The era of big cars, full bars and rising stars is the
inspiration for The Lot, a new series on American Movie Classics that looked on
first examination as if it would head straight for the "also-ran" bin.
Instead, The Lot is elevated by crackling dialogue
and some delightfully over-the-top performances. Producer-writer Rick Mitz is responsible
for the elevation of this little-girl-makes-good-in-Hollywood story into higher art that
closely imitates life.
Film fans will not break a sweat puzzling over the
identities in this video roman à clef. There's a movie producer who's really
into airplanes and a studio mogul given to utterances like, "We shoot too many
pictures and not enough actors."
Other characters are archetypes, like the aging star
who'll resort to anything, including taping her jowls back with gaffer's tape,
if it means she can cling to "A-list" parts for one more picture.
The plucky kids at the center of the piece are a
revelation. Ingenue June Parker (Linda Cardellini) and beau Charlie Patterson (Steven
Petrarca) go from cupcakes to tough cookies in the first four episodes of the series.
Rather than getting crushed and cynical, they quickly learn from the masters and become
the wild cards in the studio wheeling and dealing.
They get to play off some real corkers. Mary Parker
(Stefanie Faracy) is the ingenue's mom, the longtime makeup artist to stars like
Norma St. Claire (a delightfully scene-chewing Sara Botsford). St. Claire's at her
comic best when she packs on 10 extra pounds and the studio puts her on a starvation diet
so severe that the best mikes of the day pick up her stomach gurgles.
Aide de camp to the senior Parker in the quips department
is clothing designer Fabian (Francois Giroday). These three have almost the best lines in
the script. Witness mom's admonition to June: "Hollywood is a sunny place filled
with shady people where stars twinkle until they wrinkle."
The best lines, however, are uttered by radio gossip
Letitia DeVine, an underused Holland Taylor who only gets to bookend each episode with her
dishy insider "broadcasts," which are loaded with inside jokes for true Golden
Age cinema fans.
In her hands, a starlet's suicide plunge off the
Hollywood sign becomes a "terrible tragedy during a late-night nature hike."
She's aided and abetted by the series' likeable
yet formidable villain, press agent Jack Sweeney (Perry Stephens). Sweeney's on a
first-name basis with scandal mongers, and he knows how to play them like cheap pianos.
The Lot, a fresh alternative to the summer blahs,
debuts on AMC Aug. 19.