Thursday, April 19, 2007

The TV Set

There’s a movie out in Los Angeles called THE TV SET. It’s playing on two screens. It’s also playing in other parts of the country… on five other screens. That’s the distributor’s idea of “going wide”. It seems ridiculous to review a movie that no one will see but someday it might be on IFC or MyNetworkTV (renamed for them: “Sitcom Sluts Beauty Intl. Swimsuit Pageant.”)

The film is dark comedy about a writer’s nightmare attempt to shepherd a network pilot to completion without compromising the show or his soul. It stars David Duchovny. Even though I figured it would be like watching Vietnam flashbacks I ran to the theater to see it, even passing up EXTERMINATING ANGELS which was playing on the screen next door and according to the reviews featured a lot of hot girl-on-girl action and French women pleasuring themselves. But no, I sent to see a movie about script notes.

THE TV SET’s heart is in the right place. Certainly a movie that shines a light on the struggles TV writers go through is a worthy project. Next to global warming, I personally find it to be the next most important issue we face as a people. And the writer/director, Jake Kasden is the son of Lawrence Kasden so he comes from a good Hollywood bloodline.

But I just wish it were better. Especially when my option was the French L-Word next door.

You can predict the premise. A writer (Duchuvny) has a sitcom pilot and at every turn (script, casting, title) the network makes him change it for the worse. Sigorney Weaver, as the network president, is funny for the first ten minutes but then is so broad and one-note that she becomes tedious. One gets the feeling she’s not nearly as funny as she thinks she is.

As someone who has been in Duchuvny’s predicament too many times I know it’s a fine line you walk. You want to preserve your vision yet you don’t want to be branded as difficult. You have to pick your fights. It’s tricky. And not every network note is a bad one nor every network executive a blithering idiot. But at some point you have to stand up for what you believe in. Two reasons:

1) You’re the one who is going to have sit in a room until 3:00 AM every night trying to make the stinkburger work. And…

2) You might as well do your show since if it doesn’t go you’ll still take the blame even if you followed the network’s notes to the letter. NEVER will you hear a network exec say, “Sorry. We really took you down a wrong path. You had a good idea and we ruined it. What can we do to make it up to you?”

In the movie, Duchovny just keeps taking the abuse, never putting his foot down, so after awhile you want to give him business cards that say “executive network little bitch”.

But THE TV SET’s biggest failing is that it’s not that funny. Some chuckles for those in the 310 and 818 area codes but the “non pros” would be far better entertained by Gigi and Nicole on the next screen reenacting my bachelor party.

At the end of the day THE TV SET, is just a pale version of 1989’s THE BIG PICTURE. Directed by Christopher Guest and written by Guest and his cronies, THE BIG PICTURE is a dead-on hilarious satire of the film business. It stars Kevin Bacon (what didn’t in the late 80’s?) and has some inspired performances, notably by J.T. Walsh and Martin Short. Order it from Netflix TODAY.

But one thing from THE TV SET does ring true. Once you get the word that your pilot has been greenlit to shoot that’s when your insomnia begins. But at least the next time it happens to me and I’m up at 3:00 a.m. EXTERMINATING ANGELS should be out on DVD.

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15 comments:

Bg Porter said...

Arrgh! Netflix says that The Big Picture is not available...

john c said...

Nice to hear someone sticking up for the Big Picture, which I think is one of the great underrated movies. When my mind wanders around looking for a chuckle, it often turns up the image of a geri-curled Martin Short (Kevin Bacon's flaming agent Corky) sitting at his desk talking on the speakerphone in full nervous breakdown mode, shouting: "WHY?! Because nobody calls me a D#@%*bag!" Okay, okay, so maybe it's better when you see it.

Ian said...

Ah, The Big Picture. My favorite part comes at the beginning, during the sequence portraying a student film awards ceremony. The student films they show are hilarious. I remember that the girl who played Kevin Bacon's love interest (not Jennifer Jason Leigh, but the blonde)had spectacular dreamy eyes, and I'm surprised she didn't go on to do bigger things. Loved those Pez People too.

Dante Kleinberg said...

I'm glad you wrote this review. I'd been thinking about seeing this movie, but I'd worried after the trailer that it just wouldn't be that funny.

Thanks for the save!

John said...

"The TV Set" also sounds like it bears a passing resemblance to Blake Edwards' 1981 movie "S.O.B.", both in that it deals with a creative talent's efforts being sabotaged by the suits and that the movie slips into too broad a slapstick ending by the finish to carry the impact Edwards was hoping for (seeing Julie's ta-tas ended up being the movie's main claim to fame -- she and Edwards fared much better two years later with "Victor/Victoria").

rachel said...

I've been wanting to see The Big Picture for quite a while and sadly netflix doesn't have it. However if the movie gets the ken levine stamp of approval maybe it's worth buying from amazon after all.

Also I've been looking forward to The TV Set for a while and one of my fears was that it wouldn't be as funny as it could be (to me Duchovney is a great comedic actor if just used properly) and unfortunately you just confirmed that. I'll still see it but it's upsetting that it ultimately ends up falling short.

Mr. X said...

Can't join in the The Big Picture lovefest, sorry. I might feel differently if I were in the entertainment industry, but despite the many funny bits, the spoiler for me was that the director's original, "pure" vision--at least, from the few snippets of it that we got to see--looked like the most hideously tedious movie ever conceived of. I was reminded of it recently when I saw Art School Confidential, which also had quite a few good jokes, but failed at creating any sympathy for its protagonist, who was put forth as The Only Real Artist In A School Full of Posers, even though his work was that of a competent but unimaginative commercial artist, the type who does quickie sketches in malls and on boardwalks in the summer.

emily latella said...

I can hardly wait to see that new reality show, "So You Want to Be A Writer."

(Filmed on location at the LAX Hilton)

David said...

Seen Extras on HBO? Hilariously, Gervais' character struggles to get an "Office"-like sitcom produced, and after he is repeatedly humiliated it ends up as a 70's-throwback farce.

Kenneth said...

I remember having the same initial reaction as Mr. X. I didn't get the point of fighting so hard for his -- from what we get to see -- mostly mediocre vision ("let's run outside and throw snow at each other!").

Then, a few years later, I saw it again and thought, "Okay, he wants to be Woody Allen...but he's not funny...." And got mostly more confused. ("Mostly...")

Now I'm thinking that he just doesn't want to make the standard shoot-em-up, rooty-tooty, bang-bang-out-loud barn-burner that everyone else is making. He wanted to make a quiet film. Babette's Feast, say. Or Searching for Bobby Fischer. Conflict, really, isn't everything.

Time has finally caught up with Guest. He was simply seeing the future.

David is also right; Extras has been playing with this idea in real time.

la guy said...

I love The Big Picture and in fact it's been running on HDNet Movies lately, so you can see a younger Teri Hatcher in HD.

Speaking of which coming to your television sets soon is "On The Lot". Basically American Idol (or Survivor?) for film makers. Brought to you by combined creative genius of Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg. I smell a hit!

ajmilner said...

THE BIG PICTURE pretty much grinds to a halt whenever Kevin Bacon's with his girlfriend or his cinematographer buddy -- Christopher Guest is more of a social satirist than a domestic one -- but the Hollywood scenes are terrific. Martin Short's agent eclipses Eugene Levy in FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.

When they showed this film on my campus in 1990, the student film board's publicity credited the directing to Christopher Lloyd.

Brian Scully said...

I loved "The Big Picture" but my only criticism was about the ending. I thought that to be totally true to our business, Kevin Bacon's character should've sold out AGAIN... the happy ending they wrote was the only thing that didn't ring true in an otherwise fine film.

Mef said...

My favourite line from the Big Picure: Martin Short as the agent talking to his soon to be client Kevin Bacon, "Now Joel I've read most of these scripts most of the way through..."

I don't know why but it always makes me laugh.

Fabiola Thing said...

Martin Short is comedic gold.