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The TV Set DVD Review

The TV Set movie poster The TV Set

Theatrical Release: April 6, 2007 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Jake Kasdan

Cast: David Duchovny (Mike Klein), Sigourney Weaver (Lenny), Ioan Gruffudd (Richard McCallister), Judy Greer (Alice), Fran Kranz (Zach Harper), Lindsay Sloane (Laurel Simon), Justine Bateman (Natalie Klein), Lucy Davis (Chloe McCallister), Willie Garson (Brian), M.C. Gainey (Hutch), Philip Baker Hall (Vernon Maxwell), Wendle Josepher (A.D.), Phil Rosenthal (Exec. #1/Cooper), David Doty (Exec. #2/Rose), Matt Price (Exec. #3/Berg), Simon Helberg (TJ Goldman), Kaitlin Doubleday (Jesse Filmore), Marcia Moran (Casting Director), Andrea Martin (Becky), Charlotte Salt (Sarah), Vernee Watson-Johnson (Barbara), Maurice Smith (Guard), Molly Bryant (Peggy Wallace), Aidan Mitchell (Simon McCallister), Alan Blumenfeld (Dr. Schwartz), Kathryn Joosten (Lois), Stuart Cornfeld (Mixer), Dakota Sky (Jared), Jonathan Silverman (Himself), Seth Green ("Slut Wars" host - uncredited)

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The TV Set takes a scathing but funny and smart look at the state of today's primetime programming, the flawed system used to get new shows on the air, and the wide chasm between what's good and what sells. This independent comedy was written and directed by Jake Kasdan, who has worked on four short-lived TV series this decade, most notably the acclaimed "Freaks and Geeks" for Judd Apatow, who produced TV Set as a change of pace from his lucrative newfound niche of racy blockbusters. Kasdan and Apatow have first-hand experience with television injustice and, as such, they bring both realism and vengeance to the proceedings, in addition to the wit that helped make "Freaks and Geeks" the poster child for shows that are too good and smart for network TV.

David Duchovny ("The X-Files") plays Mike Klein, the creator and writer of a series called "The Wexler Chronicles" that is among the many being considered by a major network during the busy pilot season. As pitched, "Wexler" is an original half-hour comedy that looks at the life of a young man whose brother has just committed suicide.
It may not be utterly brilliant, but Mike believes in it, and apparently so do the network's top executives, the foul-mouthed Lenny (Sigourney Weaver) and recent BBC export Richard McCallister (Ioan Gruffudd, cinema's Mr. Fantastic). The movie opens with the fictional show's casting of two young leads, a task that Mike dreads. It becomes the setting for the first in a series of many compromises that Mike has to make, as he must agree to hiring the excessively broad Zach Harper (Fran Kranz) over his subtle but bearded preferred choice.

Many more concessions are in store for the creation, and while Mike is reluctant to give into various demands, he also has to consider the well-beings of a quite pregnant wife (an unrecognizable Justine Bateman, "Family Ties") and young child. Executives and Lenny in particular object to the show's title and, more significantly, the premise's "downer" suicide aspect that has direct origins in Mike's real life. While concerns arise and are filtered through Mike's eager-to-please manager (Judy Greer), production begins on the series' pilot.

In "The TV Set" David Duchovny stars as a bearded, Judd Apatow-like writer whose visions for a new series are repeatedly compromised to network interference, one small step at a time. In a role originally written for a man, Sigourney Weaver plays Lenny, a network executive. Weaver's real-life father held a similar position for NBC in the 1950s, though we can assume he wielded his power quite differently.

There is certainly a circus-like atmosphere to the set (which the title references more than the living room fixture), as Zach's performance wavers widely in tone, the series' leading lady (Lindsay Sloane, "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch" and Kasdan-directed "Grosse Pointe") fusses over wardrobe selection, an underage actor's limited work hours count down, and director (Willie Garson) and cameraman (M.C. Gainey) have sharply conflicting interests on how to conduct business. Then there are Mike's back pains, which seem amplified by a disastrous shoot that follows a fine rehearsal. Compounding stress even more is a visit from Lenny and other suits that determines the production is to shoot scenes in two ways, in order to decide later which character has died.

Various hallmarks of the television industry that are often read about get put on film here, from meetings where advertising and demographic concerns are raised to ridiculous audience market tests to a tense, phony network upfront session. As Mike gets hospitalized and his series' fate remains much in question, one can't help but sympathize with the idealistic writer. It is equally easy to be widely amused by the on-target depiction of a network whose chief dearly values her 14-year-old daughter's frivolous opinions and doesn't think twice about quoting a catch phrase from the channel's hit reality series "Slut Wars" in front of important potential advertisers.

By charting the progress of a series that seems too sophisticated for mainstream tastes, The TV Set runs the risk of annoying viewers with what they might perceive as a holier-than-thou attitude. Such a reaction isn't justified, however. The biggest target of its satire is the television industry; its opposition to original ideas, concern for marketability over quality, and acceptance of lowest common denominator thinking are all remarked upon and not in a smarmy or snooty manner. The movie doesn't preach, offer alternatives, or make bitterness its modus operandi. Its primary objective is to entertain viewers with a look at just how humorously nightmarish it can be to get a show, especially an unconventional one, on network airwaves today.

A far cry from his bland Mr. Fantastic, Ioan Gruffudd lends the movie some heart and his natural Welsh accent as a successful former BBC exec that the Panda network has imported. Judy Greer (one of the stars of last year's quickly-axed sitcom "Love Monkey") plays Mike's flexible manager Alice, who likes to sugar-coat and twist the bad news she often dispatches.

The acting in The TV Set is natural and excellent. Duchovny is sympathetic and identifiable as the movie's Apatow-esque point-of-view. Weaver hits the right flashy notes as the realistic, career-driven woman in power who can begin a sentence on family and end it talking about Thursday night's schedule.
Kranz and Sloane are fun to watch and believable as the potential stars who are clearly not meant for an off-screen relationship. Greer and Bateman skillfully play the polar opposite women in Mike's life. Perhaps most surprising is Ioan Gruffudd, who gives his character real understated substance while trying to balance a values-challenging career with a relocated wife (Lucy Davis of the UK's "The Office") and son that need him.

It's outright baffling that a funny, intelligent film with a recognizable and accomplished cast could play in just nineteen North American theaters and earn just over $250,000 in ticket sales. That's exactly what The TV Set did, while Judd Apatow's subsequent R-rated 2007 comedies (Knocked Up, Superbad) would gross 400 to 600 times as much in about 160 times as many theaters. Of course, those two films were distributed by major studios and had multiplex-filling laughs, whereas TV Set had only young indie company Thinkfilm to distribute and a more intellectual, subdued sense of humor. For DVD release, at least, TV Set has earned the backing of a major studio in 20th Century Fox, who released the movie to disc the same day as another studio's higher profile Apatow project.

Buy The TV Set on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish;
Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98 (Reduced from $27.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

On disc, The TV Set appears in the 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio of its very limited theatrical engagements. The movie was shot on high-definition video and that's occasionally noticeable in the look of movement. Still, this is high-end digital video and it holds up pretty well to scrutiny. The transfer to DVD poses no glaring problems and videophiles will be glad to know that the disc boasts a very high average bit rate. There's not a lot to say about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Though not deficient in any noticeable way, it's a very simple, low-key mix, which is to be expected for a movie that is so dialogue-driven.

Appropriately enough, the movie's writer-director-producer Jake Kasdan is all over this DVD, appearing prominently in the making-of featurette and in both audio commentaries. Laurel gets friendly with "Weekend at Bernie's" star Jonathan Silverman (playing himself) in the deleted Upfronts material. Is it just me, or does this unchanging main menu screen make you laugh?

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Fans of The TV Set must also be audio commentary enthusiasts, or else they might be disappointed by what Fox offers in the way of supplements. Two good audio commentaries are included.
The first features writer-director-producer Jake Kasdan, producer Aaron Ryder, and stars David Duchovny and Lindsay Sloane. It's a fun, easy listen and many laughs are produced from this upbeat group. The comments are largely scene-specific and provide a fair mix of appreciative observations and behind-the-scenes stories. Both informative and amusing, the track is worth listening to and the film's trim runtime makes that easy.

The second commentary brings back Kasdan and teams him with producer Judd Apatow. Less screen-specific, their discussion reflects more on the inspiration for the movie, as Kasdan and Apatow (sometimes colorfully) recall their real life experiences of battling networks on "Freaks and Geeks", "Undeclared", and other TV programs. While the track doesn't shed much light on the movie itself, it reveals plenty about the back stories while allowing the two to get things off their chests.

Two brief video extras are also offered. "The Making of The TV Set" (14:08) covers the movie's development and production primarily with interview comments from Kasdan and cast members. The featurette is a bit conventional for accompanying a movie that's about bucking trends, but it does complement the feature in a nice, compact way.

A 3-minute, 20-second deleted scene shows more of the surreal Upfronts night, as Mike answers additional pointed interviewer's questions while Zach and Laurel strike out and hit it off, respectively, with two of the Panda network's other performers.

The disc opens with trailers for Blind Dating, Kickin' It Old Skool, Beyond the Gates, and Gray Matters. These promos aren't available from the menu, and neither is a trailer for TV Set, which is unfortunately a no-show.

The menus maintain the test pattern motif of the movie's poster and DVD artwork. Still images of characters are placed in front of a multi-colored backdrop and set to dramatic score excerpts, most amusingly in the main menu's shot of bearded Duchovny. An insert inside the case provides a list of the 20 scene selections while also promoting another independent comedy to be distributed on DVD by Fox.

One gathers that the process of creating a TV series today is quite nerve-racking. Tension permeates this shot, in which Alice, Mike, and at-odds director (Willie Garson) and cameraman (M.C. Gainey) watch filming, with network suits breathing down their necks. In the pilot-within-the-movie, Lindsay Sloane plays Laurel Simon playing Amanda, across from Fran Kranz, who portrays erratic actor Zach Harper in the lead role of Rob Wexler. Got it?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Anyone who has ever complained about contemporary TV programming or merely wondered what it's like to get a show on the air will be readily amused by Jake Kasdan's clever, funny TV Set. The movie knows what it's talking about and, thanks largely to a terrific cast, finds the right tone for its entertaining satire. With a solid slate of extras -- two eminent audio commentaries and a pair of video extras all merit the time they require, Fox's DVD gets the job done and will hopefully allow a wide audience to discover this winning comedy after its unfortunate extremely limited theatrical run. Give it a shot and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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Reviewed September 26, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 ThinkFilm and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.