Monday, 12 January 2009

The TV Set

Lowdown: The ordeal of turning an idea into a sitcom.
I have heard good things about The TV Set for a while. Since watching the stupidly funny Walk Hard, though, my interest levels rose exponentially as both were directed by Jake Kasdan (who also happened to write The TV Set).
As The TV Set starts, we’re thrown into a rather abrupt no introduction experience with David Duchovny, who – it’s apparent – has written the script for a sitcom, based on his own life story, which is now in pilot stage. If deemed successful it will get itself serialized; otherwise Duchovny, whose wife is expecting a second baby, would have to find someone else to do with his life.
The TV Set takes us through just a few key occasions in the life of the sitcom. First there is the casting of the main lead roles, then decisions about whether the brother commits suicide or whether a happier alternative is found, then whether the original title of Wexler Chronicles is to remain, and then airing issues such as timeslots and more. As we go through we become exposed to additional characters and we learn more about them: We have an ex BBC producer who was imported to the American network and moved with his family to the USA for this lucrative job; the guy sees the potential in Duchovny’s script and helps promote it. Then there’s the guy who Duchovny didn’t want as the male lead but who ended up getting the role. Pulling the wires above all of them is Sigourney Weaver in another excellent performance as the monster with the smiling face that manages the commercial TV station’s scheduling.
The beauty of The TV Set is in the way it exposes the string of compromises Duchovny has to learn to accept as his sitcom evolves. The moral question faces him is whether to stand up to his values or whether to bite the bullet and get as close to his values as he can in the face of the Weaver adversary who is interested in ratings and ratings only (and doesn’t see anything wrong with introducing a reality show called Slut Wars during peak viewing time). Duchovny is not the only one facing moral dilemmas: The ex BBC guy shares the same dilemmas as he has to choose between family and work. The lead male actor is not deliberating a thing: we clearly see how his morals fly off as the smell of success replaces them.
The main problem with The TV Set is that it’s not funny. Now, many if not most films are not funny, but it does become a problem when the film is labelled as a comedy. I’m not saying The TV Set is bad; I think it’s a good film overall. It’s just that the labelling is wrong; in my opinion, it should be sold as a drama to set the expectations right, mainly because it doesn’t work by making you laugh your belly out (the way we’ve been trained to expect of comedy) but rather it makes you cringe as the film unfolds and the grotesque compromises becomes more so. Given that, the film’s short running time at less than an hour and a half is spot on.
On the positive side of the same thing, the story that The TV Set is trying tell is a story worth telling. The processes that take place over the sitcom are not unique to the TV world: politics work in exactly the same way, for example. We tend to have ourselves bright young candidates promising many a promise, but put them in office and let them face the bureaucracy that is the system and quickly enough promises are forgotten and compromises mixed with corruption become the rule. After all, that is why we still have to contend with global warming. I don’t even need to go as far as politics see The TV Set: I only need look at my own office.
Funniest scene: As I said, The TV Set is not funny. In my opinion, there is just one scene in it that is, and that is when Seth Green hosts an eviction episode of Slut Wars, Weaver’s flagship broadcast scheduling program.
Best scene: The sitcom’s male and female stars rehearse and then shoot a scene three times, over which you can see the [negative] changes taking place over the male lead affecting his acting. And more interestingly, you see how much the others care for the deteriorating performances. I found it interesting for a much more mundane reason too: I’m not much of an acting appraiser, so having the opportunity to see the same script performed in different ways proved quite stimulating.
Overall: Not funny but thought provoking and well made. 3 out of 5 stars.

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