October 4, 2007

DVD Review: The TV Set

The TV Set is rather innocuously titled. It is a simple title that does not really give all that much away. Now, I received a promo copy of the film in a simple white envelope with no cover art. Hmmm. I looked at it wondering just what was contained within the shiny surface of the disk. For a time I set it aside as I worked through the pending pile of titles to review. Along the way I saw a trailer for this on some other disk, I don't remember which. What I do remember is that the trailer caught my eye. First off it featured David Duchovny, a face that has been seemingly absent from the screen (big or small) for some time. Secondly The TV Set showed what it was about, and it attracted me. The trailer did its job and got me interested in watching the movie. Now I have taken the plunge and dived into this simply titled, unassuming little film and have come out better for the experience. It did not blow the doors off my house, but it did make an impression. This is well worth your time.

Set within the cutthroat, compromise-is-king, artistic-integrity-be-damned world of television, The TV Set chronicles the development of a television pilot. It is a fact that there are hundreds of shows are pitched each year, of these dozens get made, and of those dozens a handful are chosen to be inserted into the television lineup. Those of us on the outside of the biz generally only get exposed to those that get picked up. It is appropriate that this DVD is being released at this time of year, coinciding with the start of the new television season. Knowing all of this whittling that occurs, it has to make you wonder how something like Cavemen got past the pilot phase and was actually picked up. Then again, it must just point to some executive falling in love with the concept and forcing it along despite all reasonable thought. But that is neither here nor there, this movie is not about Cavemen, it is about the general process of pilot creation in a lightly satirical fashion.

David Duchovny stars as Mike. Mike is the creative mind behind a potential show called The Wexley Chronicles. He is in the final stage of getting the green light to move forward and actually make the pilot. Obviously, they get the green light and make the pilot. They take the pilot and move towards the possibility of getting picked up. While the movie is structured around the making of the show, that is not really what it is about.

Creating anything artistic in the collaborative world of television, film, or music is going to involve some sort of compromise. The TV Set shows how this constant state of compromise will often remove the artistic vision of the original creator leaving behind a corporate created husk of what it once was.

The TV Set is light satire. It takes aim at battle between creative and corporate and gives it a realistic spin. Writer/Director Jake Kasdan brought an interesting touch. I watch this and can believe that something very similar to this has happened time and time again. The sense of reality is a good thing, but it does not always work entirely. There is a lot of subtle humor and situations that anyone can identify with, but it is rather dry at times. I cannot help but wonder how this may have been had they taken it a little further, like what Jason Reitman did with Thank You For Smoking. It's not that they are the exact same type of film, just a thought that crossed my mind.

There are some priceless moments in The TV Set. One that really sticks out is a conversation between Mike and one of the executives, Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), where she says: "Originality scares me." A spin through the TV Guide will reveal that rather quickly. I do not doubt that many of the creative people in the TV world are very creative, but once the network executives get their hooks in there will be so much compromise that will sap the originality and push everything towards the middle, the homogenization of television continues.

The cast is fantastic. Everything hinges on David Duchovny. His deadpan performance is pitch perfect. Watch him as he struggles to cling to his artistic integrity, and the weight that he carries trying to balance everything that is going on. Watch him on the set as his story is slowly taken away from him. Simply great. The rest of the cast is filled with recognizable faces including Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four), Judy Greer (Arrested Development), Justine Bateman, and Lucy Davis (Studio 60). Then there is Fran Kranz who plays Zach, the star of Mike's show. This guy is very funny in his acting ineptitude (the character, not him).

Jake Kasdan does a very good job with this, his third feature. He created some interesting characters and delivered a story that is funny, smart, and feels familiar. I guess it should come as no surprise to find that Judd Apatow, the current king of cinematic comedy, was involved as a producer. He has also worked with Kasdan on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared.

Audio/Video. Like I mentioned earlier, this is a promo disk and not a production copy. That being the case, I cannot say with any degree of certainty that this will be just like what you pick up on the shelves. If it is similar, I will say that it looks pretty good for a low budget feature. The image is a little to the dark side, but not too bad. The film is dialogue driven, so this will not tax your surround system. The audio is centered mainly to the front and is always crisp and clear.

Extras. The disk is graced with a couple of extras.
  • Commentary 1. The first track features Jake Kasdan, David Duchovny, Lindsay Sloane, and Aaron Ryder. This one is more screen specific and features a lot of interplay between the participants. Definitely worth checking it out.
  • Commentary 2. This track is not scene specific, but it is quite entertaining. It features Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow. They talk about how this movie came to be made as well as many tales of their adventures in the TV world.
  • The Making of The TV Set. This runs for a little over eleven minutes. It features interviews with cast and crew and how this film came to be. Worth watching once.
  • Deleted Scene. There is one cut sequence here, it runs a little over three minutes. It features some small talk between the leads at the pilot party. Nothing special, but nice to have included here.

Bottomline. While not really laugh out loud funny, The TV Set is a funny movie. It may be targeted more at those with some knowledge of how the business works, but will still play well across the board. Good performances and good writing highlight this little film. Surprisingly good film hides behind the innocuous, and slightly lame, title.



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