Racken likes to shoot henchmen for frivolous reasons, etc.).
  • Badass Longcoat: Gunter. Averted with Hagerman, as his coat is far more badass than he is.
  • Bad Boss: Merely the possibility of betrayal prompts Racken to murder a whole room full of his men, despite his pointing out he’s known them all for years and that any one of them would take a bullet for him, as well as arguments they offer which he admits are convincing. Tannhäuser’s not much better, killing a mild-mannered man who keeps beating him at chess.
  • Battle Couple: Martine and Gunter occasionally act like one. It doesn't last. Either time.
  • The Beard: Despite compounding evidence that he is gay, Lt. Hagerman mentions a wife and daughter a few times.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Gunter and Braden appear to share this, but Gunter’s actually just toying with her for the lulz.
  • Butt-Monkey: Lieutenant Hagerman. Even his boss can't stand him.
  • Chess Motif: The last three episodes in spades.
  • The Chessmaster: Tannhäuser wishes he were this, given all the chess motifs he uses and the lessons in chess he's taking.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Lt. Hagerman. He feels compelled to protect the man who wears his partner’s face, regardless of Gunter’s despicable antics. Taken to its logical extreme in a dark comedy, he dies while vainly trying to defuse a bomb.
  • City of Adventure: Brüteville
  • Cliffhanger: Tannhäuser barely escapes his apartment, and sets off a bomb that may have killed Commissioner Braden. Meanwhile, Martine dispatches Racken and his thugs with the submachine gun she has hidden in her fake belly, pointing her gun at Gunther. Finally, Hagerman tries to defuse a bomb in the basement of a hospital...the episode ends on a shot of chess pieces falling over, leaving all three threads hanging.
  • Clint Squint: Hagerman very rarely smiles, and even that expression looks contorted with recollected pain.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Almost everyone, apart from Commissioner Eva. And even then, it's iffy.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Martine and Gunter.
  • Companion Cube: Tannhäuser treats his snow globes like these.
  • Cop Show: A parody of one.
  • Cowboy Cop: Gunter behaves in like fashion after he goes undercover, mostly by dint of being a complete psychopath who has no real interest in anything but getting his own face back. He soon proves to be an exemplary cop (to his disgust).
  • Crapsack World: Brüteville. It doesn't help that gets reduced to cinders as the show continues.
  • Creator Cameo: Creator Alan Spencer can be seen as a hapless bystander juggling a severed head in a post office, in "The World Stage".
  • Da Chief: Commissioner Braden.
  • Dark Action Girl: Martine.
  • Depraved Dentist: Gunter faces one in “Angel of Death.”
  • Driven to Suicide: In “Angel of Death,” Gunter and Hagerman investigate a string of priestly suicides. Turns out all the “priests” are ex-criminals being picked off as a part of the Racken-Tannhäuser gang war.
  • Eagle Land: From Braden and Racken's dialogue, the series probably takes place there.
    • Racken comes off as a strong type 2, with every stereotype of the New York mobster.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: The villains are occasionally prone to bad jokes and puns.
  • Evil Versus Evil: A Laughing Mad Axe-Crazy Cowboy Cop against two Large Ham gangsters
  • Expository Theme Tune
  • Expy: Tannhäuser's agoraphobia is inspired by Charles Foster Kane, as hinted by his snowglobe obsession.
    • Hagerman's dresses and sounds a lot like Rorschach from Watchmen. Averted, because Hagerman is an emotional wreck, while Rorsch is a borderline sociopath.
  • Facial Horror: Gunter is shot in the face three times in the first three episodes. There's also the fact his face is not ready, as there are slips and cracks happening.
  • Fantastic Racism: Rakhen is prejudiced against the French, preferring American snails to French escargot.
    Racken: I'm going to drag his agoraphobic ass out in the street and make him eat snails. And I do not mean escargot. Hell no. I mean live, American slugs from the garden of a Detroit City autoworker.
    • Despite this, Racken is very sensitive about being an equal-opportunity employer.
    Racken: Seriously. I got lots of black guys in my mob. You may not know this, I was the first guy to recruit kids from low-test-score schools. It was like, it was like no—no juvenile delinquent left behind. It was a hell of a program.
  • For the Evulz: Gunter's main motivation.
  • Gang of Hats: A group of thespians-turned-prostitutes who kill gangsters in revenge for their theater falling into ruin employ The Mikado as their gimmick.
    Gunter: Using Gilbert and Sullivan for genocide is very creative.
  • Germanic Depressives: The lethargic Tannhäuser rarely raises his voice above a whisper (even his primal scream over the snowglobes is edited out), and his idea of celebrating his wife's delivery is to off-handedly hang a few black helium balloons.
  • Ghost Memory: In "The World Stage", Gunter's surgeon explains rather casually that transplant recipients sometimes experience flashacks of the donor's life. The idea of compulsively "saving puppies and thinking of penis" doesn't sound like Gunter's idea of a good time.
  • Giggling Villain: Gunter himself.
  • Good Is Impotent: Quite literally with Hagerman, who winds up traumatized as a result of a lap dance. Other than rescuing Gunter from killer masseuses in "The World Stage", he contributes nothing to the proceedings besides shame.
  • Hidden Depths: Most of the time, Gunter comes off as a wanton killer and insufferable asshole, but at the same time he seems to have genuine affection for his girlfriend Martine (even after she shot him), is excited about the prospect of becoming a father and often quips and waxes philosophical about society, his fellow man and the nature of good and evil.
  • Hikikomori The sophistic Tannhäuser has never been seen in the flesh. Not because he's some sort of Shadow Dictator, but because he can't step outside of his house without having a panic attack.
  • Large Ham: Gunter, though he could be very subdued if he wants to. Logically so, since his face can not handle him laughing all the time.
    • Tannhäuser revels in this.
  • Laughably Evil: He may be a relentless bastard and murderer, but it’s his unrestrained behavior and nihilistic attitude that make Gunter so damn fun to watch.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Racken has a guy in his organization that lampshades almost everything he does in that scene.
  • The Load: Hagerman grows steadily more useless as the show progresses, culminating in his inability to cross a room correctly (on multiple occasions). It's apt that he finally turns heel at the exact moment Gunter thinks to call "this city's only honest cop." He even fails at this, and instead empties his clip into the ceiling while screaming in classic Point Break style... killing Gunter's upstairs neighbor in the process.
    Gunter: Hagerman, only you could fail at redemption!
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: Gunter constantly ignores his surgeon's advice, refuses to take the standard rotation of meds to sustain his facial transplant, and is repeatedly shot point-blank in the forehead. He nevertheless seems no worse for wear. This is likely a jab at Face/Off and its protagonists' lack of need for such trivialities.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Braden thinks she’s this to Gunter, except he spends most of his time ignoring her save when his original face is on the line. Martine Mahler is one played straight.
  • Mob War: Tannhäuser and Racken start one with each other that eventually dominates life in Brüteville. By the end, it's revealed the whole thing was prompted by Martine.
  • Mood Whiplash: The last three episodes are noticeably more serious than the first three, more darkly comedic ones.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Gunter argues that religion causes people unnecessary stress, but that he can “do no wrong as long as [he does] wrong” and that “civilization is a prison” and the world is wicked and “deserves to be punished for its hypocrisy.”
  • No Name Given: The identity of the man Gunter killed and received the face of is never mentioned.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Gunter's look is some kind of unholy combination of Klaus Kinski and a J. Crew model.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Gunter always speaks with his German accent, even while he's suppose to be the cop that shot him. Said cop did not speak with such an accent. Gunter even refers about this in the first episode.
  • Obviously Evil: Gunter. And Martine.
  • Patriotic Fevor: Racken is a criminal but also highly patriotic.
    Racken: Tannhauser. He's not a normal criminal, obviously. Probably never ate a hoagie in his life. You know, I'm going to drag his agoraphobic ass out in the street and make him eat snails. And I do not mean escargot. Hell no. I mean live, American slugs from the garden of a Detroit City autoworker.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Commissioner Braden's (highly flawed) reasoning for forcing Gunter to work with the police.
  • Perp Sweating: Gunter fails at this. Over and over and over. Gunter has better luck with a bag of microwave popcorn and a hairdryer.
  • Phrase Catcher: "Shut up, Hagermann!"
  • Pillow Pregnancy
  • Psycho for Hire: Gunter is introduced as Tannhäuser’s foremost hired gun.
  • The Reveal: At the end of "Cradle to Grave," Martine reveals she isn’t pregnant at all and merely pretended to be in order to take out the three most powerful criminals in Brüteville.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Gunter tries to encourage this mentality with a teenager in “Drug of Choice.” Averted when it turns out the drugs made him that way.
  • Theme Naming: Most of the main characters and even the city they live in have Germanic names, although Gunter is the only recurring character with a German accent.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Gunter.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Braden had this with Gunter because of his new face, but he doesn’t feel the same way about her at all. Neither did the face’s original owner.
  • The Vamp: Martine again.
  • Vice City & Wretched Hive: A cocktail of hard narcotics ends up being dumped haphazardly into the city's water supply in "Drug of Choice". Gunter remarks that it literally could not be easier to get high in this city.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • Wham Episode: "Kiss Me Thrice" takes a more serious tone and cranks up the Myth Arc.
  • Wicked Cultured: Tannhäuser. And Gunter, a little.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit