Brian Bowen Smith
Gregory Kirschling
June 13, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”On the Lot”: How did they get here?

The rest of the world may want to hear more from David Chase about that Sopranos finale. I’d rather hunt down Steven Spielberg and, on behalf of the clown car’s worth of viewers who might still wonder, ask him about On the Lot. What the heck happened, sir?

If this show — like The Sopranos — speaks for itself, it’s with a speech impediment brought on by severe brain damage, as if what we are watching were American Idol‘s inbred sister, or Project Greenlight‘s two-headed test-tube baby. I’d be cooler with the whole thing if we weren’t in our second week of plowing through the dopey Film Production 101 movies made by the contestants before they even got picked for the show, which is so obviously a cost-cutting, time-marking, drag it out as cheaply as possible because we might still cancel it kind of move by Fox. Every episode so far, I’ve wanted to rush this show along a couple of weeks into the future, where I imagined things had to get better, though it hasn’t worked out that way once yet. When the show started with 50 contestants (”doomed from the get-go,” you might call it), I yearned to get to half that number. When the number got down to 18, the show inanely skipped past the filmmaking, straight to the judging. Now that we’re watching submission films, I want to leap two installments ahead and maybe watch these people make new films — or at least watch the new films. Actually, at this point, who among us wouldn’t mind fast-forwarding all the way to the end of the season?

These submission films are no good. None of the five movies we watched last night deserved to be broadcast into our living rooms by a major network at the 8 p.m. hour on a weeknight. Don’t get me wrong: It’s generally okay if the movies on the show are gonna be this mediocre — making movies is hard — but if that’s the case, we need behind-the-scenes stuff. Give us the usual cheesy reality-show bloodletting so it doesn’t feel like we’re merely sitting in at the world’s lamest film festival.

Now after that cheery intro, ahem, why wouldn’t you want to discuss last night’s films?

”Polished,” by Andrew, the skullcapped grinner from Minnesota. I was mostly grateful for this film because I read a few of you doubters on the message boards last week who insisted that we were watching new movies, not the contestants’ long-completed submission films. It was enough to leave me itchy with self-doubt — did I read the press release wrong? Maybe Hilary really did go home to New Hampshire last week and log hundreds of miles on her car shooting her ”Finkelsteins” movie on deadline and then still manage to get back to L.A. and cut her movie in time for a live broadcast last Tuesday. I sweated it out all week. Then friendly Andrew popped up in his mini-bio here and talked about how the biggest obstacle he had to face shooting his movie ”was planning my wedding at the same time.” And there’s no way he got married last week, between weekly live editions of On the Lot! Vindication! As for his movie, it was about an unpopular janitor who got payback by polishing the office floors with ”Super Wax,” which was amusing, but guest judge David Frankel — a.k.a. the guy who directed The Devil Wears Prada — was right when he said it would’ve worked better as a 30-second commercial.

”Love at First Shot,” by David, who immediately proved himself crazy because in his mini-bio he named ”Wack Alley Cab” guy Kenny as his top competition. His movie was a wheezing old Cupid story, and the moral of it was that the dork on a date just needed to shut up and let his bored blond dinner companion talk for a change. It played like a skit ninth graders might perform for a health class on successful relationships. Except the acting wasn’t at that level.

”Beeline,” by Shira-Lee, the single mom who cast her son as a boy who asked his mother at the breakfast table if she’d had sex with anyone else since she and his dad split up. This got a choked yawp out of me; I think it was a laugh. For that paltry reason, I declare this movie the evening’s best. Even though it went on to make absolutely no sense at all from that point forward. ”Who are they?” the kid barked unconvincingly, meaning his mom’s defilers. ”I’ll find them!” So Mom tore off frantically around town warning her ex-lovers not to call or come around anymore, more so that Shira-Lee could adopt a frantic-comedy pace than for any plausible human reason. If her sweet-faced kid’s actually that scary, she should’ve made the movie about him. But as I said, the quality bar was loooow last night; she wins.

”Dance With the Devil,” by karate-kicking Marty. Holy God, this guy is unbearable. His short movie was flash-cut, faux-sleek action crap. In lieu of describing it any further, let me just point out again that it was called — unironically — ”Dance With the Devil.” And also that it ended with a shiny, self-important ”Directed by Marty Martins” title card that was written in the M. Night Shyamalan font, set against matching M. Night Shyamalan, Dreamweaver end-credits mist. But America, you have to keep this guy on the show! He’s the only entertainment to be found within a five-mile radius of Adrianna Costa. ”I think I’m the strongest overall filmmaker here,” he bragged at the top of his segment, and when Carrie Fisher accused him of being both style over substance and his own biggest fan, Marty got lippy (”I think that’s kind of rude to say”), one hand stuffed stylishly in his pocket the whole time. He’s like a little Brett Ratling.

”Edge on the End,” by Kenny, a well-meaning wildhair whose wacky-cab movie a few weeks back was worth one long shudder. His submission film was a near-wordless rock-video kind of thing featuring a dude mourning his dead dad by throwing beer bottles around in the wilderness. But its artsy, schizo style was so not fitting for national TV that I just got a little embarrassed again for everyone associated with the show and started wondering where Spielberg was to protect us from this stuff, before I finally turned over mid-short to check in on LeBron.

It’s a close call, but since we need Kenny the same way we need Marty — because clearly nothing else but hubris and folly will keep our eyes from rolling back into our heads for the rest of the season — the one I’d kick off after tonight is David and his Cupid movie. Which reminds me: She dragged it out over the whole show, and teased it over more than one commercial break, but finally Adrianna sent home Trever — perpetrator of that blind-date movie last week. (Hilary was spared, and correctly so, for her Finkelsteins movie.) What did you make of Adrianna’s plunging Carré Otis dress, by the way? Wasn’t it fun watching the guys up on stage as they tried to keep their eyes averted from the tractor beam of her exposed cleavage?

What else did you just love about this episode?

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