"One of the most interesting and provocative ideas that you hear about television right now is this idea that—right now—all of us are living through the golden age of television," radio host Ira Glass said recently on This American Life. "That this, right now, is a kind of golden age that people are gonna look back on the way that we look on the '20s and '30s as a heyday for jazz, or the '70s as a heyday for auteurish movies." I'm fairly sure that theory is dead-on: Shedding its reputation as "the idiot box," TV is finally justifying its pervasiveness with legitimately great works.
One of those great works might be the new series from The TV Set's Mike (David Duchovny), who's crafted an autobiographical show about a man returning home after his brother's suicide. The network orders a pilot, and the problems begin: "Does the brother really have to commit suicide?" one network exec asks. "It's just so sad," another adds. Casting goes terribly, and once Mike gets on set, there are new problems, old problems ("Does the brother really have to commit suicide?"), and the machinations of venomous exec Lenny (Sigourney Weaver).
Jake Kasdan—who directed the brilliant, short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks—wrote and directed The TV Set, and it's a brutally keen bit of satire. At times, the film can feel too broad, but largely it's disconcertingly subtle and darkly hilarious. (In one scene, we glimpse the network's schedule, which features Lost and ER—but also includes faux shows CSI: Crime Scene and Slut Wars, a program that seems absurd only if you haven't seen The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll).
While it's clever, and anchored by great performances, we already know The TV Set's morals: That the most creative among us are beaten down, and that the system is calibrated for the lowest common denominator. But The TV Set grins through those sad truths—and proves itself a pretty indispensable guide for those of us living and watching through this golden age of television.