TV Recap

Bodily Dysfunctions

On ''On the Lot,'' the number of wannabe directors suddenly drops to 18, and we see a selection of one-minute comedies with some spark but too much gas

LAB RAD Zach made an amazing one-take short about a series of scientific disasters
LAB RAD Zach made an amazing one-take short about a series of scientific disasters

''On the Lot'': The numbers drop again

Good morning to all 14 of you who are not related in some way to one of the contestants or judges and yet are still watching On the Lot. Last Tuesday the show lost 60 percent of its lead-in audience from American Idol. Last Thursday the show lost half the viewers who had started out the hour watching So You Think You Can Dance. Apparently no one in America wants anything to do with this program!

Even Brett Ratner's had enough. Where'd you go last night, Brett Ratner? Our new female Ryan Seacrest — Arianna, or was it Adrianna? — didn't mention him by name, but she did indicate that from here on out, the third judge's seat would be filled by a different guest panelist throughout the season. As if the show will last the season. (Cue demented puppet laughter now.) If indeed he's gone — suddenly very very busy trying to save Rush Hour 3 in the editing room or something like that — I will miss Brett, who, based on his performance on the premiere episode, seemed the judge most likely to throw something at a contestant or make hurtful remarks at the expense of his elder co-judges. Too bad. Truth is, he's more fun to watch — here or on Entourage or even starring in the tabloids — than his movies usually are. (Although I did think The Family Man, which featured an excellent turn by the great Nicolas Cage, was an underrated film de Ratner.)

Other dramatic changes were afoot from the opening moments of this episode. And that's putting it lightly. Over the course of one weekend, somebody apparently went behind the scenes and did some major surgery on this bleeding power-saw fumbler of a show. We left it last Thursday an Apprentice wannabe; we tuned in last night to an American Idol clone. Screw last Thursday's climactic contest to shoot a movie in one hour — let's skip that and get to the next thing! And so before last night's ep even started, last week's 24 moviemakers had been sliced down, off screen, to 18, who were sent off to shoot a one-minute comedy short over the course of a week.

This time, in the new On the Lot, we didn't go behind the scenes of a single one of the evening's short films. Rather, we just watched some movies along with a studio audience crammed into a big auditorium. This is what happened, 18 times: The filmmaker stepped up, we learned a little bit about his or her struggles (from ''I bailed on Harvard Law'' to ''I coulda gotten into drugs and crime if I'd wanted to, really!''), their movie unspooled, the audience cheered, the judges judged, the directors answered exactly one question apiece from What's-Her-Name-the-Host, and then we were encouraged, if we liked that particular movie, to text the word ''vote'' to blah blah blah after the show.

It was some makeover, and necessary. That thing we saw two episodes of last week just wasn't gelling. But I'm a little curious to see how this new show plays out: Is every week just gonna be about watching whatever short movie the little directors have made that week, with us then voting on 'em? Because that sounds dicey: the directin' game ain't as TV-friendly or personality fueled as the singin' game, so if this show hews too closely to the American Idol model, it'll get boring fast. As it is, I'm on the edge of my seat wondering if/how super-producer Spielburnett is going to salvage this mess; there's more drama to the off-screen story line than to anything we've seen on the show yet.

But now it's time to talk about the 18 one-minute movies we saw last night. The first thing to say is that 18 movies is too many to talk about. Since three people are getting booted on tonight's show, I figure I'll run down my three favorite movies and my three least favorite.

Here they are — No. 1 being the best or worst, of course.

Favorite Movie No. 1 ''Getta Rhoom,'' by Jason from Kentucky, who favors backward Fred Durst caps. The plot: A ''nerdy-type guy'' tries to get a laugh by shouting ''Get a room!'' at couples; the first time results in his death, the second time in his banishment to hell. The judges hated this one (''I was just so offended!'' cried Carrie Fisher), and for good reason: The actor playing the ''nerdy-type guy'' seemed, instead, to have Down's Syndrome. And maybe the panel is right: Jason may have zero knack for directing actors if he thinks that his leading man was playing a nerd. But here's why I voted for the dude on thelot.com tonight: His is the only short that made me laugh out loud. The high five and thunderbolt in heaven were nicely staged and comedically well timed; they coaxed a chuckle out of my weary chest. And during an evening where we were treated to vomit and (many) fart jokes, this was sick humor — however inadvertent — that was actually wicked and (a little bit) funny. That the judges came down so hard on it is more proof that the show is only really interested in up-the-middle, ''commercial'' talent.

Favorite Movie No. 2 ''Danceman,'' by Adam from Miami (the guy who bailed on Harvard Law to go be a filmmaker). That this movie opened the show made you think that the short films as a whole were gonna be a lot more impressive than they were. It featured a guy — the same actor who played Toni Collette's boyfriend in In Her Shoes, right? — who dances instead of talks. Looked professional (I was struck by the two crashed cars), and the guy's moves were sharp.

Favorite Movie No. 3 ''Danger Zone,'' by Zach from Vancouver. If On the Lot gets canceled this afternoon, at least we know how it would have ended. This kid would have won. An effects whiz, he crafted a single-shot, F/X-dotted movie about domino-effect bad things happening in a safety lab. It wasn't as good as the car-ambush tracking shot in Children of Men, but I'll cut the guy some slack. Everybody loves him; the only question is whether he can make a whizbang movie that has real feeling in it. (You know, like Spielberg.) Then again, if these contestants are only gonna be making teeny shorts all season long, maybe their movies don't need to have feeling in them. Whizbang's enough.

Now for the flip side:

Least Favorite Movie No. 1 ''Bus No. 1,'' by Hilary from New Hampshire. As guest judge D.J. Caruso (the director of Disturbia) put it, this was ''a movie about a woman who has to pee, she pees on the bus, and then her pee stinks.'' D.J. nailed it. The heroine can't persuade the bus driver to pull over, so she goes in a coffee cup. This premise might've worked if the bus were riding through a third-world country, with chickens running up and down the aisle and a mariachi band playing in the back, but as it was, shot on a regular old school bus in the good old U.S. of A., it made no sense. And was gross.

Least Favorite Movie No. 2 ''Wack Alley Cab,'' by Kenny from Owego, N.Y. Kenny was last week's snippy villain. This week he made a near-incomprehensible chop suey that appeared to reveal Kenny's fondness for MTV ads and early John Waters movies. Liked the purple building in the background of one shot, but that's it. The soundtrack was stuffed with annoying cackling, and for that alone, Kenny should get the toss.

Least Favorite Movie No. 3 ''Blind Date,'' by Claudia from Italy. Started out okay. A woman's at the bar, eating a mix of what looks like olives and board-game pieces, waiting for her blind date to show up. But then, under gastric distress, she runs to the men's room, where the guy next to her is making disgusting bodily noises. They exit stalls at the same time; it's her date. All of which also made no sense. And was gross.

So that's the breakdown. Other things to quickly note:

· So far I continue to have an irrational distaste for Marty Martin, the cocky twerp who made a (not bad) trailer for a movie instead of a movie last night.

· Even though her short, ''...To Screw in a Lightbulb,'' was my No. 4 Least Favorite, I like Jessica from Brooklyn, mostly because she's just a recently graduated film student who carries herself with poise, and not the show's prevalent type: the pity case with a sob story.

· It was painful to hear Shalini from Brooklyn announce her interest as a filmmaker in serious things like women and the environment and human rights and then watch her purported comedy. But her movie could've been worse.

· Garry Marshall's the best judge. He's the one saying stuff you can take home here. True, you gotta wonder, given the way he kept deliberating about it last night, if he really thinks women should direct, but otherwise he's thoughtful, whether he's talking about how hard it is to make a metaphor funny, how that good mini-golf movie was just missing an insert, or how burgled is one of the only funny words without a k. That said, after the second or third fart movie, I wanted somebody like Ratner to come in and ream these people out for not being classy, and that didn't happen.

What did you think? Who's out tonight? Who should be? And why is this show failing to attract viewers?

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Originally posted May 29, 2007
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