In this week's installment of "On the Lot," we say goodbye to Jess as the competition slims down to the not-terribly-dirty (it is broadcast TV, after all) dozen. And Zach's stock climbs even higher with the judges after he unveils his latest crowd-pleaser, "Die Hardly Working." (Zach is pictured at left at work on the short.)
Once again, the elimination part of the show is dispensed with quickly at the top, following a bit of recap clippage, as judge Garry Marshall and host Adrianna Costa surprise the contestants by showing up unexpectedly as the group huddles on an outdoor patio in one of their "gee I'm so nervous" powwows. Actually, this time around they're all complimenting one another's work, particularly Jess and Jason, who took a pounding from the judges for their films last week.
"Brooklyn girls never give up," Marshall advises Jessica Brillhart as she does the requisite round of hugs before exiting the scene.
Back in the studio, it's clear Hilary has taken our advice re: what not to wear on taping days. Host Adrianna, on the other hand, has donned a purple mini-gunnysack that makes the most of her tan. Guest jurist this week is helmer
Mark Waters (pictured left), whose curriculum vitae includes "Mean Girls" and "Freaky Friday" (and his fave film comedy is "Groundhog Day," as we learn after Waters' is grilled by Adrianna). There's little preamble before we get to this week's half-dozen contenders in the two-minute, shoot-'em-in-five-days comedy heat.
First up is Shalini Kantayya, who makes no bones about her lack of confidence when it comes to funny business. "Doctor-in-Law" trades on proctology humor between a man and his crabby Korean father-in-law. The short employs a lot of camera effects and oddball angles and an unpleasant looking medical device at the end that all combined to impressed the judges.
Waters is charitable in his first remarks, praising Shalini's overall idea and execution in doing the piece from the POV of the blasé son-in-law. Judge Carrie Fisher was chipper in round one, telling Shalini (pictured right) she did a good job in going "out of her comfort zone" in tackling a comedy. Marshall also liked it but felt the ending was a bit weak. "I didn't think it was quite complete, kind of like Adrianna's dress," he observed.
Adam Stein followed with "Discovering the Wheels," which plays as if the Geico cavemen were licensed out to Ford Motor Corp. Suffice it to say, a group of hairy cavemen discover a shiny red Ford convertible. There's some clever stuff with a group of contemporary high-schoolers playing with the auto-lock button on the remote control device for the same Ford vehicle.
Fisher once again is effusive. "I love your work," she gushes. Waters also liked it but suggests he didn't "nail the tag" and that Adam work on figuring out the perfect punchline or kicker for his shorts. Marshall is clearly in a frisky mood, giving Adam a "nice job" and noting that "it held my attention, but so did this blonde behind me."
Big Will Bigham (pictured right) is third in line with another mostly dialogue-free dark comedy, "Nerve Endings," revolving around hijinks during brain surgery. It's fast-paced and funny, but I distinctly remember Fisher chiding him a bit last week for failing to realize that talkies have been invented for some time. No matter; Fisher can't say enough about Will and his work.
"You are so darling," she swoons. "Only you could make blood and an exposed brain seem adorable to me." Waters is quick to call Will "one of the most talented filmmakers here by far" but calls this one "a misfire." He notes that comedy needs some grounding in reality, and "Nerve Endings" has none.
Hilary Graham is upfront about how badly she needs a hit, or at least not a big miss, this time around to stay in the competition. "Under the Gun" is a tongue-in-cheek look at a mother and daughter who hold up a sperm bank. Didn't make me laugh but the judges liked it, especially the camera work, as Waters noted. Marshall and Waters also praised her writing. Fisher flatly declares that Hilary has "redeemed" herself.
Throughout the six-week run of the show so far, David May has come off as a nice, unassuming, un-egomaniac kind of guy, but he's also one of the underachievers. He knows he needs a hit this time around. Sadly, "How to Make a Girl" ain't it. It's meant to be a rom-com featuring a couple sparring and wrestling over their conflicting agendas on the gender of the child they hope to conceive. It boils down to a couple of one-dimensional characters rolling around on the floor. Not funny.
Fisher lets him down easy: "I sort of didn't really think it was a success for me." ("Thank you for your feedback," David replies, earnestly. He's no Marty Martin.)
"Delicious conceit," Waters observes, "but you didn't deliver on the promise" and the wrestling match between the couple started way too soon for there to be any characterization whatsoever.
The best short of the night was saved for last. Zach Lipovsky has been the show's wunderkind favorite all along and he only reinforced his position with "Die Hardly Working." (Seems hard to believe that it's purely coincidental that "On the Lot" is a Fox show and 20th Century Fox just happens to have the fourth installment of its "Die Hard" franchise, "Live Free or Die Hard," opening in theaters this week, but truth is, it probably is.)
This time Zach swears off his FX wizardry for a piece that uses only imaginary props to depict how far some cubicle-dwellers will go to pass the last 15 minutes before quitting time. It's entirely charming and fun, and flies by faster than any of the five others screened in his episode.
"Fantastic," Fisher declares. Waters calls Zach "ridiculously talented," while Marshall praises him for making something delightful out of a tough subject, namely boredom. It almost seems like a waste of time for Adrianna to poll the judges for their faves in the closing seconds of the show. Fisher and Waters are all about "Die Hardly Working" but Marshall throws a curve by picking "Under the Gun."
Next week, thrills and chills and undoubtedly some spills as the other six who were on the sidelines this week tackle horror shorts.