Okay, Sorkin. I’ll admit it. This is the first show of yours that I’ve watched regularly. Even though I love The American President and will watch it every single time I come across it on television, despite the fact that I’ve seen it countless times, I’ve just never been able to get into Sports Night or the Sorkinasaurus that was The West Wing. But I had to get in on the ground floor with Studio 60. Behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show, advance buzz comparing it to my beloved Network and on and on…So I tuned in for the first episode. I did enjoy the Network-esque speech in the first episode and largely, I enjoyed the episode itself. Then things started tumbling downhill.
To wit, it’s become apparent that Studio 60 is following a formula. A problem is introduced, we spend the entire episode dealing with said problem, problem is resolved at end of episode with no consequence in future episodes.* Studio 60, despite its vaunted pedigree, is a glorified sitcom. Worse, even–it’s not even funny. I’ve given a knowing murmur to a couple of the lines on the show–the one about how they’d mock Democrats if Democrats would actually do or say something? Brill. But I have not laughed out loud once.
And that’s a problem for a show that’s supposed to be funny, even if the funny bits are just supposed to be the snippets of sketches we see. On the subject of those sketches…ouch. If the show-within-the-show were a real program, I sincerely doubt it would get the ratings response it’s gotten in fake life. I suspect that in reality, its ratings would mirror the real Studio 60. I’d be IMing Zooby during the fake Studio 60, all “‘Pimp My Trike’? Are they for real?”
And then there’s the Gilbert and Sullivan take-off. It was moderately amusing, but it begs the question–does Aaron Sorkin actually watch sketch comedy shows? Has he ever? Now granted, I’ve heard that SNL actually did a parody of “The Major-General’s Song” in 1995. If you didn’t know that, it seems to tell one a lot about the sketch’s success. Now I’m not saying that one should have an encyclopedic knowledge of all sketches ever. I’m merely asking, is that it? That’s the sketch that is not only supposed to mark the sea change at Studio 60 but also helps the show retain viewers? For serious?
Now don’t get me wrong. I think there are many good pieces in the show–I like the characters and most of the non-comedy writing is top-notch. But I don’t think it should be left to the viewer to sift for gold.
Studio 60 is the most heartbreaking show of the new crop. You expected things like Kidnapped and the other show about kidnapping to be crappy, but everyone knew this was going to be great. By the second episode we were all telling ourselves that the show just needed a little time to hit its stride. Even if it wasn’t the best, we all said, it’s still better than anything else on the networks.
Maybe you, like me, felt a little guilty for not liking it as much as you’d hoped. After all, you’re a smart person and you like smart TV, and this is smart TV. It says so itself. Six episodes of tepid drama later and I’ve had about enough. Not just of the show, but of the implication that a vote against this show is a vote for Howie Mandel and other stupidity bearing terrorists.
There’s more to being a smart show than just referencing 16th century theatre troupes or Operation Overlord (that’s the invasion of Normandy for you, plebes). It’s easy to banter. It’s harder to craft meaningful characters who aren’t just stand-ins for yourself or your friends. You can’t build a one hour drama on a platform of various witty remarks and your opinions about things, especially when those opinions are already well mined territory. Have you heard that reality TV sucks? It does. Watch out, this show is tellin’ it like it is! Watching Studio 60 is like watching somebody piss away 3 million on enacting a blog.
And when they need drama, they bring in an old blacklisted war hero and wring the pathos out of him like a human sponge.I’d much rather watch a show about Judd Hirsch and his den of slovenly writers and performers. These are people I can identify with (as I sit here writing this in my pajamas). Everybody hates a winner, at least I do, and Matt and Danny exude winningness. They ride in, knights in sharp suits, and save the show with their Midas touch and the cutting edge comedy of Gilbert and Sullivan. Matt and Danny are like a two man cool kids table, and they’re not pulling up a chair for the rest of us. We’re supposed to be grateful to merely be invited to watch them.
Well, I tried. I was impressed with the pilot of Studio 60. Clearly, this is a show I am supposed to like. I am this show’s target audience. My good feelings for it lasted for one episode, but I didn’t say anything because I’m supposed to get it.
In the weeks since, it has become all too clear that Aaron Sorkin isn’t interested in making fun of bad TV or bad comedy or bad acting or even in telling a behind the scenes tale of drugs, fist fights, fame, alcoholism, sex, rock music, and race relations. Now, I’m embracing my indifference and dislike and shouting it from the rooftops: This show sucks.
I kind of wanted Studio 60 to be like Live From New York, a fabulous book about the behind the scenes workings of Saturday Night Live over the years. You should read it. It will alternately crack your shit up (Bill Murray punching Chevy Chase in the face and yelling “Fucking Chevy, man! Medium talent!” right before Chase had to deliver a monologue) and make you cry (The description of Gilda Radner right before her death). Instead, this show is like a very special episode of Blossom or Full House. We learn a very important lesson, we all hug at the end, the music swells and somebody spews a catchphrase.
Oh, Aaron Sorkin. In the words of somebody who is a much, much, MUCH funnier writer than you: I hate so much about the way you choose to be. If the hipper than thou Internet choir is the one you’re preaching to, then by all means, do so. But you’d better come to the plate with something better than some jerks laughing about how stupid everybody else is while they’re so smart and funny they’re writing ace material like “Science Schmience.”
This week, we watch Timothy Busfield be so obtuse it takes him the entire episode to figure out the old guy clutching a picture from the wall and wandering around backstage might have worked here back in the day. The idea that so many talented, funny individuals were blacklisted and never worked in showbiz again is indeed sad and something worth examining in an age when dissenters and malcontents are rewarded with their own Comedy Central shows where they can make fun of the current administration as often and as maliciously as they like to hilarious effect. Instead, it’s all just a metaphor for the love/hate relationship between Matt and Harriet. See, old guy used to write his best sketches for a girl he loved. Just like Matt and Harriet. OMG! You guys! They’re totally MFEO! But they won’t get together. Or maybe they will! But no! They won’t! Until they do! Vom.
Speaking of vomit! The scene with Matt and D.L. Hughley’s character Simon seeing the young comedian bomb and then offering him a job was interesting except for the part where Simon tells the dude in order to get their fantastic job, he must worship at the feet of Matt Albie. Which doesn’t exactly ring true, as earlier in this very episode, Simon was telling Matt how he needs to be challenged and test his boundaries about black culture and comedy. So should this guy worship Matt or challenge him, Simon? Because I really think they’re two different things.
For a show with so much potential to end up being so bad that I give up five or six episodes in is a shame. Shows like this thrive on conflict and you would think it’s built right in. So where’s the drugs and the sex and the fist fights? Huh? Why are we just wandering around backstage being emo, Chanandler Bong? What is up with this staying clean, supposed coke fiend Danny Tripp? I’d rather see Danny deal with an addiction while the show gets better and struggle with thinking it’s because he’s on drugs. (Hellloooo? Ringing any bells Sorkin?) Instead, he tells everyone right off the bat and swears never to touch it again. Good stuff. I feel better. I’m glad we had this little chat. Now please do something interesting.
Until then, it’s like Bill Murray said: Medium talent.