TV Eye

Talented on the inside

Sarah Silverman in 2004's <i> Pilot Season</i>
Sarah Silverman in 2004's Pilot Season

I heart Sarah Silverman.

Not the Sarah Silverman that has "come into her own" by spouting all manner of trash, from racial slurs to scatological humor. I heart the Sarah Silverman I first discovered in a little-known comedy series called Pilot Season, a faux documentary that I reviewed prior to its run on Trio, a now-defunct cable network (see "TV Eye," Sept. 3, 2004). I loved the series so much, I often find myself referencing it while defending Silverman ("She's capable of so much more than the schtick she does now") at parties when talk turns to TV and what I do for a living comes up. Everyone knows Sarah Silverman. No one knows Pilot Season, which I think is just plain wrong, along with the demise of Trio. So, I was thrilled when I read that Pilot Season is returning – thanks to www.mydamnchannel.com.

There's something mildly wonky about the fact that a series about the machinations of getting a TV show on the air is finding new life online. But we're in a wonky media climate now, where lines are blurring, the old way of doing business is being challenged, and the very idea of what constitutes television is changing. The reappearance of Pilot Season also got me thinking about how careers are shaped over time and how early, sometimes regrettable projects can come back to haunt you. Take Silverman in Pilot Season. She stars as Susan, one of several ambitious, creative types eager to make it in Hollywood. Silverman is brilliant – understated, effortlessly lovely, and hilarious with incomparable ease. In fact, that's what makes the show so brilliant overall: Everyone is fueled by high-octane ambition, yet no one dares to come off as that breathless, starry-eyed kid from the sticks with a dream. Everyone is working so hard to be cool and nonchalant that the ambition oozes out in the most unlikely (and embarrassing) places, in spite of efforts to appear above it all. (Silverman has great company: Andy Dick, David Cross, and Isla Fisher also appears in the series, written and produced by Sam Seder, who stars as Susan's onetime boyfriend/manager, Max.)

For me, Silverman has two magical moments: one, in an on-camera interview, when she's explaining why she's in love with her new boyfriend, spouting all the expected gushy platitudes, finishing the litany with a girlishly breathless, "Oh, he's so ... successful!" You probably have to see and hear the delivery, but it still makes me laugh out loud. The other moment is when she discovers that her big chance has been stolen out from under her. The look of despair on her face is shocking and a rare moment of honesty from an assortment of characters working very hard to keep their tender spots covered with a cool, professional attitude.

This is one project from her past that Silverman can and should be proud of. It makes me wonder how she could be capable of this kind of work yet end up where she is now. Much of the humor from her current performance comes from the fact that trash falls from the mouth of a lovely young woman. But the shelf life of the lovely and, especially, young is limited – and, as we've learned this past week, not entirely necessary. The now- famous Susan Boyle performance (the dowdy woman who sang like an angel on Britain's Got Talent and has become an online sensation) has everyone swooning over the so-called ugly duckling surprising audiences with her talent, thereby unleashing a conversation about the role of beauty in Western culture. Boyle even wooed the flinty Simon Cowell (also of American Idol). Online chatter indicates that he is working up a recording deal for her, and many more are speculating on what Boyle will be once a team of makeover experts utilizes their brushes, tweezers, and blow-dryers on her. Once Boyle is made "presentable," will fans love her more or less? And is this the real and only reward for having talent: You get the chance to look better? At the same time, the Boyle phenom also raises questions about talented, smart, lovely women like Silverman, who are rewarded for dialing down their talents in order to be manageable and consumable. And by whom, exactly? Just who is selling us this bill of goods, and why do we keep buying into it?

The conversation is not anywhere near over.

As always, stay tuned.

E-mail Belinda Acosta at tveye@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Sarah Silverman, Susan Boyle, Pilot Season, Britain's Got Talent, Simon Cowell

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