TV Set, The

Reviewed by Tim Grierson

A familiar satire of the entertainment industry, The TV Set is enlivened by several sharp observations about the complicated personal lives of those who try to make a living in such a cutthroat environment. Writer-director Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect and Orange County) cant resist taking some easy shots at the banality of American network television, but thankfully his mostly well-acted comedy finds enough moments of truth to make this umpteenth pop-culture putdown memorable.

Mike (David Duchovny), a moderately successful television writer-producer, prepares to cast his autobiographical pilot, The Wexler Chronicles, which has just been purchased by a network. However, because more pilots are purchased than will end up on the air, Mike knows that good casting and a compellingly-shot first episode are crucial if the show is to secure a primetime slot.

But a mountain of roadblocks presents themselves, threatening to derail The Wexler Chronicles: a flakey lead actor (Fran Kranz), whom the network loves, despite his minimal talent; the overbearing network president Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), who possesses an unbending confidence that her every decision is correct; and Mikes spineless manager (Judy Greer), who would rather make everyone happy rather than stick up for her clients passion project.

From its first moments, The TV Set announces itself as an insider spoof of the arduous process television shows must go through in order to reach the home viewer. Kasdan takes us from casting to the pilot shoot to the studio notes to, finally, the test audiences. Without question, the process involves many maddening interferences and outside input that weaken the creative product, but The TV Set ultimately covers well-worn terrain that has been always satirized on everything from The Simpsons to 30 Rock. In addition, film-industry satires such as The Player and State and Main arent all that different than their television-spoofing counterparts in documenting how creativity often takes a back seat to ego and corporate interests.

Beyond the predictable jokes about vapid actresses and dishonest studio executives, The TV Set too often goes for easy, over-the-top observations about televisions lowest-common-denominator mentality. To illustrate the lowbrow appeal of reality television, Kasdan names the biggest hit on Lennys network Slut Wars, a pretty tame joke that isnt nearly sharp or mean enough to leave much of a sting.

In addition, Weavers portrayal of the ball-busting Lenny hits many obvious notes. By rendering Lenny as supremely confident, egotistical, and rigid, Weaver gives a performance thats more mannered than inspired, calling to mind many abrasively bitchy fictional female executives of the past.

Thankfully, The TV Set works much better when looking at the personal lives of those who give most of their waking hours working in the competitive, demanding television business. Specifically, Kasdans focus on two conflicted, likable men gives this simple satire its much-needed soul.

The first is Richard, played by Ioan Gruffudd, a Briton who enjoyed acclaim working at the BBC before being lured across the pond to work in Hollywood. Richard is a man of integrity devoted to his wife and son, but his recent move to the States has proven to be a deal with the devil: Hes a mover and shaker in the worlds entertainment capital, but he hates the projects hes working on and his family just wants to go home.

As he did in his starring role in the early 2007 release Amazing Grace, Gruffudd demonstrates a winning integrity and decency that feels noble rather than stuffy. Gruffudd balances Richards ambitions with his desire not to let the business ruin his real life. But at the same time, Kasdan shows how Richard is savvy enough to know when to fight for quality work at his job and when delicate compromise is required. With an understated style, Gruffudd ably expresses Richards growing doubt about the wisdom of the life-altering career change hes put himself and his family through.

The films other memorable turn comes from Duchovny, who makes Mike an impassioned artist who knows that hes working in a medium that cares little for impassioned artists. Kasdan and Duchovny could have taken the easy way out by envisioning Mike as a humorless man of principle, a mouthpiece for the filmmakers contemptuous point of view. But instead, The TV Set uses Mikes conflict as a conduit to discuss how we all must balance our ideals against lifes painful realities.

The Wexler Chronicles involves a young man reeling from the suicide of his brother, a situation inspired by Mikes life. And while Lenny firmly believes that they need to lose the suicide angle its too much of a downer Mike cant bear the thought because the childhood trauma inspired him to write the pilot in the first place. Nonetheless, Mike has a wife and young child at home, and another child on the way, and so he must decide how far hes willing to bend so that he can be proud of the final product and yet still make sure it gets on the air.

The scenes between Mike and his wife Natalie (Justine Bateman) have a touching authenticity to them which are a nice reminder that even those who work in the seemingly glamorous entertainment industry have the same financial and family concerns as everyone else. And Duchovny does great work juggling the scripts comedic and serious moments. Mike perfectly understands his conundrum: Hes driven to create in a business that will try to keep his work as tame and insipid as possible. More than anything else, the poignancy of Mikes struggle to rectify that dichotomy is the main reason to forgive The TV Set when it sometimes feels as uninspired as the lackluster network shows its supposedly roasting.

Credits

Running time: 89 minutes

Director: Jake Kasdan
Production companies: Wexler Chronicles
US distribution: THINKFilm
Producers: Aaron Ryder, Jake Kasdan
Executive producers: Lawrence Kasdan, Judd Apatow
Co-producer: Ron Schmidt
Associate producers: Carey Dietrich, Paul Pressburger, Howard Tager
Screenplay: Jake Kasdan
Cinematography: Uta Briesewitz
Editor: Tara Timpone
Production design: Jefferson Sage
Music: Michael Andrews

Cast

Mike (David Duchovny)
Lenny (Sigourney Weaver)
Richard (Ioan Gruffudd)
Alice (Judy Greer)
Zach (Fran Kranz)
Laurel (Lindsay Sloane)
Natalie (Justine Bateman)
Chloe (Lucy Davis)