- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

Anyone who thinks there’s an awful lot of drivel on television — and wonders how it got there — should enjoy “The TV Set.”

This sharp satire, which follows a single show from inception to possible pick-up, demonstrates how even good series invariably seem to go bad.

David Duchovny (“The X-Files”) stars as Mike Klein, an earnest television writer who has high hopes for his latest project. He’s received the go-ahead for his pilot, which will be produced before the network decides whether to put the series on its schedule.

The series is a personal one for Mike. “The Wexler Chronicles,” as he has named it, revolves around a man named Wexler whose brother committed suicide — like Mike’s own sibling. It sounds like the sort of show created by Judd Apatow, whose cult series “Freaks and Geeks” had its pilot directed by “TV Set” writer-director Jake Kasdan.

The title “The TV Set” is a play on words. As we watch “The Wexler Chronicles” make the climb from idea to reality, we meet the various people involved — Lenny, the head of the network (Sigourney Weaver, “Alien”); Richard, the network’s head of programming (Ioan Gruffudd, “Fantastic Four”); Alice, Mike’s manager (Judy Greer, “Arrested Development”); and the actors and crew members who make the show happen.

Pretty much all of them test Mike’s integrity time and time again. His wife, Natalie (Justine Bateman, “Family Ties”) is no exception. She’s very pregnant and very much wants to see Mike with a steady job — even if it means his show must get dumber and dumber, which it steadily does.

“Original scares me a little,” one of the network suits tells Mike. “You don’t want to be too original.”

The compromises start out relatively small — Mike can’t cast his top choice — and quickly get bigger. Soon, even the pilot’s raison d’etre goes out the window. “Suicide is depressing to like 82 percent of everybody,” one character declares.

Mike isn’t the only one struggling with his conscience. While Lenny doesn’t seem to have one (Miss Weaver is awfully good playing bad), her colleague does. Richard is a recent hire, coming to the network from the BBC, where he had a stellar reputation. He tries to put just one really good show on the American network, but the system fights him at every turn, aiming always for the lowest common denominator. His wife (Lucy Davis, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) succinctly sums up his situation: “It’s beneath you, sweetheart,” she says. However, as Lenny tells him, in a rare attempt at sympathy, “Spouses are not necessarily a fixture of the schedule.”

Mr. Gruffudd and his character are two of “The TV Set’s” highlights. The actor is better known in his native Britain than he is here, but with his good looks and lightly carried intelligence, that will quickly change. He more than holds his own among such veterans as Mr. Duchovny and Miss Weaver (who are both hilarious without seeming to try).

Mr. Kasdan, son of director-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill,” “The Accidental Tourist”) had an auspicious debut nearly a decade ago with “The Zero Effect,” one of the most melancholy comedies of the 1990s. He’s barely over 30, but his work entertains with an underlying seriousness that’s a rarity even for older filmmakers. He certainly understands the television world where sex and sensationalism seem to sell. (The network’s big hit is a reality show called “Slut Wars.”)

“The TV Set” is a literate comedy about what sometimes feels like one of our least literate art forms.

***

TITLE: “The TV Set”

RATING: R (language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Jake Kasdan

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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