Serial Movie Review

Martin Mull is a little-remembered comedian of the '70s and '80s, best known for TV's Fernwood 2-Night and the HBO series The History of White People in America (with collaborator Fred Willard, since then a fixture in Christopher Guest movies). Mull achieved greatness only with Serial, an underrated mainstream comedy with moments of Albert Brooks-like social satire.

Based on a novel by Cyra McFadden about the wacky California hot-tub culture of the late '70s, Serial expanded on the novel's Marin County setting to skewer the entire decadent nation. Mull plays a working stiff whose wife (Tuesday Weld, in an excellent performance) leaves him to find herself. His teenage daughter joins a cult, and Mull tries to adapt to a single lifestyle while wanting his family back. The supporting characters include a psychologist (Peter Bonerz) who encourages Mull's best friend to drown himself in the Bay to achieve oneness with the universe, and Tom Smothers as a hippie priest who begins a wedding by apologizing for being part of a society that "kills whales."

The film uses these wacky characters to comment on the emptiness of cultural orthodoxy, and I can't think of many films that have done it better. Subsequent '70s spoofs (The Ice Storm, Boogie Nights, That 70s Show, etc.) have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, but Serial was one of very few films (along with Network, of course) to ridicule the empty self-indulgence of the decade while it was still going on. Though some of its one-liners miss, the film's more pointed observations are often spot on; and even some of the broader gags are well done (like a scene where Mull tiptoes through an orgy).

The ending descends into silliness, and like any film designed to capture a specific time and place, Serial feels dated (especially the opening scenes). Still, Serial deserves a lot of credit for daring to throw sacred cows on the grill. Sure, America has moved onto different fads, and feminism and psychoanalysis are not the unassailable cultural forces they were back then. But beneath the one-liners, Serial is really about the emptiness of narcissism and self-deceit. And Americans are just as self-absorbed, and almost as politically correct as ever, if not more so.

Besides, if those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, then a print of Serial should be preserved in perpetuity along with other '70s artifacts (Styx records, the Jungle Room at Graceland, etc.) to make sure we never forget the Me Decade.

Cast & Crew

Director : Bill Persky

Producer :

Starring : , , Jennifer McAllister, , , , , Tom Smothers


Serial Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: NR, 1980


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