April 20, 2007 12:00 AM
“The TV Set” takes on prime time TV, and misses
By Ted Mills
Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill”), has never gotten a fair shake in Hollywood.
His 1998 film, “Zero Effect,” was originally all but ignored, but has slowly gained a cult following by those lucky enough to have seen it. “Orange County” turned out to be the one Jack Black comedy nobody went to see. And Kasdan directed episodes of the ill-fated but cult-followed “Freaks and Geeks,” before it was cancelled.
Some of his apparent bitterness comes across in “The TV Set,” which takes on prime time TV much like “The Player” or “The Big Picture” took on the studio system.
But maybe “The TV Set” isn’t bitter enough. There’s little rage directed at a system designed to reward mediocrity. Nothing stings as it should, even though all the pieces are in place.
David Duchovny plays Mike, who we meet just as the suits at a Fox-like network gather to consider casting the pilot he is writing and producing. The project is autobiographical, a tale of a young lawyer returning home after his brother commits suicide. And it’s a “dramedy.” Uh-oh.
Mike wants the humor low-key, but the suits, led by Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), want it big and broad. A young British executive (Ioan Gruffudd) brought in to oversee the show and give it a bit of that BBC touch, tries to defend Mike’s choices, as does Mike’s manager, Alice (Judy Greer). When Mike considers digging in his heels over script changes, his wife (Justine Bateman) points to her pregnant belly. They need the money.
The opening scene spells out a lot of what’s wrong with the film. Mike’s choice of actor is a nervous, bearded mumbler. But, well, so is Mike. His character is introverted and rarely angry. He stumbles through the film with a series of ailments, including a head cold and a slipped disc.
Instead of garnering sympathy, we look around for characters with more vigor, which is why Greer — among her many comedic roles, the crazy secretary/mistress in “Arrested Development” — steals her scenes, even while portraying a character type we’ve seen in many Hollywood-eats-their-own films.
Fran Kranz also grabs laughs as conceited actor Zach Harper. His character’s best performances come in rehearsal, but once the camera rolls, he chews the scenery. Cameos by Andrea Martin, Willie Garson (”Sex and the City”), and Philip Baker Hall should also be savored.
“The TV Set” doesn’t tell us much we don’t know about the creative bankruptcy of network television, and seeing Greer is just another reminder of how executives have no idea what to do with originality and intelligence (See: the pitch-perfect “Arrested Development,” cancelled after three seasons).
The target audience for this film has probably moved to HBO and DVD rentals anyway. Trouble is, it feels like Kasdan has given up on TV, too. Instead of a brilliant kiss off, his film feels like a resignation letter.