Television is an easy target. All you have to do is channel surf for five minutes any day of the week to nail the medium for its unabashed stupidity and venality. Most movies on the topic, recently “American Dreamz”, screw up by pushing too hard. Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence), the writer and director of The TV Set, wisely avoids that trap. He knows the drill too well having worked with Judd Apatow on “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared”, two sitcoms that show how often smart equals quick cancellation on the tube.
In his third feature (after Zero Effect and Orange County), Kasdan traces the birth pangs of a sitcom called “The Wexler Chronicles” which the show’s writer Mike Klein (a pricelessly deadpan David Duchovny) fashioned around the suicide of his brother. Naturally, the network is horrified. Sigourney Weaver is scarily hilarious and flat-out fabulous as Lenny, the network prez determined to turn Mike’s head around. “Originality scares me,” is her mantra. Richard (Ioan Gruffudd), her classy new hire from the BBC, sides with Mike at first. But Lenny doesn’t do dark scripts. She’s just hit it big with a reality show called “Slut Wars” and she knows intuitively that Mike’s series will play better with a brother who’s not dead and a new title, “Call Me Crazy”. Call me crazy, but there’s a lot more going on in The TV Set than first meets the eye. You’ll have major fun at this movie. But what makes it something special is the way Kasdan laces the laughs with a sting. It’s not every comedy that takes measure of what compromise can do to life and art. Kasdan sneaks up on you. I mean it as compliment when I say that his movie would never hit paydirt on television.