Friday, April 20, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"The TV Set" a bemused-as-heck take on TV vacuity

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The TV Set," with David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd, Judy Greer, Fran Kranz, Justine Bateman. Written and directed by Jake Kasdan.

89 minutes. Rated R for language.

Anyone who makes a film about that seemingly bottomless pit of stupidity known as the American TV industry is inevitably risking comparison to the 1976 classic "Network," in which Sidney Lumet and the late, great Paddy Chayefsky savaged the business of television in a manner that, if anything, is even more relevant today.

Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set" is a tame kitten to "Network's" roaring lion. It's not a satire, per se, and doesn't urge its audience to yell, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" — even though you may wish it did. Chayefsky would surely spin in his grave if he could see what's on the boob tube these days, but Kasdan seems more bemused than indignant, resigned to accept the inner workings of a business that prides itself on a lack of originality.

The result, in "The TV Set," is a gentle, frequently funny take on "pilot season," the annual ritual of new-series production that Kasdan knows from the inside out. Responding to his own experience as a writer-producer on the acclaimed but short-lived sitcom "Freaks and Geeks," Kasdan (the son of "Big Chill" writer-director Lawrence Kasdan) has crafted an easygoing critique of TV that gets so many details right that you wish it had a more potent kick to it. In attempting to draw parallels between the process of selecting new TV shows and electing public officials, "The TV Set" snarls without barking, and the material begs for an attack-dog sensibility.

David Duchovny plays Mike Klein, the writer of the pilot for "The Wexler Chronicles," a semi-autobiographical dramedy based on his own struggle to accept his brother's suicide. The show has "thirtysomething" potential, but vacuous network executive Lenny (Sigourney Weaver, nailing her role), whose latest hit is a reality series called "Slut Wars," gradually strips it of the qualities that made it worthwhile. With dwindling savings and a pregnant wife (played with intelligent warmth by Justine Bateman), Mike must place his fate in the hands of a corporate princess who thrives on the lowest common denominator.

Kasdan hits his targets with admirable precision, and he's got a casual touch that brings out the subtleties of his well-chosen cast, notably in the anguished form of a BBC producer (Ioan Gruffudd) recruited to inject Brit-com appeal into Mike's once-promising pilot. "The TV Set" is spot-on when showing how ambitious, well-meaning artists are suffocated by executives who lack their creative conviction.

What's missing here is the sense that anything truly vital is at stake — like, say, our cultural intelligence or the future of mainstream entertainment. Our current primetime schedule should fill anyone with the same rage that Chayefsky felt more than 30 years ago, but "The TV Set" represses its anger. As that famous ad slogan once asked, where's the beef?

Jeff Shannon:

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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