Judge Neal Solon thinks Hollywood is cartoonish enough already.
No picture too small or too depressing for us.
In 2005, the IFC Channel premiered an original, animated, movie-industry-skewering series called Hopeless Pictures. Despite rave reviews from industry critics, the series lasted a mere nine episodes. Those nine episodes, each running 15 to 20 minutes, are now available in a two-disc set from Genius Products.
Facts of the Case
Mel Wax (Michael McKean, This is Spinal Tap) is the head of a small, independent movie studio named for his deceased parents Hope (Mina Kolb, A Mighty Wind) and Les (David Lander). He has an assistant, Traci (Jennifer Coolidge, Best in Show, American Pie) who is obsessed with sex and sleeps with everyone, including him. He has a wife, Sandy (Lisa Kudrow, Friends. The Opposite of Sex) who knows that he sleeps around and wants to divorce him and take not just half, but all, of his money. Perhaps most importantly, he has a shrink, Dr. Stein (Jonathan Katz, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Farce of the Penguins) that he has never actually met in person—but whom he calls the moment anything goes wrong.
Mel is intent on finding his "tent pole" movie: the one film that will make enough money to keep his studio afloat. Not surprisingly, Mel Wax calls his therapist a lot.
While the above list of characters might seem an odd introduction to a television show, it is an introduction that mimics the opening credits of Hopeless Pictures, which ran through the cast of the show and the functions of the characters each week. This let new viewers quickly and easily gain an understanding of Mel Wax's world. But as the episodes drag on (and nearly five percent of each show's running time continues to be devoted to reintroducing the cast of characters), it is clear that this is a symptom of something else entirely: no one is watching.
At least, no one was watching consistently. This might be why the show was so well received by critics. The show is funny for a couple of episodes while it sets up the relationships between the characters and establishes the intricacies of running a floundering, independent studio in a Hollywood world driven by the bottom line. In fact, each episode taken on its own, outside of the context of the series, has a number of very funny moments. The problem is that the one-note characters grow thin and monotonous when spread out over a season. Don't take one lowly viewer's word on that. Bob Balaban (Waiting for Guffman, who plays Mel Wax's bumbling nephew and studio employee Sam in a majority of the season's episodes—get it? Nepotism!), says "I don't quite remember what happens in this episode" when talking about the season finale in one of the two episode commentaries he did for this disc. Trust him; it all runs together.
It is sad, because genuinely funny moments are there. Pitches from independent filmmakers and studio staffers are so absurd that they're genius. Mel has conversations with his therapist while driving in his car and juggling two other phone calls. A lot of one-off lines are surprising and funny, in an absurdist way. It is hard to believe that a majority of them were ad libbed by the voice actors. But they were. Most of the humor, like most of the show itself, is driven by the loosely scripted dialogue performed by the show's cast of characters.
The animation is utilitarian and simplistic, but effective. People often look like walking, talking marionettes without strings drawn to emphasize their defining features: Mel's big head, Traci's huge breasts, studio executive Futterman's (Rob Reiner) mammoth member. These characterizations provide some humor, as do little things such as billboards flying by on the road advertising fake movies that are riffs on films of years past. The major upside of seeing this show on DVD is that the little jokes drawn into the background are much easier to catch with pause and rewind buttons at hand.
The DVD also provides decent video and audio transfers, with only a handful of noticeable combing effects. Two episode commentaries provide little more than director Bob Balaban talking about the actors and how most of them knew each other from Christopher Guest projects. There are three deleted scenes, two of which involve sex (one a threesome with a monkey), and a small collection of storyboards.
If Hopeless Pictures was still on TV, I'd suggest you catch an episode or two. The humor is less obvious and less forced than many of today's more popular animated shows and sometimes just as funny. As a DVD purchase where the short episodes are bound to be consumed in quick succession, however, the show will inevitably wear thin and quickly lose its appeal. Certainly, if you're curious, check out a few episodes. But be wary of spending your hard-earned money on this set, which will likely do little more than gather dust on your shelf.
The characters already suffer the fate of living in Hollywood—what more would you have me do?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Two Episode Commentaries
Review content copyright © 2007 Neal Solon; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.