Actor Illeana Douglas seems to have quite the knack for this web video thing. She proves to be a highly capable producer in squeezing ten, smart Easy to Assemble episodes out of a $50K allotment, provided to her by co-producers Ikea (one wonders whether a bigger budget was required – certainly no, or little actor pay was involved).
And this program comes on the heels more or less of her sweet, similarly celebrity-studded online series Illeanarama – Supermarket of the Stars, which has a touch lower production value but a slightly sharper edge.
Still, Easy to Assemble is deft in its own right. The branded entertainment for Sweden’s largest furniture manufacturer focuses on Douglas’ want to avoid the celebrity spotlight and her Hollywood friends want to shine it on themselves wherever they can, even if it’s inside a big box store. The series includes a slew of actor self-deprecations, many of which are running jokes carried over from Supermarket of the Stars.
In the first episode Kevin Pollack fills in for the omnipresent Ed Begley Jr. by taking over as host of ‘Actors Anonymous’. And here we first see Douglas’ perpetual angle: Failure is the new success – “I was famous when nobody was famous, and now that everybody’s famous, I don’t want to be famous anymore.”
By taking on a ‘real job’ at Ikea and attempting to live amongst normal folk, Douglas attempts to tap into a celebrity-mocking zeitgeist, if only half-heartedly. Some of the jokes show a bit of condescension – or at least a lack of full respect – towards Ikea employees themselves (though of course they’re all actors here). It’s also possible that Ikea employees would get a kick out of seeing their workplace get lightly roasted. Who knows? But I digress…
With its meta-celebrity-insider quality, Easy to Assemble (not unlike its Supermarket forbearer) is something akin to The Larry Sanders Show on steroids. In an effort to anticipate the potential onslaught of critics, there are frequent bouts of self-parody and self-skewering. Douglas and her colleague and Supermarket returning co-star Justine Bateman both parade their “whatever happened to…?” status around, while Douglas lampoons her attempt to lose the need for the limelight.
That spotlight gets stolen a bit by one of her co-producers, Michael Irpino, who does a rather brilliant turn as Ikea assistant manager Lance Krappe, he of the platinum blond wig, an ever-chipper mood, and limitless integrity for his job. Tom Arnold does a very nice turn as Illeana’s ‘fake boyfriend’ (she finds the need to fake break up with him). Arnold goes on to host the training video for ‘Meatball Preparation,’ having gone for a record in meatball eating earlier in the episode.
The high point of the series, appropriately enough, is the show within the show: ‘Justine’s show,’ in which a cantankerous and admittedly bitter (“when I was in my 20s, I was self-deprecating, when I was in my 30s I was ironic, now that I’m 40 I’m just plain bitter”) Bateman jabs her guests as they back against the ropes.
Jeff Goldblum tries to escape by saying he’s got something in the Valley, to which Bateman informs him that he’s already in the Valley (the Ikea is in Burbank), and that she still needs to talk to him “about his 0% body fat – you look like a lean, chicken breast dinner.”
The in-store audience gasps at her sly fawning, and Goldblum is stuck for just little while longer, finally making his escape by claiming to be a surgeon-in-need. Anything to ditch the set of this unpredictable talk show. Douglas herself, meanwhile, is pegged as a dead ringer for Allison Janney, a label she can’t seem to dig her way out of (the in-store audience’s murmur concurs).
The Bateman show ends with actor Robert Patrick (you’ll know him as the bad guy from Terminator 2) scaring off customers in an attempt to tell a joke, but closes strong in hosting the co-worker training video “Safety Starts with You,” demonstrating perfect comic timing. Who knew?
Watch all 10 installments at EasyToAssemble.TV.