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TV SET, THE(director/writer: Jake Kasdan; cinematographer: Uta Briesewitz; editor: Tara Timpone; music: Michael Andrews; cast: David Duchovny (Mike Klein), Justine Bateman (Natalie Klein), Sigourney Weaver (Lenny), Ioan Gruffudd (Richard McCallister), Judy Greer (Alice), Fran Kranz (Zach Harper), Lindsay Sloane (Laurel Simon), Willie Garson (Brian), M.C. Gainey (Hutch), Lucy Davis (Chloe McCallister), Simon Helberg (TJ Goldman), Kaitlin Doubleday (Jesse Filmore); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jake Kasdan/Aaron Ryder; ThinkFilm; 2007)
“The best thing that one can say about this film, is that it’s probably too good for TV.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran TV director-writer, one of the creators of the cancelled TV series “Freaks and Geeks,” Jake Kasdan (“Zero Effect”/”Orange County”– the son of Lawrence), spoofs from an insider’s point of view the way the pilot TV series programs get tested in this all too obvious satire of the television industry. It’s a target that is easy to hit, but more difficult to make it stick as meaningful. It gets right the industry’s phoniness and why so much dreck gets on the air, but has nothing to say we already didn’t know. To boot, we have to watch a dreadful sitcom within the film. But, if you were ever interested in how programs get on the air, this one has all the details you ever need.

Mike Klein (David Duchovny) has written a new television series, “The Wexler Chronicles,” fashioned around the real suicide of his brother. The show deals with a young lawyer grieving over his brother’s death. The story idea bought by the network is a mix of comedy and dark drama, which is a bold concept for prime-time network television. But the fun begins when the Hollywood studio suits get involved in whittling down the script, changing the bold concept (suicide is too heavy for its audience and must be changed, even if it’s central to the story) and interfering with the casting (choosing the insecure Zach (Fran Kranz) over his more experienced bearded rival TJ, because he didn’t have a beard and thereby would be more appealing to its viewership). Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), whose motto is “Originality scares me,” is the anally-obsessed ratings conscious president of PDN who loves crap like the reality program “Slut Wars” since it pleases the sponsors with high ratings. Her new assistant and top adviser is nice guy transplant from England’s BBC, Richard McCallister (Ioan Gruffudd), who is not adverse as she is to taking chances to make a more creative show.

Nevertheless the original concept gets completely compromised by a trio consisting of Mike’s vulgarian cheery manager (Judy Greer), who seemingly speaks only in industry clichés such as “the aim is to get on the air,” and the two studio heads who combine to sabotage the stressed-out writer as they play good cop/bad cop. After a rewrite it’s the mother who is now dead and not the brother and there’s also a new title “Call Me Crazy.” The even-keeled writer with the deadpan expression gets our sympathy, as he’s going through a struggle of trying to save his baby at work and at home; he’s strapped for money because his wife (Justine Bateman) is expecting another child and he can’t afford to lose the lucrative deal, but the question is where does he draw the line in the sand over art and commerce.

Compromise is made funny in a droll way. But the best thing that one can say about this film, is that it’s probably too good for TV. My problem is that I don’t give a rat’s ass about television (it’s too far gone to save) and therefore even if this satire was smartly done (which it is), it didn’t do a darn thing for me. Besides we already had Network.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”