The TV Set: trying to enlighten the idiot box

by Beacon Staff • April 11, 2007

As a producer/director for the critically acclaimed but publicly disregarded series "Freaks and Geeks," one cannot help but wonder how much of The TV Set is autobiographical.,It makes sense writer/director Jake Kasdan (Orange County) would be inspired to create a movie illustrating the futility of dissidence and originality in the world of network television.

As a producer/director for the critically acclaimed but publicly disregarded series "Freaks and Geeks," one cannot help but wonder how much of The TV Set is autobiographical.

Many aspects of the film also appear to be referential of "Freaks and Geeks" producer Judd Apatow.

The TV Set is a not-so-thinly veiled attack against network executives, who, in Kasdan's world (and perhaps in ours), are the people who declare "too much originality can be a bad thing" and test the viability of television shows on their teenage daughters.

At its best, The TV Set is a wry interpretation of how television shows are made in the modern era, depicting the process as irrelevant, dated and molded singularly by ratings.

Unfortunately, it's a story we've heard before.

The plot surrounds Mike (David Duchovny), whose green-lit television pilot "The Wexler Chronicles" has just begun the casting process for the fictitious PDN network.

Mike believes the semi-autobiographical show, about a lawyer whose brother has just committed suicide, to be honest, subtle and against the network's grain, confidently mixing comedy with tragedy. Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), however, a PDN executive, prefers the composition of shows like "Slut Wars," the highest-rated show on PDN, to anything resembling nonconformity.

Despite assurances from Richard McAllister (Ioan Gruffudd), the newly appointed (and British) head of programming who promises Mike his creativity will not be compromised, Mike finds himself continually pressured into broadening his material at the expense of his artistic integrity.

At first glance, The TV Set conveys farce, picking at the Hollywood industry in a manner similar to Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration.

Kasdan, however, takes a far more pragmatic approach to his satire, placing The TV Set in an arena comparable to that of the latest season of Ricky Gervais' "Extras." The humor is served dry and observational and, in some instances, the film is laugh-out-loud funny.

Aaron Ryder, an Emerson alumnus and producer of The TV Set, invited students to a special screening at the AMC Loews Boston Common last week.

He described the film as being "just a group of friends who got together to make a movie," a description of moviemaking depicting it as a relatively easy process. When considering The TV Set was born out of Kasdan's unsuccessful struggles, it seems odd that filmmaking should be any easier than television-making.

Kasdan's hatred of the Hollywood system is palpable, and the effective jokes poke fun at its myopia.

But The TV Set comes across as reactionary, as if Kasdan's distain for network suits and group edits drove him to write the script in two hours. Adding to that sentiment, the side stories, especially Gruffudd's, curiously go nowhere, leaving viewers to wonder why Kasdan bothered spending any time on them at all.

The film is loaded with familiar archetypes, the most obvious being Weaver and Duchovny, who play the overbearing executive and the struggling artist, respectively.

Although Ryder refers to Duchovny as the "dark horse of comedy," to say his performance is too understated would be, well, an understatement.

Weaver, on the other hand, as the scene-stealing Lenny, embodies the Hollywood mentality whole-heartedly, spewing a consortium of "what ifs" and "how abouts."

With its inconspicuous execution, The TV Set doesn't tell us anything new, and while there are more than a few laughs to go around, it's nowhere near as biting or interesting a film as Sidney Lumet's Network.

If there is one message to be taken away from The TV Set, it's that in the war between art and commerce, commerce wins.

But didn't we already know that?