The TV Set
2007, R, 87 min. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Starring David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd, Judy Greer, Fran Kranz, Lindsay Sloane, Justine Bateman, Lucy Davis.
REVIEWED By Toddy Burton, Fri., May 4, 2007
The journey of a television show is a depressing tale of crushed dreams and painful sacrifice, at least according to writer/director Kasdan. Son of writer/director/producer Lawrence (The Big Chill) and brother of writer/director Jonathan (In the Land of Women), Kasdan creates from the heart. Having directed episodes of such short-lived but exceptional television shows as Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Kasdan has been there, done that. And he’s pissed off about it. Duchovny plays Mike, the creator of an hourlong series for a fictional network. The show, a dark comic drama, follows the story of a young man returning home after his brother has committed suicide. “Too depressing,” insists Lenny (Weaver), the network president. “Eighty-two percent of people find suicide depressing. What if he didn’t commit suicide?” Mike, whose script is inspired by the suicide of his own brother, attempts to communicate to the network executives that everything that happens in the entire show is predicated on the suicide. But the execs just do a lot of smiling and assert their absolute love of the show, only to completely undermine that love in the same breath by insisting that the show’s very essence be dramatically altered. Manipulating every element, Lenny insists that an over-the-top actor (Kranz) play the lead role and forces last-minute rewrites during production. As a result, Mike watches his creation transform from edgy storytelling into trashy melodrama, complete with fart jokes and catchphrases. Clearly wanting his audience to experience some of the pain he must have felt at various times during his television work, Kasdan ensures that it’s a sad progression to watch. Full of sharp comedy, the writing and directing is skillful and reminiscent of Kasdan’s first two feature-directing efforts, The Zero Effect and Orange County. And the performances stand out as subtle and clever (particularly Duchovny and Kranz). But it’s difficult to overcome the maddening futility underlying the film. Mike sort of learns something and sort of changes, only to begin to realize he’s pretty much screwed all over again. Meanwhile, the other characters are either soulless commandos (Weaver), eager pawns (Kranz), or lonely observers (Gruffudd). The people we root for either don’t or can’t take action. It’s a losing battle in a completely screwed-up business. Yes, it’s funny because it’s true. But it’s also sad for just the same reason. (The TV Set first screened in Austin during last fall's Austin Film Festival.)