Lights, camera, same old action
Two new showbiz shows use every cliché in the book, but only one gets the part.
What hath Entourage wrought? Two new IFC comedies are both profoundly obsessed with the ins and outs of the industry, and fascinated with their own ability (and sometimes inability) to essentially roast themselves: See, they’re actors acting like actors, writers writing about writers—it’s all very meta. And if you make a show about making movies, but you don’t include every Hollywood stereotype imaginable—heartless agents, artless studios, struggling and earnest screenwriters, fumbling directors, too-aggressive producers—well, what good was all that effort? No, it seems the less subtle the better when it comes to skewering filmmaking, at least if The Business and The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman are any indication.
Entourage’s overtness isn’t just a badge of pride; it’s effectively the series’ calling card, and the show doesn’t stray from its literal style. But The Business wants it both ways. Rob Deleeuw stars as Vic Morgenstein (née Morgen, now that he’s converting to Judaism) in this spin-off of IFC’s little-noticed series The Festival. Both there and here, Morgenstein is a low-level softcore-porn producer trying to change his spots by starting an indie film production company. He woos Julia Sullivan (Kathleen Robertson, recognizable as Clare on 90210) away from her job at IFC to produce the company’s first feature, which includes such tasks as finding funding, wrangling the acting talent and sweet talking the moody director. On the one hand, The Business badly wants to seem real. Listen for the incessantly ringing phones in the background (perhaps a nod to The Office), some awkward line deliveries, the shaky camera work. It’s mildly entertaining, but so are most single-camera comedies.
The Business tries to infuse this brand of humor with canned, overblown characters who sap whatever humanity the show had struggled to develop. There’s the party-hard Japanese businessman investor who pees on the carpet, breaks windows and carries around a samurai sword. Ho, ho, how inventive. In the world’s least-shocking plot development, the porn star turns out to be a fantastic “real” actress. Wow, is the lead actor deeply stupid and a jackass? Talk about creativity.
Despite its stunted characters, The Business isn’t a complete wash. Just like cheap, shitty beer still gets you drunk, some of the cheap, shitty material still works. Most of the credit goes to Deleeuw, who combines hapless pornographer with soon-to-be-Jew for the perfect pronunciation of meshuga.
In the ways that The Business abuses its premise, Minor makes perfect use of its star character. We had never found Laura Kightlinger funny until her recent spots on Lucky Louie, and she’s enchanting here as the titular booze-hungry wanna-be screenwriter. Minor treads some of the same ground as The Business, namely by playing up the assumption that most people in Los Angeles are vacant social climbers and that the film industry is terribly difficult to break into. What redeems the show from formulaic drivel is that Kightlinger’s Jackie is detached from that culture, just as we’d want our darkly wry heroine to be. Everyone she meets flips upon finding out she doesn’t drive. “I was born without the use of a car, so it’s what seems natural to me,” she sighs.
Kightlinger’s voice is unique to the series, but her surroundings are anything but. On the pilot episode, she tries to rescue her pal from a cult, which would be funnier had it not also been an episode of So noTORIous a few months ago. Jackie develops a little crush on a fancy director who, lo and behold, wants to engage in water sports. That was a good Sex and the City episode, sort of. And we’re pretty sure we’ve seen pretending to have cancer on ten other sitcoms. Nicholle Tom (yes, from The Nanny), as Jackie’s sidekick best friend, seemingly vacuumed her character together from dust left by other actors playing slutty best pals (Rhoda, Blanche, Samantha, etc.).
We can forgive Minor, though, because amid these rehashed plots are a story and a character we care about. Jackie and her love interest/script-writing partner make up after a fight and are sitting on patio chairs a few feet apart. As they make up, both slowly inch their chairs a little closer together. It’s sweet without being cute, and it’s that glimmer of unbitter humanity that saves the series from itself. Hollywood’s an easy target, so it’s those moments away from the bright lights of Tinseltown when the series really shines.
The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman and The Business debut Friday 4 at 10 and 10:30pm, respectively, on IFC.