'The Writers' Room' review: Inside look, not much insight

Bryan Cranston in the Sundance Channel original series

Bryan Cranston in the Sundance Channel original series "Writers' Room." (Credit: Sundance Channel)

SERIES PREMIERE "The Writers' Room"

WHEN|WHERE Monday night at 10 on Sundance

WHY WATCH Peek inside the inner workings of "today's most groundbreaking TV shows."


MORE: Greatest TV characters | Reality TV | TV Zone blog | TV Listings


WHAT IT'S ABOUT What actor-producer read his acclaimed show's pilot script and couldn't wait to "lift my leg on the material and mark it with my scent"? Which Emmy winner's series-central character was actually created to be killed off quickly?

You want answers, "The Writers' Room" has 'em. Some of 'em. Maybe not the ones you wanted. Probably some you never even pondered.

But that's the deal when you put four-to-eight tube creatives around a conference table, and ask them to tell you how they do what they do. Or at least to chat/banter about it, guided by the host wit of actor-writer Jim Rash ("Community"). Monday's premiere half-hour, assembling creator Vince Gilligan's sprawling brain trust for "Breaking Bad," really does capture the mood inside TV scripters' quirky communal space.

You thought writers just sat down solo and typed their imaginings? Nope, not when a series requires a yearslong throughline plus a new episode every week. TV writing staffs brainstorm together in conference rooms typically dreary and claustrophobic (but here, recreated in the studio, suddenly roomy and well-lit). They're cooped up to hash out what happens next in the perpetual plotland that is scripted television. Like anything involving corralled humans, the process is chaotic, bruising, energizing, enervating, often inexplicable. Yet peculiarly productive.

MY SAY The undertaking's visceral atmosphere comes across great here. The methodical construction of TV episodes, less so. "The Writers' Room" winds up more anecdotal than explanatory. Heavily edited/compressed, it makes for a breezy half-hour if not necessarily revelatory disclosure, at least in the three episodes sent for review. (Also sent: next week's "Parks and Recreation," Aug. 19's "New Girl." Additional episodes tackle "Dexter," "Game of Thrones" and "American Horror Story.") The writers' exchanges tend to wend in ways so organic, they digress into riffs and tangents. That leaves the kindling question begging to be addressed.

Maybe it's the sort of series from which you weekly glean a little bit more, with everything ultimately coalescing into deeper understanding. Or maybe it's just fun to find the story behind "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston's funky wrap-party tattoo.

BOTTOM LINE More "inside" than insight.

GRADE B

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