Michael McKean is <EM>Hopeless</EM>' Mel  Michael McKean is Hopeless' Mel 

This Friday IFC will unveil a trio of new Hollywood-skewering comedies — "three new series, one deranged hour," as the net puts it. Kicking off the pod at 10 pm/ET is Hopeless Pictures, an animated take on the adulterous love life and disastrous professional life of indie-movie-studio boss Mel Waxman. With Michael McKean (Best in Show, Spinal Tap) voicing Mel and Bob Balaban (A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman) as the series' writer, director and producer, there are decades of comic brilliance behind this look at Tinseltown wheeling and dealing.

then again, doesn't TV already have enough of such fare? Balaban acknowledges a kinship with such shows as The Comeback and Entourage, but is confident that Hopeless Pictures has new territory to mine, and certainly in a unique way. "We've seen a lot of shows about Hollywood but you haven't seen cartoon characters living in trailers and working at the studios," he notes. "We can make an impressionistic view of things you've seen a million times and maybe give you a look at something that you might not have stopped to look at if it [were live-action]."

Animation also allows Hopeless to depict sexual romps that otherwise might prove too blue (if not physiologically improbable) for TV. Balaban and McKean break for a riff on that.

Balaban: We did decide not to have penetration shots.
Michael McKean: Well, they would have been "inserts," anyway, to use the technical term. [Laughs]
Balaban: We would have had a double [for McKean].
McKean: Yeah, an animated body double.

Hopeless' Hollywood is a palpably accurate facsimile — replete with pill-popping directors, idiot nepotism cases and femmes fatales boffing up-and-coming writers — although no one involved in the series expects to receive outside validation of its truth. "You will never get anyone to admit that they are at all similar to the people that we are satirizing. That's not going to happen. Because we're 'just cartoons,' aren't we?" McKean says with a wink. "We're not real people." No, as Balaban adds, "We are realer than real."

Balaban: Let's remember, there is no Hollywood. I once called information and asked for a listing in Hollywood and they laughed at me. There is West Hollywood, which is not where the studios are. It's just a place called West Hollywood.
McKean: And North Hollywood is where the porn studios are.
Balaban: You would know, I guess.

Although Balaban and McKean consider themselves as living outside of the cutthroat Hollywood world, the version they have created had to be dead to rights to accomplish its goal. "Satire works best if it's very, very, very close to the real thing," says McKean. "It's almost like counterfeit money: Even if it has a picture of Arthur Godfrey on it, you want it to feel like real money." McKean knows, perhaps too well, of what he speaks. "When we previewed Spinal Tap, a lot of people thought it was real, which was very flattering — but depressing, because nobody was laughing!"

Those who appreciate Hopeless Pictures' biting (sometimes uncomfortably so) humor will be laughing, however. If all goes well, they just might start to — gasp! — care about Mel, even as his wife burns down their house after finding his mistress' panties in his car. "If Mel existed on the level of satire only — lying, cheating and being bad — we'd get tired of that. But Mel is in great conflict every time he does a bad thing," says Balaban. (As evidenced by Mel's frequent consults with his shrink, voiced by none other than Jonathan Katz, of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist fame.) "The central issue is, How far do you go before you've sold yourself to the devil?"