Here's a shocker: folks in the TV biz are shallow narcissists who pay more attention to market research than they do to their families.
Jake Kasdan's The TV Set blows the lid off the never-before-revealed world of self-absorbed executives, desperate actors and earnest scribes who populate the backlots and sitcom sets of Hollywood. If Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Entourage, or Sidney Lumet's Network, or Robert Altman's The Player didn't clue you in on the vain, vacuous, soul-killing universe of movies and television, well, then maybe this mild, meandering look at the evolution of a TV pilot is worthy of attention.
David Duchovny, bearded and bemused, stars as Mike Klein, a producer and writer with a pregnant spouse (a bespectacled Justine Bateman) and a new pilot being considered by the Panda network (think Fox). Klein calls the show The Wexler Chronicles. It's about a guy whose brother committed suicide, and who meets a bubbly, sexy girl at the funeral. It's a comedy, but with edge.
Flanked by his manager (Judy Greer), whose biggest talent is her ability to put a positive spin on the direst of news, Klein oversees the auditioning of the two leads, with considerable feedback and reflection from Panda's team. Sigourney Weaver, offering a variation on the imperious Type A exec she satirized in Working Girl, is Lenny, the network's programming chief. Ioan Gruffudd (Sir William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace) is her erudite - and English - lieutenant. His classy work at the BBC attracted Lenny, who's hoping to counterbalance her hit reality show, Slut Wars, with something bold and sophisticated.
The TV Set tracks Klein's pilot over several months, from casting, to readings and rehearsals, into production and awaiting its fate: a go on the schedule, or a no?
Gently parodic, like a Christopher Guest spoof on Zoloft (which is, come to think of it, what Guest's For Your Consideration was), The TV Set has its moments. Fran Kranz, who plays the young actor who lands the lead as Wexler in Klein's show - and who was not Klein's choice - pulls off the tricky feat of acting like an actor who can't act, and whose ego inflates faster than an automobile's air bag. And Duchovny, stooped and angst-y, is likable, even as we watch his character abandon whatever dignity and artistic integrity he had.
In a way, The TV Set suffers from the same syndrome as the industry it's parodying: bland and compromised, it feels as if it's been fine-tuned and focus-grouped within an inch of its life.
The TV Set **1/2 (out of four stars)
Written and directed by Jake Kasdan, photography by Uta Briesewitz, distributed by THINKfilm.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins.
Mike Klein. . . David Duchovny
Lenny. . . Sigourney Weaver
Richard McAllister. . . Ioan Gruffudd
Zach Harper. . . Fran Kranz
Alice. . . Judy Greer
Parent's guide: R (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse and Ritz Sixteen/NJ
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.