Hollywood baby Jake Kasdan's lethally mild parody examines the trials and tribulations of trying to keep your vision intact while placating moronic actors, sullen crew members and studio executives who aspire to the icy, effortless venality of Faye Dunaway in NETWORK (1976). Freaks and Geeks/Undeclared survivor Kasdan knows the territory, but appears not to realize how trivial and self-deluded his complaints about the confidence-destroying mediocrity of TV sound to industry outsiders. Television moneymen (and women) are ratings-obsessed whores? Say it isn't so!
Hoping to produce a gentle, witty, loosely autobiographical series for a network whose lineup is anchored by reality effluvia and scripted trash like "Slut Wars," "Skrewd" and "Jean Poole," writer-producer Mike Stein (David Duchovny) can hardly believe his luck when the pilot for "The Wexler Chronicles" is greenlit by homegrown land-shark Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), whose idea of bold casting is Lucy Lawless in a sitcom, and by BBC-endorsed import Richard McCallister (Ioan Gruffudd), her head of programming. They love his script, in which a young lawyer goes home for his brother's funeral and decides to stay. It's sort of a cross between Wings meets Ed, the suits say, as Mike grimaces and watches them put the kibosh on his theater-trained lead in favor of mugging, pandering, goofball Zach Harper (Fran Kranz). And they wonder, aloud and often, whether the brother really has to commit suicide. Couldn't he be in jail, they ask plaintively, even after Mike points out that the suicide thing is kind of important to him because, well, his own brother killed himself. The soul-sucking wrangling continues on the set: Mike's chirpy, reflexively insincere agent (Judy Greer) keeps relaying network concerns (they still don't like the suicide it's depressing), the peevish director and union crew undermine his every effort, and Zach turns Mike's fictional stand-in into an eye-rolling buffoon.
Is the network development process skewed to leech every ounce of originality out of projects in favor of pandering to market research, focus groups and ass-covering capitulations to the boss' whims? No doubt. Do executives, writers, actors and a small army of support personnel screw up their private lives and compromise their core values to produce reprehensible swill and blandly inoffensive fluff? Sure. But THE TV SET is to NETWORK what the long-running series M*A*S*H is to Robert Altman's savage, unruly film of the same name: Insipid, formulaic and suitable for the dumbed-down sensibilities of lowest-common-denominator couch potatoes. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh