Wednesday, December 9, 2009

'The TV Set' Review

Here's another review. This one walks the line between my blog and my livejournal. On the one hand it's a movie review which falls clearly under my industry blog, while on the other it's a very personal story that related directly to my own life so it's a journal entry. It's going up here, but check out the livejournal to read an awesome entry about The Offspring.

“Each winter the major television networks commission hundreds of specs for television pilots. Each spring a small fraction of those scripts are produced. Of those produced pilots approximately one quarter are 'picked up' and put on the fall schedule. The rest never see the light of day. (The TV Set) is the story of one pilot.”

The prologue pretty much sums it all up. This is a movie about how the TV system works and it was written and directed by a terribly, terribly bitter man.

The film follows showrunner Mike Klein, played by David Duchovny, from just after his script goes into production until it's put on the air for the season. Along the way it features wonderful performances that add character to what are otherwise defeated shells, embittered by the network system. Interesting to note, this film was Kasdan's followup to the cancelation of Freaks and Geeks.

Despite the medium, The film embraces elements from television and also parodies itself quite successfully, since the audience is aware that what their watching is a tragic comedy about a writer trying to follow his gut in order to produce a tragic comedy. In an amazing line, Ioan Gruffudd's Richard and Sigorney Weaver's Lenny are going over Mike's casting:

First of all let's talk about the role of Amanda: Laurel and Jesse. Now they both had very good readings, my instinct is that Laurel is a superb comedian while Jesse is an actress playing comedy. Does that make sense? And I think you're going to want a real comedian in that role. Now they're both quite good, quite funny, quite attractive but...

Lenny (Interrupting)
If I can just cut in here, Jesse is attractive, but Laurel is also very cute, and I think that's a good thing. She doesn't let her cuteness get in the way of her hotness, and that's really special, to me. Also, I think that Jesse has fake breasts, and I believe that over the life of a series, the audience can feel that.

In this amazing excerpt, the deep and painfully dry wit of Kasdan really flourishes, while at the same time his message of anti-network sentiment shines; the set-up being a conversation about funny actresses in film and the punch line being Sigorney Weaver delivering an incredibly funny line like a true comedian, without letting her cuteness get in the way of her hotness.

The entire film continues the downward spiral of Mike loosing little battles throughout production of his pilot. In the end he has compromised in order to support his young family, but given up his artistic integrity in exchange. No single character is the good guy or the bad guy necessarily since they each are attempting to create a good show. The film follows each character home in order to truly explain their motives in comparison.

Mike is attempting to tell an honest and well-written story loosely based on his brother committing suicide. Richard is trying to move up in his career by getting a great job and trying to make biting television that will propel him onward. Lenny is embittered but unaware of how far gone she is. In one instance she explains how a near death experience really helped her put things in perspective, she cites that she now knows that the Thurday spot can get just as high ratings as Wednesday as an example. In a later scene when Richard informs her his wife left him since he spent so much time at work, she responds, “Sometimes spouses don't fit in the schedule.”

I found it very interesting that Kasdan made a movie, about TV, that read like a stage-play. The project is elegant and understated like something by Oscar Wilde. Although it only ever existed in this form, it reminded me of films like Glengarry Glen Ross. Perhaps that's just what happens when you put a bunch of incredibly talented actors in a room together; there's so much acting, there isn't much room for directing.

Although the film is bitter and dark, and all the characters need to compromise their integrity to get through pilot season, it ends on an up note. Lenny has been forced to let the show on the air due to a rival networks schedule change, Richard let his wife move out in order to keep his job at the network, and Mike let them talk him out of a majority of his premise (including axe-ing the suicide), but they manage to figure themselves out at the advertisers party.

Lenny is orchestrating a huge party to show off the new line-up and get investments from advertisers. This is also her chance to introduce Richard since he was hired and let him woo the ad-men. Mike is present to see his show's reception. Richard realizes just how far gone Lenny is and how close he is to becoming her, so he decides to do something about it. Although there is no actual line to this effect, the movie ends with Richards speech to the investors where he discusses Mike's show. He knows Mike hates what's been made and subtly ends his speech with, “If you liked that, look forward to twenty-two more episodes to see where it goes.” He catches Mike's eye across the room and Mike almost cracks an optimistic smile when the credits begin to roll.

Although Kasdan paints a black picture of the industry, it's clear from the end scene and the fun had on the way there that he truly loves what he does and wouldn't have it any other way. Despite the cuts and the compromises and the idiots he has to put up with, at the end of the day he gets to tell fun stories like The TV Set.

After watching the film I can't help but be excited by the challenge Kasdan proposes. He implies that it's a terrible line of work, yet his clear love of all the characters in the film belie that opinion. The projections he puts on Mike are of pain and misery, yet our last visage is of Mike smiling from crutches. All of the reasons why he complains are the greatest parts of the job, and that is extremely evident by the film he's crafted. I can't wait to put myself through those same hells.

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