In 10 Words or Less
This is why most of TV sucks
Loves: "Freaks and Geeks"
Likes: Jake Kasdan, David Duchovny, Judy Greer
Dislikes: Most sitcoms
Hates: When shows I watch get cancelled, not getting to see pilots, the stupidity of mainstream entertainment
The majority of America couldn't care less about how the entertainment they enjoy is made. DVD commentaries are full of "Is anyone listening?" jokes, "Studio 60" got the hook quickly and "30 Rock," one of the funniest TV shows of the past 10 years, gets hardly any ratings. The only reason most people want to go behind the scenes us to find out who's screwing who and who's high as a kite. It's hard to argue that, purely because the making of a movie or series isn't all that enthralling once you get down to the details.
Details are key in this film, as the whole point is to shed some light on the minutia of the television industry. The Panda Network (an obvious, yet subtle dig at the only animal-name network and it's panda-ering to the lowest common denominator), is attempting to fill out their new schedule, under the auspices of Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), a network head with very mainstream (read: crap) tastes, and Richard (Ioan Gruffudd, Fantastic Four), a former BBC exec trying to bring his overseas success to Hollywood. One of the shows they are considering is "The Wexler Chronicles," an autobiographical dark comedy created by Mike (David Duchovny), who based it on his own experiences following his brother's suicide.
As he works to produce a pilot for the show to sell to the network, he runs into an onslaught of obstacles, mostly thrown in his path by the network, including casting he doesn't agree with, rewrites that insult him and a director who has no interest in the material. His belief in his show puts him in position to butt heads with Lenny, but with a pregnant wife (Justine Bateman) ready to bring his second child into the world, and a desire to get the show on the air, he learns about compromise, supported by Richard, who wants to get Mike's vision on the air, but is learning himself. Unfortunately, his compromises begin to manifest themselves in severe back pain that makes him a bit less able to fight for his cause.
In telling the story of Mike's pilot, from its development, to the production, to its introduction to advertisers at the "upfronts," the film takes its time, letting the discomfort of each scene grow until it reaches a very natural end. What could have (and usually would have) been done with montages or quick cuts is delivered by Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect) in an excruciatingly and appropriately lengthy way. What makes Kasdan's structure work is the film's short length. At just 85 minutes, the film is like a trilogy of shorts, each with its own arch that has its own payoff, giving "The TV Set" a solid sense of pacing. Without rapid-fire jokes, the comedy sprinkled through the suffering stands out to greater effect. When you watch Lenny research shows with her 14-year-old daughter, using her view of cuteness as a decision maker, it's funny simply because it's so believable, not because there's a punchline. But when the show's production goes horribly wrong, it's more than comic relief...it's simply comedy.
As Mike, Duchovny plays against type, and is believable as a man in physically and mentally pain. From his slumped posture to his defeated expressions, Mike is a man up against it, but Duchovny lets a bit of hope live in his eyes, avoiding becoming a sad-sack cartoon. Duchovny's not the only one delivering a believable performance, but he's probably the only one you'll root for. Judy Greer's equivocating manager Alice is funny in her doublespeak, Weaver is great as the TV exec you can easily hate for destroying the medium, and Fran Kranz is amazingly over-the-top as Zach, a bad actor with no knowledge of how bad he really is. The supporting cast is just as good, with cameos by Lucy Davis ("The Office," "Studio 60"), Matt Besser ("Upright Citizens Brigade"), Willie Garson, Phil Rosenthal, Phillip Baker Hall, Andrea Martin and Seth Green.
Can't give you any clues to the packaging, due to us receiving an advance screener copy, but the disc features a static anamorphic widescreen main menu with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. There are no audio options, while subtitles were available in English and Spanish, along with closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen trransfer on this film looks pretty good, but as it's an early screener from Fox, it suffers from some digital artifacts that are likely due to the watermarking the studio adds for security. The color and level of detail is pretty solid, and there's no noticeable dirt or damage.
The film isn't too exciting in terms of the audio, featuring dialogue mainly and no real action, so the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack's best quality is the clarity. There's nothing dynamic about the mix, though the surrounds come in handy to enhance the occasional music.
The main extras are a pair of audio commentaries, which, interestingly, are themed. Up first is a track with Kasdan, Duchovny, actress Lindsay Sloane and producer Aaron Ryder, focusing on the making of the movie. This commentary is a very friendly affair, as they talk about the production and tell stories from the set, while chatting about what's happening on-screen. The second track, with Kasdan and producer Judd Apatow, is hardly screen-specific at all, as they discuss the inspiration for the film, and talk about their experience in the TV industry. It may be because I love "Freaks & Geeks," but I found this commentary more interesting, due to the stories they share about how ridiculous TV production is, and entertaining thanks to the friendship shared by the pair.
A polished making-of featurette runs just over 14 minutes, and has plenty of interviews with Kasdan and the cast, along with a good deal of on-set footage. It can get a bit fluffy, but it's a decent piece anyway. It's followed by some deleted moments from the final scene, which are actually pretty good and didn't need to be cut.
The Bottom Line
The TV Set is a wholly depressing story, because you just know it's true, but at the same time, it's funny, because you know it's true. Funny in a very dark way, one that won't appeal to everyone, but those who tune in will see one of the better examples of show biz parody. The DVD might look good (it remains to be seen) and sounds solid, while the few extras are quality supplements to the film, especially the commentary by Kasdan and Apatow.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.