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The TV Set   (released 3/21/2007)
By Neil Norman

     With the flavor of the month on television this season being shows about TV shows (see 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) it hasn’t taken long for a feature film version to follow the trend.

     The TV Set is a feature film by Writer/Director Jake Kasdan (Orange County) about the life of a pilot TV show from concept to airing and the trials and tribulations in between. Kasdan, with his Television experience through Freaks & Geeks, Undeclared, and the adaptation of his own feature film Zero Effect (the pilot was never picked up), has the right amount of insider knowledge to create a faithful impression of the hyper-real world of Television production.

     The main players in this picture are Mike Klein, played by David Duchovny in a non-typecast turn as a pilot Director who yearns to keep creative control of his intensely personal program, and Sigourney Weaver as Lenny, the President of the "Panda" Network who makes all her creative decisions by eliciting the opinion of her teenaged daughter. Other roles in the ensemble cast include Judy Greer (The Village, Elisabethtown) as Alice, a smiling Yes-woman assistant to Lenny, Ioan Gruffud (Reed Richards in Fantastic Four) as Richard McAlllister a BBC producer brought from across the pond to bring a semblance of culture to the Network's programming, and Justine Bateman as Natalie Klein, Michael's warm, caring, and six months pregnant wife, who absolutely wants her husband’s pilot to get picked up. Fran Kranz (Orange County, The Village) and Lindsay Sloane (Valerie from Sabrina the Teenage Witch) portray the lead actors of the show, Zack Harper and Laurel Simon, though they are little but cogs in the giant TV machine. My vote for best small performance goes to character actor M. C. Gainey for his role as the exasperated Gaffer.

     The show begins when we meet young actor Zack Harper on his way to his first Network session. He is fired up and practicing his lines in the car in his over the top acting style. Unbeknownst to him, the Director Mike has already decided to cast the other actor in the role. Unfortunately for Mike, the suits have different ideas as Zack kills in his audition where the other guy is droll. Once Lenny gets it in her head that Zack is the guy, there is no turning back. Mike Klein grimaces in pain when he loses his first choice, but he can't sacrifice the show for an actor, or can he? Laurel Simon is cast as Zack's opposite because she, according to Lenny, "doesn’t let her cuteness get in the way of her hotness.

Mike capitulates to Lenny and the suits meddling when the Englishman McAllister gives him hope that his show is really good and has a chance at getting on the air. McAllister tells Mike Klein that he will really go to bat for him and promises to protect Mike's original vision. He will ensure that the subject matter will remain, as originally written, about the personal matter of his brother's suicide. When that plot device is threatened, as Lenny and cadre pretty much takes over the production, "Suicide is depressing to 82% of everybody," Mike has a breakdown both spiritual and physical through a back injury. In the end Mike gives in to keep his soon-to-come baby fed and we are hit with the thematic point of the film: Why do the executives seem committed to shoveling so much crap through the TV set into our minds when there are talented artists out there with stories that really matter?

     The whole film is styled in the form of a TV program, from the intro credits sequence to it's close to a traditional movie-of-the-week length (90 minutes). It really seems to be an accurate portrayal of the industry and a satire of its shortcomings, and even more so the consumers who continue to accept it. There are many in-jokes that will be appreciated by members of the film or TV Production industry, if a little less accessible to the common viewer.

     By the end of the film we are aware that the title has a triune meaning. The actual physical TV Set which pumps content into our heads almost daily, The microcosm of the TV Set where the productions are filmed and change and creative sacrifice is an often occurring event, and perhaps most damaging, is the mindset of the powers that be that decide what we like and what we will watch for us. Sometimes they get it right, but often times they are horribly wrong. Thank goodness for Networks like HBO and FX, and for filmmakers like Jake Kasdan who give us a likeable dark comedy, complete with social commentary, about the industry.

Neil Norman is a freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Central Florida. Neil also works on independent film productions.

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