Comedian Laura Kightlinger tells a story in her act about wanting to help a homeless man outside a deli. She doesn’t have any small bills on her, so she goes in, picks up her order and returns to hand the guy the change. Instead of thanking her, he despondently says, “I thought you were going to give me a sandwich.” To which she says with equal ruefulness, “And I thought you needed money for alcohol.”
To Kightlinger — an ex–Will & Grace writer and a striking, tough-jawed beauty who carries her tall frame as if she’d purchased it at a height store and wished she could return it — the real currency of human interaction is a trade-off of disappointments.
It’s a witty shrug of a worldview that, along with the sultry-voiced slice to Kightlinger’s delivery, gives some satiric heft to the new half-hour comedy series on IFC that she created and stars in, titled The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman. The setting is Hollywood, that especially sunny circle of show-biz career hell, but this isn’t the velvet-rope hijinks of Entourage A-listers. Kightlinger’s character, Jackie, a magazine writer consistently flailing on the fringes of the film scene, can barely even be called a budding screenwriter, since she’d have to finish a script first. (Plus, Jackie doesn’t have a car, which gives her instant outsider status here.) The irony is that her movie idea is a vivid one — about the world of ’30s-era roller-derby girls. And it’s an even more pungent irony that in a later episode, a weird guy she meets at a club steals her idea and sells the pitch. As Jackie and her more perkily ambitious best friend Tara (Nicholle Tom) often learn, it’s a not-so-kind business for the testosterone-challenged. At an industry party, Tara spots a female studio executive and notes, “She just got fired from Universal for bringing in films about women.” It’s a line so good and true, you don’t know whether to laugh or get angry.
But Kightlinger’s buoyantly cynical brand of comedy — somewhere between Sarah Silverman’s bubblegum shock and Kathy Griffin’s devilish glee — isn’t soapbox material. In her view, everybody fails, and it’s no big. And sometimes the victory is in just trying to get back to square one. While she’d just as soon get a laugh out of Jackie’s own foibles — drinking, men, social awkwardness — Kightlinger is smart enough to know that her slacker Dorothy Parker vibe makes Jackie better suited to be the one cracking wise about a Scientology-like cult than falling for it. So in Friday night’s pilot, it’s Tara who succumbs to the white-smocked self-help craziness of something called “The Platform,” and Jackie who must rescue her best friend from the clutches of devotee Sally Kellerman, who in a great star cameo amps up her already sun-kissed-freak persona with enough vinegar to be both mockingly funny and celebrity-cult menacing. You can tell Kightlinger loves having given a nutty part to a ’70s female icon with killer comic timing, and when a TV comedy gives me the chance to laugh more at funny women than funny men, I’m onboard.
A side note: It’s puzzling to me why IFC feels that its original programming — which last year included the animated producer-and-his-shrink show Hopeless Pictures and the comedy series The Festival — has to somehow be about the film business. I understand why the Food Network would throw viewers for a loop if it suddenly started airing Cops, but it’s not as if the movies IFC shows are about movies. Why does the homegrown stuff have to mine this well-stripped vein, especially with HBO already cornering the market with Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage, Tori Spelling sending herself up on So Notorious, and plenty of bad indie movies made all the time about Hollywood ambition? IFC’s other new show, The Business, from the same folks who brought you The Festival, is a serviceably made, passably amusing time filler about the kooks and divas and idiots and yellers and whiners that somehow come together to get movies made. But it’s not as if new ground is being broken here. I’m watching Jackie Woodman because of Kightlinger’s comic sensibility, not the show’s subject matter, and also because it has the relaxed, poky feel of something you’d enjoy in a shorts program at a film festival. But with regard to The Business, why not just read Nikki Finke and roll your eyes over what really goes on behind studio gates?
THE MINOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF JACKIE WOODMAN | IFC | Fridays, 11 p.m.
THE BUSINESS | IFC | Fridays, 11:30 p.m.
The Moon in Your Eye
ABC Family’s new series Three Moons Over Milford is the most cheery and adorable portrait of impending doom I’ve ever seen. Before the pilot has even begun, it seems Earth’s cratery companion has shattered into pieces — the moon now looks like three new broken chunks — and much of civilization, or, in the case of this show’s focus, a quaint Eastern burg called Milford, has started preparing for the worst. But in lieu of apocalyptic terror or Lost-like portentousness, writers/co-executive producers Howard Chesley and Jon Boorstin view their scenario through Gilmore Girls–meets–David E. Kelley eyes, namely the prism of neighbors acting a little nuttier (nude lawn watering, drag weddings, settling disputes with duels), townsfolk abandoning their lives to chase lifelong wishes, and high schoolers . . . well, when has high school ever not been an end-of-days scenario, according to teenagers? We stick mostly with the family of Laura Davis (Elizabeth McGovern), whose tech-company-tycoon husband has left her — although “three moons” is a euphemism for crazy, it’s also a convenient midlife-crisis excuse — and whose adolescent daughter (Teresa Celentano) has become a Wiccan. Her son (Sam Murphy), meanwhile, has decided to forgo college for the cute, smart, older woman (Samantha Quan) he’s fallen in love with.
But with the world’s most brilliant minds not knowing if moon-meets-Earth is days or decades away, Three Moons can relinquish the cloak of sci-fi and get straight to being a modestly charming show about people dealing with a mild epidemic of slightly accelerated fear-of-death complexes. And naturally it won’t be long until Laura, played with the kind of sad-eyed intelligence that is McGovern’s trademark, hooks up with Milford’s last seemingly calm person, boyishly handsome lawyer Mack McIntyre (Rob Boltin). In fact, there will probably be episodes in which the specter of the world’s demise is barely addressed amid all the witty banter, family problem solving and budding romances. And that’s fine with me. Three Moons may not be a revelation, but at least it’s not Revelation.
THREE MOONS OVER MILFORD | ABC Family | Sundays, 8 p.m.