February 4, 2014

(3) Episodes of hitREcord: JGL on Pivot

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Over a year since his visit to Cornell during his hitREcord tour, Joseph Gordon Levitt has finally gotten his show, hitREcord on TV, well, on TV. The show premiered on newly-created station Pivot on Jan. 18, starting with the theme “The Number One,” in honor of its first episode and first times in general. The first three episodes of the variety style show premiered at Sundance last month — “The Number One,” “Fantasy” and “Trash” — where JGL discussed his high hopes for the show and its humble beginnings at hitrecord.com, a creative, collaborative web platform for aspiring artists.

At the start of every episode, Levitt graces the stage, patented sexiest-man-alive-hopeful smile blazing, to introduce the episodes theme, usually with some kind of maxim or playground saying, like “all for one and one for all” or “first is the best.” The theme is explored further by Joe himself, through video collaborations from hitREcord and during interviews and performances with some of Joe’s celebrity contacts like Tony Danza in “Fantasy” and Elle Fanning in “The Number One.”

The featured collaborations from hitREcord can be pretty impressive, especially considering that the videos (think stories, music, art, animation and editing) came together from bedrooms across the world of people who have never met or interacted with one another. In particular, “Beastly Beauty,” a story about how a vain beauty is much more beastly than her ever-lonely, doting “beast,” features some skillful animation and beautiful presentation. “Front Lawn Freak,” about freaking, whatever that means exactly, on random front lawns, is so fun and strange that it’s an immediate stand-out in its episode.

However, the biggest standout in each of the episodes is Levitt himself. He is in almost every performance as either a singer, drummer, actor, pianist, you name it, he’s a jack of all (artistic) trades. The whole extravaganza feels ultimately like the Joseph Gordon Levitt show. Which is fine, in its own right, but seems to go against the more inspirational idea of highlighting the skill and performance of contributors. He dominates whatever skit he is in, as do his celebrity friends, and the usernames of the song creators and animators who are mentioned and highlighted at the start of a sketch are quickly lost as Levitt moves to the next scene.

The live audience doesn’t seem to notice the loss — most are there to see JGL, the legend himself. Whether they would like to admit it or not, most people at Cornell’s show didn’t know or care what Levitt was going to do up on that stage when they bought a ticket, they were just happy to be one of the lucky few who got one. His charisma transfers nicely to the audience when he’s on that stage if I remember correctly, but through a computer screen, much love is lost. Maybe this is because with an episode cut time of 22 minutes versus the hour and a half dedicated to the live show, there is less time to view the collaborations, and more air time devoted to Levitt talking about how he came up with a prompt, Levitt walking down a street pondering life’s many questions, 20-second animations reiterating the day’s theme or Levitt happily blowing kisses to his adoring fans.

Even when Levitt does delve into the days theme, and we aren’t focusing on one of his many talents, but discussing the concept of, say, fantasy, it is hard for the topic not to feel contrived. After all he is attempting to spend 22 minutes discussing the entirety of the meaning and symbolism of the word “fantasy,” and hoping to come away with a higher understanding. It is hard to scratch the surface of such a concept in 22 minutes, and as a result, we mostly are fed the cliches, or stories with the highest shock value. More bang for your buck or, in this case, minute.

In an interview with Rolling Stone during Sundance, Levitt said, “In our wildest dreams we hope that decades from now we’ll be nurturing artists like Sundance has nurtured us.”

That is the dream. And it is an admirable one. Using hitREcord.com, Levitt has found a number of promising, interesting and compelling young artists who are yearning to be seen and heard, as they should be. However, as his show exists now, in some plane between the hitREcord on TV and The Joseph Gordon Levitt Show, it doesn’t quite feel satisfying as either. It would be nicer if Levitt could, even with all of his sex appeal and connections, take a step back and let the art do the talking. We’re only four episodes into season one, so maybe there is time yet.

You can watch hitREcord on TV at Pivot.com if you have satellite TV, or on Amazon Instant if you don’t. The Cornell episode, “The Road,” hasn’t premiered yet, but will *fingers crossed* be up some time this season.