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3 series amuse but don’t amaze

Times Staff Writer

Taking a few steps past “Henry’s Film Corner” and “Film School” into original productions, the Independent Film Channel has bundled three comedy series -- a cartoon, a mockumentary and a puppet show, all related, naturally, to the movies -- into an hourlong omnibus, premiering tonight.

The package has a kind of can’t-be-bothered-to-go-out-on-Friday-night appeal; all of the series are amusing, and none is remarkable. One might call them lackadaisically funny. What pleasures they offer derive as much from the details of the execution -- the visual asides and improvisational rhythms of the Flash-animated “Hopeless Pictures,” the excellent puppetry in “Greg the Bunny” -- as from the material.

“The Festival,” which comes from Canada and is the only series of the three to feature live humans, concerns a farm-league Sundance seen through the framework of a supposed Independent Film Channel documentary. At its center is first-time director Rufus Marquez (Nicolas Wright), who has come to the snowy festival to show his “The Unreasonable Truth About Butterflies,” starring empty-headed childhood friend Lance (James A. Woods), now an action-film star. There are also a distributor, as large as a Weinstein, with an affection for one syllable titles; the festival organizers; a corporate sponsor named Marshall Stack III (a pun for electric guitar players); and the angry lesbian director of “My Vagina Scares You,” who winds up rooming with Rufus. It owes much to Christopher Guest and adds nothing new to an overworked genre other than the youth of its cast.

“Hopeless Pictures” is about a not particularly successful Hollywood producer and the studio he runs. (“No picture too small or too depressing for us” is its motto). The estimable Bob Balaban, who himself played a Hollywood studio head in “Gosford Park,” is behind it though here he voices not the studio head but his nebbishy nephew. Michael McKean plays main character Mel Wax with Lisa Kudrow as his long-suffering wife, phoning in regularly with fresh evidence of his adultery; Jennifer Coolidge is Tracy, the head of development, in a constant state of cosmetic alteration. (“That sweater is unbelievable,” someone tells her. “Thank you,” she replies. “It’s a small.”)

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Jonathan Katz -- who as Comedy Central’s “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist” is the godfather of improvisational cartoon comedy -- is a therapist again here. “The visuals have the look of a children’s book, drawn by children. There is cartoon sex and some vulgar punning but also a reference to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, of all unexpected things.

Returning to IFC after an ill-starred season, a few years back, as a Fox sitcom, “Greg the Bunny” presents movie parodies with his puppet pals Warren “Professor Ape” Demontague and Count Blah. Tonight is “Bunnie Hall,” a Woody Allen riff, in which Greg (as Woody) falls in love with the lobster he’s about to boil: “I introduced her to New York culture and she taught me all about what it was like to suck algae off of old battleships.” There is puppet-lobster sex -- fairly disturbing, actually. To Warren, who assays the Tony Roberts role, Greg/Woody says, “I have a strict rule about not dating marionettes -- for one thing, there’s too many strings attached.”

It’s all about that level. The look of the original film is surprisingly well captured (with real New York locations), and the puppetry and voice work of co-creator Dan Milano are wonderful throughout.

*

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‘Film Fanatic Fridays’

‘Hopeless Pictures’

Where: IFC

When: 10 tonight

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Ratings: Mature audiences only

‘Greg the Bunny’

Where: IFC

When: After ‘Hopeless Pictures’

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Ratings: Parental guidance suggested

‘The Festival’

Where: IFC

When: After ‘Greg the Bunny’

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Ratings: Parents strongly cautioned, with special advisory for sexual situations and coarse language


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