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20th Century Fox presents
"What's great about this movie is it makes me want to quit the business."
DVD ReviewMike (David Duchovny) is a writer with a vision. He's created a television show called The Wexler Chronicles that will tell the story of his emotional struggles following his brother's suicide. The studio loves his idea, and they want to make a pilot episode in the hope it will make it onto the fall schedule, but they wonder, does it have to be so depressing? Can't the brother not commit suicide?
The TV Set is writer/director Jake Kasdan's primal scream against the development hell that is a part of producing a television show. A seasoned TV director and producer (and, let's point out, the son of director Lawrence Kasdan), Kasdan has seen more than his share of struggles in the industry, helping to shepherd some very good shows (Freaks and Geeks) and trying unsuccessfully to get his own on the air (including a small screen version of his underrated private eye lark The Zero Effect).
He has based the Duchovny character on himself—the high-minded creator who watches as his artistic vision is worn down to a nub by studio suits looking to appeal to the widest possible market. Lenny (acid-tongued Sigourney Weaver, obviously relishing playing the villain) is the network president, and while see sees promise in Mike's show (her "favorite" new script!), she doesn't see why it has to be such a downer (and she doesn't like to be told that "downer" is kind of the point). She also doesn't see why he resists casting Zach (Fran Kranz), a loud-mouthed actor who plays every scene to the back row of the theater, never mind that he's on TV.
The movie tracks the development of the show from casting, to filming, to its eventual unveiling to advertisers at the annual May "upfronts," during which the networks try to sell ad space on their new series. Along the way, Mike nearly suffers a full physical collapse, the network's idealistic new creative director (Ioan Gruffudd) begins to regret leaving the BBC, Mike's agent (Judy Greer) tries to keep the peace, and The Wexler Chronicles gets worse and worse (it's easy, Lenny explains on set, just write some new dialogue replacing "brother" with "mother").
Sometimes the movie is a little too inside for its own good, throwing around phrases like "upfronts" without explaining what they are, but if you follow the TV business at all, you probably know, and if you don't, you probably aren't interested in this movie. I can't imagine you would be, anyway—the action here isn't too far removed from a behind-the-scenes documentary, full of casting tapes, scripting sessions, and battles with the network brass. Everything is exaggerated (at least a little, I hope), but there aren't really what you'd call jokes or punchlines (though an audience test screening sequence is pretty funny). The humor is pretty dry, earning laughs from repeated takes of Zach flubbing his scenes (he does well in rehearsal, but once the cameras are rolling he tries his best Brando impersonation) and Lenny repeatedly asking for nonsense changes to the script. Otherwise, there isn't even much of a plot, and the character moments—including Gruffudd's tension with his wife (played by Lucy Davis of the British version of The Office) over how much time he spends at work—seem a bit perfunctory.
Still, as a satire, the movie works. We all know there's plenty of bad TV on the air (even these days, when I'd argue the best filmed entertainment is actually on the tube, not in theaters), and it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to suggest that the same mind-numbing power plays that make corporate life such a drag are stifling creative types as well. After all, in the end, the shows people welcome into their homes every week are just items of a ledger, and so what if adding a wacky ethnic neighbor will damage their artistic integrity if it means a bump in Hispanic viewers? This is the television industry's very own Office Space.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The transfer looks good on this screener, with bright colors and good overall detail.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: This talky film gets a no-nonsense mix that puts dialogue front and center. No complaints —the sound effects and minimal music fill out the front soundstage and the surrounds offer limited ambient support.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Jake Kasdan and producer Judd Apatow; Kasdan, producer Aaron Ryder, and actors David Duchovny and Lindsay Sloane
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: A non-entity in theaters, The TV Set comes to DVD with at least one worthy extra—director Jake Kasdan and producer Judd Apatow sit for a commentary track that argues the business of making TV and explains why so much of it is so bad. They've certainly got the ammo to back up their claims—they have worked together on cancelled-too-soon series like Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. They talk a lot about the battles they fought (wins and losses) for those two series and share some stories of clueless executives and "creative" notes that were enough to drive them away from the medium (Apatow has certainly fared better in film—witness The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad).
On a second track, actors David Duchovny and Lindsay Sloane and producer Aaron Ryder join Kasdan for a more traditional commentary, offering the usual mix of funny stories and behind-the-scenes information. It's an amiable listen, if free of the gossip that makes the other track more entertaining.
Otherwise, there's a funny three-minute deleted scene that probably could have stayed in (Duchovny's character faces a little extra humiliation during the upfronts at the film's climax) and a fluffy making-of (14m:10s) that won't tell you anything the commentary tracks haven't already.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsIf the corporate group think and kowtowing to ego on display in The TV Set is as true-to-life as writer/director Jake Kasdan would have us believe (and I don't doubt the man, considering his involvement with several quickly-canceled critical darlings), it's amazing anything approaching quality television makes it on the air... ever. This is a movie that will make you hug your season sets of Lost and The Office a little tighter.
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