Reviews

HOPELESs Pictures

Bill Gibron

Spoofing celebrities is easy. Finding the humor in a pitch meeting may be a little more complicated.


Hopeless Pictures

Airtime: Fridays, 10pm ET
Cast: Michael McKean, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, Jonathan Katz
Network: IFC
Amazon

As satirical targets go, Hollywood and its befuddled "insiders" are old news. This is the dilemma facing writer/director/actor Bob Balaban. His new animated series for the Independent Film Channel, entitled HOPELESs Pictures, borrows from Christopher Guest's school of improv (Guest regulars Michael McKean and Jennifer Coolidge do voices here) to spoof the movie business. Balaban's thesis is that the 21st century audience is as knowledgeable about the industry as his characters. And he hopes that by blurring the line between reality and ridiculousness, a renewed source of comedy can be discovered.

The debut episode sets up the complicated relationships involving HOPELESs Pictures, a failing film studio. Whirling dervish Mel Wax (McKean) owns the company (named after his parents, Hope and Les), and though he views himself as a success, his life and career are in ruins. His long-suffering wife of 18 months (Lisa Kudrow) has just discovered panties in his car, while the owner of said underpants, Max's head of development Tracy (Coolidge), can't decide if she should sleep her way to the top, or just have sex with everyone to cover all her bases.

Max has also recently hired his shiftless, scared rabbit nephew Sam (Balaban), placing him in charge of an out-of-control production in Zagreb. Like everyone else at HOPELESs, Sam is not so good at what he does. This means lots of anxious calls seeking advice from Dr. Stein (Jonathan Katz), a celebrity shrink who knows how to keep his faux famous patients happy... and paying.

HOPELESs Pictures further fudges the parameters of fact and fantasy by having several famous people play themselves. Noted publicist Peggy Siegel tries to help Max repair the damage done by the horribly failed screening of his latest film, Dirty Feet (she suggests he offer the press free shoes), while fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi pitches a new version of Wagner's The Ring trilogy starring Liza Minelli and Chita Rivera (last paired for the 1984 Broadway musical, The Rink). Martin Mull voices the "hot screenwriter" in town, Paul Dooley a bartender, and Nora Ephron is scheduled to make an appearance later this season. Each guest gets an opportunity to tweak their Tinsel Town reputation while simultaneously proving that they are up to the challenge of matching wits with Balaban's seasoned adlib pros.

Timing is everything in comedy, and Balaban's baby features lots of improvisation and fast talking. Witty remarks soar by at remarkable speed, and HOPELESs Pictures is so dense that it really requires a second viewing to catch every gag. Every performance is pitch perfect, never once breaking the carefully constructed universe to rush a joke or telegraph a take. This is especially true of McKean who has the ersatz sincerity shtick so down pat that you can't believe that he's not a studio executive in real life.

It's not just the acting, the verbal gymnastics or the clever conversational riffs that win you over (Coolidge and Mull have an amazing exchange over which "Miller" wrote Death of a Salesman). Based on original character designs and artwork by Brian Smith (with the animation realized by a company called Noodlesoup Productions), the visuals seem almost to shimmer with a psychedelic array of hues. The denizens of this version of La-La Land are sturdy stick-figure types with odd-shaped heads suggesting their blatant personality flaws. One look at Max, and you know he's an egomaniac -- oversized noggin teetering precariously on a tiny stick body.

Traci looks the victim of surgical modification (horrible nose job, orb-like breasts), ostensibly undertaken to advance her career. The caricatures can be cruel (a fey foreign director looks like a mangled balloon animal) and the artists make no attempt to mimic "famous" faces. Balaban even takes the show's humor outside the weekly series format, filling the official HOPELESs Pictures website with phony press releases and hilarious factual timelines. It also continues the series desire to distort the differences between authenticity and the imaginary.

But that doesn't mean HOPELESs Pictures will be an instant hit. First, it will be compared to the near perfect The Simpsons and South Park. Second, a show like Family Guy has found a substantial audience to back up its brazen idiocy, which means HOPELESs Pictures faces an uphill battle. It may be too intellectual, or insular, to connect with mainstream viewers. Spoofing celebrities is easy. Finding the humor in a pitch meeting may be a little more complicated.

Therefore, it's hard to gauge whether HOPELESs Pictures will be anything more than Family Dog, Capital Critters or any number of other failed cartoon comedies that got lost in the primetime shuffle of bad ratings, shuffled schedules, and lagging interests. Animation on TV is just like that. Either it clicks, or it doesn't (and then, apparently, only DVD can save it). For Balaban and his actors, it's not hopeless... yet.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.