What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

October 22, 2006

Studio 60 - hot or not?

I’ve just caught up with the first four episodes of West Wing-creator Aaron Sorkin’s new NBC show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. And, no, it’s not as good as TWW, but that’s a pretty tough gig to follow. Sorkin can take heart from Joseph Heller:
"When I read something saying I've not done anything as good as Catch-22 I'm tempted to reply, 'Who has?'"
It’s a problem Sorkin acknowledges up front in this exchange between Bradley Whitford’s not-Josh-Lyman-no-sirree-no Studio 60 producer, Danny Tripp, and NBS president, Jordan McDeere, who has just bigged-up their new show to the press:
Josh Danny: You raised the bar a little high.
Jordan: Clear it.
Anyway, here’s my likes/dislikes of Studio 60 to date:

Great:

1. It’s. Aaron. Sorkin. Writing. For. Telly. Again. If you can’t rejoice at that, you are spiritually dead. Fact.

2. Matthew Perry is a triumph as Matt Albie, currently acting everybody else off the screen (including Bradley). Yeah, so he’s still pretty much the wise-cracking Chandler Bing - but he’s a lairy, haggard, Vicodinned-up Chandler, and I can dig that.

3. The chemistry between Josh and Chandler Danny and Matt sooo works. Even the homo-erotic stuff is ironically hat-tipped as they self-consciously slug it out in the sand.

4. Snappy, whiz-crack dialogue rants, like this: “there's always been a struggle between art and commerce, but now I'm telling you art is getting its ass kicked, and it's making us mean, and it's making us bitchy, and it's making us cheap punks, and that's not who we are.”

5. Or this: “You can blame the blogs, but I blame The New York Times. They quote the blogs like they've found a source. CNN quotes the blogs. 'Beverly, Editor-in-Chief of the BeverlyBlog, says the Fed should cut interest rates to counter the drop in consumer spending over the past fiscal-' who the hell is Beverly? I don't believe in free speech, I think it should require a license. What happened to credentials. What happened to being impeccably credentialed, and when did elite stop being a good word?”

Not Great:

1. No really likeable women: no CJ Cregg, no Abi Bartlett, no Donna Moss. I guess we’re meant to root for Jordan. But I can’t.

2. Sarah Poulson’s Harriet Hayes, one of Studio 60’s leads, and a good ole’ southern Baptist girl, principled but not uptight (giving Sorkin the kind of cover from the Christian right that TWW’s Ainsley Hayes gave him from the Republican right). She’s supposed to be Matt’s love interest, but there’s zero chemistry. She’s supposed to be hilarious, but forgot to bring the funny. As Mandy was to TWW’s first season, so is Harriet to Studio 60.

3. The show is lacking the wise patriarch figure of a President Bartlett, who could close an episode with his ‘Jerry Says’ spiel of liberal enlightenment. Steven Weber’s NBS chairman Jack Rudolph might become that guy, but Sorkin seems conflicted whether to make him into God or Satan.

4. Erm, not too sure quite how to put this without blaspheming against Sorkin, but… Studio 60 just isn’t funny enough. Not so much the programme as a whole, but the show-within-the-show Studio 60: gags are laboured and sketches drag. Not as badly as the lethargic Letterman (folk still watch him?), but, compared to the pin-sharpness of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Studio 60 sadly trails.

5. It’s behind-the-scenes telly, not behind-the-scenes politics. I’m interested in both, but I care about the latter. It never mattered whether or not I understood why Leo was so pissed with the House majority leader’s attempts to tack on a reservation to the Appropriations Committee’s Social Security (No Pensioner Left Behind) Bill (or whatever) - I got the issues, I wanted Leo to win. Not sure I can get so fired up about whether Matt can nail his ‘cold open’ for Studio 60.

Curious? Watch the first 10 minutes of Episode 1, Pilot, here.

5 comments:

Will said...

Had I seen it, I'd agree with all of that. Sorkin has the same problem with the sketches as with the speeches in TWW - if he writes characters praising them, he's praising himself. Even if the comedy sketches aren't that great, there's still the danger that viewer ends up wanting to watch the comedy instead of the drama.

Will said...

P.S.: Just seen this quote on Family Guy. "I finally get Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night. It's a comedy that's too good to be funny."

Ryan said...

I'll have to agree with you too. The subplots just aren't as exciting as some of the political debates they had in the West Wing.
However it's still good and I'll carry on watching it.

Mark said...

How have you caught these episodes? I haven't seen it in the UK yet (and I've been looking).

Please don't say its started and I've missed it!

Stephen Tall said...

Mark - don't worry, it's not been on in the UK yet (C4 next year, I think). Some of us just have special powers, I guess...

For avoidance of doubt, btw, Studio 60 *is* brilliant./ Sorkin's incapable of writing anything else.

It's just that West Wing was genius.