Written PostFrom the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews The TV Set (2006)

From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews The TV Set (2006)

As with Death at a Funeral (which I reviewed last month), The TV Set is a film that I’ve been wanting to see ever since it was released.  It was one of those films that sounded really interesting to me, and was very well-reviewed, but I just never got around to catching it.  I keep a little notebook with a long LOOONG list of all the movies that I want to see someday.  Any time I read about a film that sounds interesting, I add it to the list.  I’ve been very busy lately, but I’m really happy that I’ve been able to cross some great films off of that to-watch list lately, thanks to Netflix!

The TV Set stars David Duchovny as Mike Klein, a TV writer.  Mike has written and sold a script for a new TV pilot called The Wexley Chronicles, and over the course of the film we follow the process of casting and filming the pilot from Mike’s well-liked script.

I am a big fan of television, and as a result, The TV Set is difficult to watch at times.  That’s because this film dissects, with surgical precision, why so much television is so terrible.  Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (Orange County, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) and produced by Judd Apatow, the film is based on Apatow and Kasdan’s experiences making the brilliant-but-quickly-cancelled TV series Freaks and Geeks.  Over the course of the film we, along with poor Mike, watch with horror as the network takes his script — which they liked because of its originality — and, through a thousand small compromises that they force Mike to make, set about to eliminate all of the project’s uniqueness in order to create something that will offend no-one and appeal to the widest audience possible.  The process is summed up in an awkward confrontation between Mike and the network head-honcho Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), in which she tells him flat-out: “originality scares me.”

The cast is superb.  Duchovny is perfect as the talented but also sort of sad-sack Mike.  We can see, in his eyes, the quiet desperation with which Mike is trying to hold on to his vision for the project, and the anguish that each little compromise causes him.  Sigourney Weaver kills as the tough, take-no-prisoners Network boss Lenny.  She is a riot, and to describe Lenny as a formidable presence would be a grand understatement.  Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower from USA’s series, and perfectly cast but then stranded by the execrable Fantastic Four movies) plays Lenny’s right-hand man Richard, brought over from England to head up the network’s TV development.  Whereas Lenny only cares about the bottom line (making money), we can see that Richard does want to make good television, but it’s quickly apparent that he can’t and/or won’t stand in Lenny’s way.  Judy Greer (Arrested Development) is Mike’s agent Alice.  Her insistence of trying to make it sound like two people are agreeing when clearly they are in total disagreement is hysterical, and, it seems, typical for Hollywood.  Fran Kranz (who I only recently discovered as the nutty Topher on Dollhouse) plays Zach, the bad actor cast in the show’s lead role at the network’s insistance, over Mike’s objections.  It’s tough the play “bad acting” without slipping into over-the-top silliness, but Kranz nails the performance.  Lindsay Sloan is also great as the female lead of the show who is forced to try to act opposite Zach.

I could keep going!  There’s Justine Bateman as Mike’s pregnant wife Natalie!  There’s Lucy Davis (Dawn from the original British The Office) as Richard’s put-upon wife Chloe!  There’s M.C. Gainey (Tom Friendly from Lost!) as the grumpy lighting-man on set!  There’s Philip Rosenthal (show-runner of Everybody Loves Raymond) as a network exec!  The ensemble is amazing, and every character has a small moment to shine over the course of the film.

I said that The TV Set can be tough to watch at times, and that’s true — but in the best way!  The very qualities of The Wexler Chronicles that Mike is fighting for — that there can be great comedy out of uncomfortable moments, that a show can have rough edges, that not every character needs to be likable, and that an audience won’t turn away even if some unhappy things happen to the characters — are also present in The TV Set.  Sure, Mr. Kasdan and his teams could have played down some aspects of Mike’s suffering as he watches his project unravel.  That might have resulted in a funnier, easier-to-digest film, but it also would have been a film that is much less interesting.

The TV Set is a great film.  It might not appeal to everyone — there’s a lot of inside baseball to be found here, and if you’re not interested in how the sausage is made — that is, the behind-the-scenes processes of  how TV shows are actually created — then this might not be the film for you.  But I found the film to be fascinating — and also very, very funny.  And also very sad.

It’s worth your time — check it out.  And thank the stars above for the few TV shows that actually wind up being GOOD.