Film Review: The Show About the Show

Caveh Zahedi’s funny stoner sex comedy mostly works as a single feature as it does as an episodic web series, though at times it feels a little long-winded.
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In 1991, Brooklyn filmmaker Caveh Zahedi introduced the world to his somewhat unique style of semi-autobiographical comedy with A Little Stiff, the first of a number of movies in which he essentially played himself. It acted as a form of catharsis in dealing with personal issues, though 2005’s I Am a Sex Addict upped the ante with what might be considered an early example of “oversharing.”

As with other recent films, Zahedi’s The Show About the Show started its life as a web series, or at least that’s what you’re to believe as you watch Zahedi trying to convince the Brooklyn cable network BRIC TV to make a show in which each episode is about the making of the previous one. Hence, the title of this feature, which essentially combines the five existing web episodes into a single running narrative.

The film is framed as a pseudo-documentary where Zahedi tries to come up with an idea for a television show, telling the story while at the same time recreating his pitch meetings with producer Aziz (played by Dustin Guy Defa, whose own indie debut Person to Person just premiered at Sundance). At first, Zahedi pitches a show inspired by actor Alex Karpovsky (“Girls”) telling him an awkward sexual experience to use as basis for his pilot; then in the second chapter, he talks about shooting that scene with Karpovsky for the show, and so on.

The first episode of the show is called “Why Did We Greenlight This?” based on a question asked by the BRIC producer (or, rather, the actor playing him), and at times you might be wondering the same thing yourself.

The film quickly turns into the winding ouroboros form of filmmaking Zahedi excels at, where you’re constantly scratching your head whether what you’re watching is real or something made up, which just makes things more complicated as it goes along. In essence, it doesn’t veer too far away from Zahedi’s previous films, where sex is discussed and overanalyzed to the point of becoming the source of the comedy.

Comparisons have often been made between Zahedi and Woody Allen, although the latter mostly inserts idealized versions of himself into his movies, while Zahedi’s neuroses are always on full display. In fact, Zahedi’s work is more like “Seinfeld,” where the most outlandish things happen to him and others and then become part of the show.

Every time Zahedi or anyone else tells a story during the show, Zahedi has to cast people to play those roles in the next show, and then stuff happens with those actors, creating an endless loop where each episode ends up being completely different from the last. As things go along, Zahedi’s focus tends to spiral off-course and the stories become more longwinded, but that’s also part of the fun. As each episode extends longer than the previous one, it starts to make more sense for them to be edited together and binge-watched as a feature.

In many ways, Zahedi’s brutal honesty is part of the charm of his filmmaking, although it’s also something that often gets him into trouble with his wife. The film starts getting darker as the show veers into the problems within Zahedi’s own marriage over events from previous episodes, and it becomes exceedingly hard to figure out whether what we’re watching is true or not. With a running theme about Zahedi and others getting stoned, it might not be surprising how much illicit narcotics are involved with how things play out, although the story is left unresolved and open-ended for more episodes.

Either way, The Show About the Show is generally an amusing show-slash-movie, with the caveat being that you really need to be able to endure Zahedi’s nerdy and neurotic persona to be able to fully appreciate his work.

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