''On the Lot'': Rewinding
If in its first week On the Lot aped The Apprentice and in its second week it channeled American Idol, then last night, in its third week, this flailing show resembled nothing so much as a glossy cable-access production.
The show's fallen far, fast. Last night we looked on as it tried to pass off five contestants' submission films as new, original content. (The show kept stressing that the shorts were written, shot, and edited in five days, as if to suggest that they were written, shot, and edited in the last five days, although behind the scenes, Fox has identified the movies as ''personal submission films'' in a PR release.) No doubt this saves production costs at the same time that it gives Fox time to figure out what it's gonna do about the show's Dumpster-diving ratings. Meanwhile, submission films? Three-minute movies that are good enough to get you on the show might be good enough to get you on the show, but that doesn't make them ready for prime time. At least last week's mini-comedies were born out of the creative pressure of a time limit. They had, you know, urgency. Last night's movies had the opposite; they took us backward.
Through the night, 5 of the 15 remaining contestants got up there and screened their submission films, and the judges pronounced this or that. (After the viewers vote, one person will leave at the beginning of next week's show.) As swiftly as possible, let's trot through all five. The bad news is that none of the shorts were great; the other bad news is that none were totally horrible either.
''Broken Pipe Dreams,'' by Sam, the guy who made the classy fart movie ''Replication Theory'' last week. This time his movie was about a guy who bounces the engagement ring he just picked up into the toilet. A goldfish was loosely involved. Carrie Fisher complimented it as ''surreal.'' Guest judge Michael Bay, there to hawk Transformers, weighed in next. Disagreeing with his fellow judge (and I do believe that's the first time on this show that such a thing has happened), he provided the night's only ray of hope when he asked Sam if he killed the fish during production. No, Sam said. ''Very good,'' Bay zinged, ''because I cared more about the fish than the guy. You took a two-minute story, and you stretched it to three minutes.'' Then Bay told him to tighten up the editing because it was repetitive. Right away you wanted to give Michael Bay a permanent seat. For a moment it looked as if the show had the shark in the chair that it needed: Leaning back in his chair and making haughty head gestures, Bay gave off the vibe of a real Hollywood killer, one as simultaneously lethal, bored, and pampered as a Roman emperor lounging in the sun. Taking a real meeting with him is probably terrifying. Unfortunately that was the best we got out of him for the night, although he did go on to talk a lot about ''style.''
''Teri,'' by Trever, who made that miniature-golf movie last week. This time an Australian guy daydreams about worst-case scenarios for the blind date he's about to go on. This was my least favorite of the five. I generally agree with the things Garry Marshall said about it, which I scrawled down thusly: ''I like the one you did about golf better....The characters were caricatures....Funny means money. [I can't remember what Garry meant by that.]....You're from Montana, you gotta compete....I think you could do better.''
''The First Time I Met the Finkelsteins,'' by Hilary, the frizzy-haired mom who is ominous looking when she just silently stares out of her thick glasses but reverts to normal when she talks. She made the worst movie of last week's contest, that thing about peeing on the bus, and judging from the panel's reactions tonight (''In Hollywood, it's what we call a groaner,'' said Michael Bay), she'll get voted off for her crass dinner-party movie this week. But I didn't think it was that bad. In fact, since it was dialogue heavy and I like dialogue, I'd probably put it in last night's top two. Judging from the old-jazz soundtrack and the wobbly handheld interior camerawork, Hilary was channeling Husbands and Wives-era Woody Allen. Good movie, Husbands and Wives.
''Dough: The Musical,'' by Adam, the Harvard guy who along with Sam, his friend in real life got himself on youtube previously with ''Lazy Monday.'' This time he made a singing movie about a guy in a bakery and a girl who wants a blah blah blah, I want to go to bed! Let's roll through this. The best part of this one was when Adrianna Costa, the host you can't help feeling sorry for at the same time she annoys you, introduced the opening bio on Adam by saying, ''Before we watch his movie, let's see the challenges he faced to get it'' at this point she flubbed the line and said, ''Excuse me,'' but then recovered to finish with ''to get it up on the big screen.'' So dirty. Adam's cutesy sing-along you could take or leave, but the production values were high; he'll probably come in first this round.
''Laughing Out Loud: A Comic Journey,'' by Shalini, whose giant Miss America smile practically shoves her every other feature off her face. Michael Bay gave it two thumbs up. ''In three minutes you told a very succinct story, and you gave me a chill, and that's what directors try to do,'' he gushed. ''Really, really great job.'' Huh. Me, I didn't get it. It was a character study of a gay Indian comedian, and the first thing he says to the camera is ''The first time I peed my pants, I mean, I was terrified. But then, I just became fabulicious!'' Huh? (Okay, wait. I just fact-checked the line on my DVR, and I realized the dude is actually saying, ''The first time, I peed my pants,'' not ''The first time I peed my pants.'' Now it makes sense.) Another thing: Was this movie fiction or documentary? Couldn't tell. Still, it was well cut, and Shalini doesn't deserve to go home, but since the show is an American popularity contest and she made a movie about a gay guy, she just might, if Hilary's relatives successfully get out the vote.
Bedtime! That was the show, see you next week, and, oh yeah, what did you think?