'The TV Set' is tuned in to network satire


If you're going to sing a tune that everybody knows, you'd better have something new to bring to the melody if you're going to make people notice. Though writer-director Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set" isn't telling us much that we don't already know about the soul-depleting venality of commercial television, the movie deserves attention because of its sunlit graces, droll subtleties, terrific performances and soft-boiled rue. Besides, not everybody out there has seen "Network," right?

Those who have encountered that declamatory 1976 satire will in alllikelihood recognize Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), the president of the mythical Panda television network, as a crass, avaricious descendant (or mutation) of Faye Dunaway's crass, avaricious programmer in the earlier film. Lenny, played with alarmingly clammy gusto by Weaver, wields the kind of sensibility in which the word "smart" is a pejorative, especially as it applies to any project with a higher mental wattage than Panda's biggest prime-time hit, "Slut Wars."

Veteran TV writer Mike Klein (a bearded, subdued David Duchovny) knows this going in with his first series pilot as a producer: a comedy-drama with a plot drawn from his own struggle to cope with his brother's suicide. An ex-BBC programmer (Ioan Gruffudd) hired by Panda to upgrade the network's quality quotient emboldens Mike to press on with his vision, regardless of Lenny's many qualms.

But the compromises begin at the outset as Mike's first choice for theseries' lead (a glum and bearded actor, of course) is nixed in favor of an overbearing glandular case (Fran Kranz), who's cute enough for the great American living room. Also, Lenny's qualms persist: Like, does the brother have to be a suicide? Why can't he be in jail? It spoils nothing to disclose that it gets worse for Mike from here on.

The movie's core depiction of creativity and imagination under siege byinstitutionalized shallowness is drawn starkly enough. But it's the people and things along the periphery of the conflict that will extract the most knowing smiles from the audience. The wonderful Judy Greer, for example, plays all the right notes as Mike's gratuitously cheerful manager, whose "everything's great" mantra is always trailed by the ooze of bad news.

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