As I've noted in previous reviews, I'm of the opinion that the quality of network television has - aside from a few scattered bright spots - has fallen off in recent years, as the networks have tried to fill time slots with reality shows that are cheap to make. So, I was looking forward to producer Judd Apatow ("40-Year-Old Virgin") and director Jake Kasdan ("Orange County", "Freaks and Geeks" and the son of director Lawrence)'s "The TV Set", a satire of the current state of network TV.
David Duchovny stars in the film as Mike, the creator of a series called "The Wexler Chronicles", about a man having to deal with the suicide of his brother - a personal story because Mike had to deal with the same thing. The network is pleased, but they have notes. Notes like, could you go with the actor that played it "broad"? Does the brother have to kill himself?
Lead by network head Lenny (Sigorney Weaver, in an enjoyably acidic effort), they see it at something of a mix between "Northern Exposure" and "Ed" (later in the movie, they change the title of the show from "Wexler Chronicles" to "Call Me Crazy"), which is not exactly what Mike envisioned. While Mike almost decides to not go through with it, his wife (Justine Bateman) is pregnant and she thinks its best to go forward with work.
A network exec named Richard brought in from the BBC (Ioan Gruffudd, of "Fantastic Four") thinks so, too - but he'll have to accept the star he didn't want. However, that's certainly not the end of it. Lenny continually sticks her nose into the proceedings, and Richard - eager to please - gives into her demands, which begins to take a toll both on the show and his relationship with his wife.
The movie is similar to the recent Ricky Gervais series, "Extras" (which dealt with an actor whose series was eventually dumbed-down beyond belief), but while "Extras" split its time between trying to hit gags and explore the process of getting a show made, "TV Set" focuses much of its energy detailing the pilot season process and how a show can be sabotaged by the network - a network who, in this case, is more interested in the success of its top show: "Slut Wars" (a scene from "Slut Wars" - hosted by Seth Green - is a fairly amusing jab at "The Bachelor".) It's all interesting, but the laughs run a little slim at times.
That's not to say there aren't some laughs here - Weaver is a little too good as a shallow, insincere ("Truthfully...original scares me a little. You don't want to be too original.") network president and as the situation gets funnier as it spirals downward in the second half. It's also good to see the underrated Lindsay Sloane get work (here playing one of the actresses in the show within the movie.) Apatow and Kasdan have have worked on great shows that have gotten terrific reviews, but not enough network support, such as "Freaks and Geeks" and "Grosse Pointe" and they both likely have enough experience going through many of the same things as seen in the movie.
However, what sabotages the movie a bit is its rather flat energy, which is due in part to Duchovny and also to the static, drab style. While capable of being very funny, Duchovny tries to play things mildly dramatic (and it's a good portrayal of a talent whose dreams are broken apart, piece-by-piece), and bumps up against the rest of the film's attempts to play everything else for mild laughs. Lastly, the movie just sort of...ends.
I liked "The TV Set" as an exploration (and jab at) network TV. There's some issues with aspects of the picture, but works enough to be worth checking out as a rental.
VIDEO: "The TV Set" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered average image quality, with some mild artifacting and slight edge enhancement. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any final comments on it, as the final copy will likely offer differing (and hopefully better) image quality.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was entirely dialogue-driven. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and clear music.
EXTRAS: Director Jake Kasdan and producer Judd Apatow offer an audio commentary for the film. On another commentary, Kssdan is joined by actors David Duchovny, Aaron Ryder and Linsday Sloane. The commentary with Kasdan and Apatow spends a great deal of time going into more detail about the making of a series, as well as sharing some of their personal stories about different obstacles they've ran into on shows like "Freaks and Geeks". They also spend a lot of time bashing - and rightly so - what's wrong with TV.
The commentary, as noted in the menu, is mainly focused on the inspiration for the movie, while the other commentary is more about making "The TV Set". The track with the actors and Kasdan is pretty amusing, as the bunch have a lot of fun chatting about the movie (Duchovny's deadpan humor is pretty amusing), and share some fun stories from the set.
Finally, we get a 13-minute "making of" and a deleted scene.
Final Thoughts: "The TV Set" offers some laughs and good performances (Weaver is especially funny), but the movie seems to be trying to go for laughs while Duchovny's performance seems to be trying for something a little deeper and the mix doesn't quite come together. Still, I liked enough about the movie to recommend it as a rental.
The Film B-