Here's the deal: back in 1999, Jake Kasdan, Judd Apatow, and Paul Feig were the driving forces behind Freaks & Geeks, a high school series that was arguably one of the best shows ever on television. Well, people were really into that whole Friends thing so it got cancelled. Kasdan and Apatow went on to make Undeclared, a college series almost as good as its predecessor. But it got cancelled because the public wanted to see how many cockroaches someone could eat while being hassled by the handyman from NewsRadio.
Apatow and Kasdan got their wits about them and moved to the big screen. Kasdan directed the enjoyably ramshackle Orange County while Apatow went onto direct sleeper hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin. As we wait for Apatow's much-touted Knocked Up, Kasdan gives us his follow up: The TV Set, a thinly-veiled attack on the people behind the boob tube, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival almost a year ago.
Mike Klein (David Duchovny) has just begun casting his television pilot The Wexler Chronicles, a series about a young man who returns home after a family tragedy. Then, like dragon's breath, in blows Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), the network head, nudging and pushing Klein toward her thinking using everything from light flirting to straight-out threats. Klein's only friend is Richard McAllister (Ioan Gruffudd), the newly-appointed head of programming who loves Klein's show. And as if Lenny's manipulative theatrics weren't enough, Klein and McAllister have to deal with the show's stars (Fran Kranz and Lindsay Sloane). They went on a date: He's obsessed and she's creeped out.
Perhaps on purpose, Kasdan's sophomore effort feels strikingly like a television pilot in pacing and structure, setting off several conflicts that are still left with wet hair at the end of the film's blunt 87-minute runtime. Most perplexing of all is Duchovny's character. The look in his eyes at the film's end is that of disbelief, not defeat, as Lenny announces his show right next to her biggest hit, Slut Wars. Where is the belief that Klein will continue to fight or that he has given into the pressure of expected disappointment? We're left in-limbo, much like we were at the end of Undeclared and Freaks & Geeks.
The TV Set's comedic bravado has an acidic burn to it, and if Kasdan's point was to use the film as metaphor, its attitude towards the audience is spiteful at best. However, there's no denying the talent here; if this was a pilot, it'd be the most promising one seen since Arrested Development. Duchovny and Weaver are amazing as ideological foils with Gruffudd giving a stunningly strong straight-man performance. Whatever it is, the film is at the very least interesting. If it's an allegory, it's rather pompous and overbearing but true; if it's a film, it's half-baked but well observed. Kasdan, with good cause, has a serious problem with where television has ended up. Given the recent cancellation of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip due mostly to people watching wealthy 16-year-olds whine about not getting their way and aspiring dancers trying to get famous by tangoing with J. Peterman from Seinfeld, can you really blame him?
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