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From the Austin Film Festival: The TV Set

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Release Date: TBA

The opening night film of the festival, The TV Set, is a satirical look at the world of television production from the mewling and puking of the show concept, through the pilot taping, straight on to the network picking it up for the new Fall line up. It’s a tale of butting heads — creativity vs. marketability — offered from Jake Kasdan, the director of Orange County.

Mike (David Duchovny) struggles with creating the pilot for his TV show, a heartfelt dramatic comedy about a young man who comes back to his home town after his brother commits suicide. His only real obstacle is Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), the top brass at the network who strangles all with her smile and who double talks Mike out of most of his best ideas. She loves everything about the show, except the title, Mike's choice for the lead role and, unsurprisingly, the main impetus and concept of the entire project.

The rest of the movie is a excellent seat on a train wreck that turns a genuine story into one that will sell to the masses. By the end of it all, a personal tale becomes one littered with comically animated dialogue, delivery, and fart jokes thrown in for good measure. After all, Mike will have to keep up with the network’s top show, Slut Wars, right?

Thrown in the mix are Zach (Fran Kanz), a terrible actor the network loves, and Laurel (Lindsay Sloane), a talented presence who wants nothing to do with Zach’s pathetic romantic advances. Gratifyingly, no one seems to like anyone else in this movie. Even Richard (Ioan Gruffudd), a new executive at the network, can’t seem to help Mike and his original vision get off the ground.

David Duchovny in The TV SetYou don’t have to be familiar with Jake Kasdan’s track record — especially Freaks and Geeks — to understand that this movie is a personal one. It’s a story that defeats every aspiring writer who sees it, taking them from the high of one day seeing their name in lights to the crude reality that finding success might not be worth the trouble.

For a audience not salivating to sell scripts for a living, it’s a fun movie with some moments that prove difficult to watch. Duchovny’s Mike is a great sympathetic character who stands powerless against the corporate steamroller of audience polling. On top of his neutered sense of worth within the process, Mike and his wife (Justine Bateman) have another child on the way.

The TV Set is the kind of movie that doesn’t shy away from allowing tough decision-making be the norm for the characters, and that’s something to appreciate in an era in which most leading men and ladies save the planet with ease before returning home to supper. This movie has real people dealing with real life problems — albeit the problems of a semi-successful writer and the players in a romanticized version of Hollywood production.

It’s also nice to see impressive acting from an intimate ensemble. Duchovny shines as a leading man with a wide range of problems — joys that become nightmares, successes that become burdens. Gruffudd offers a strong performance for a subdued character, and Weaver steals most of the show with her smirking cruelty and hurtful statements hidden behind kind words. Last of all, Fran Kranz and Lindsay Sloane have bright futures ahead of them as actors. Hidden in the background of supporting roles, it’s easy to imagine them both in leads within the next few years, and Hollywood would be better for it. They both have a good sensibility about what works, and Kranz, especially, showed range as an actor willing to play a bad actor.

The film is entertaining if you enjoy a good story with strong writing, directing, and acting. It’s awkward at times, but that only adds to the audience fighting for Mike and wondering if he’ll get his Hollywood ending by the credits. But The TV Set also has a quiet desperation running through it that gives it credibility and a reason to see it more than once.

The Upside: Brilliant writing being delivered by great actors pulled together by strong directing.

The Downside: Can be slow at times.

On the Side: Fran Kranz has worked with Jake Kasdan before on Orange County.

On a personal note: Did your movie have to be, like, so sad, Mr. Kasdan? Call me crazy, but I think it’ll play in the midwest better as a madcap farce, buddy-cop movie.

Grade: A-

Cole Abaius is a Critic for Film School Rejects

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