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TV Review | ‘HitRECord on TV’ is engaging, collaborative success

Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 07:01

Just when we thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt couldn’t be more of a renaissance man, the actor-producer-screenwriter unveiled the pilot of “HitRECord on TV” (2014) — proving that he is indeed a jack of all trades. Drawing from a creative wealth of artists across the globe, Gordon-Levitt’s new series stitches together user-submitted content into a patchwork of stories that tie into greater themes during each episode. The result is a series of homegrown products that are hyperactive, dazzling and often unexpectedly touching.

The show is the latest outgrowth of Gordon-Levitt’s open, creative community “HitRECord,” a 9-year-old online collaboration that has produced everything from Sundance films to documentaries to spoken word performances. Everything on the site is sent in by volunteer collaborators, screened by Gordon-Levitt himself and weaved together into a final product.

Now, the same inclusive, do-it-yourself mentality has been fittingly picked up by Pivot, a television network and live app launched in 2013. As older media outlets scramble to find ways to connect to a young, multitasking audience, Pivot aims to spark modern ideas as self-described “TV for The New Greatest Generation.” This is a match made in heaven for the nontraditional “HitRECord,” which — after airing its premiere episode on YouTube — has already been renewed for a second season.

It is not difficult to understand the show’s appeal. Each episode of “HitRECord on TV” centers around a new subject, encouraging anyone and everyone to participate by sending in whatever that topic evokes in them — a story, a song, a cartoon. Episodes are the length of a TED talk fragmented into dozens of connected pieces. They do not require a time commitment or undivided attention, only an open mind.

The idea composing the first episode was naturally the title “RE: The Number One” — a first time theme that could have easily succumbed to numerous cliches. Luckily, the episode transcended the banal to make room for the less obvious and the more poignant. A woman with degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa — portrayed by Elle Fanning and narrated by a Scottish contributor — movingly describes the first time she saw stars. The world around her was sketched in by visual artists, and the score was written by musicians across the world. Put together, these made-from-scratch elements form a living, breathing landscape unlike any other on television.

All of this occurs within the show’s first ten minutes. Moving forward, the audience is treated to a glittering spectacle of stories and ideas intermixed with clips of rappers, animation in the style of “Adventure Time” (2010-present) and live-audience interviews. It is bombastic and overwhelming — and feels as if every viewer is sitting in the editing room, watching the process unfold.

Still, the show manages to remain cohesive. The most affecting moments arrive during the description of Utah’s Fishlake National Forest, which contains the Pando, a collection of trees linked by one giant root structure to form a singular, united organism. It is an apt metaphor for both “HitRECord on TV” and for life in general — a perfect exemplification of the project’s overarching goals: unity, connectedness and collaboration.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the ever-profitable charm bubbling over in Gordon-Levitt. The host is always affable and often hammy — his dimpled smile and suave suit a constant presence in his video blog style musings. Gordon-Levitt sings and dances his way to the forefront, making his authority striking, even when the tales of others take center stage. At times, this one-man show approach renders the pilot’s theme ironic: it is impossible to forget who number one really is.

When the host steps back and lets the contributors stand out, though, “HitRECord on TV” is refreshingly witty and inspired. Hundreds of thousands of people joining in to create any art form you can name (and a few too bizarre to categorize) gives the project a captivating rawness — as if the most obscure corners of the Internet have been gathered and polished to form one entertaining variety show. “HitRECord on TV” caters to a digitized generation of short attention spans in the most delightful, heartfelt way possible. With nothing else like it on television, it will certainly be entertaining to see how the project grows.

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