Fall TV 2006: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Filed under:Reviews,Television — posted by Anwyn on October 12, 2006 @ 11:34 pm

I’m a fan of Aaron Sorkin. I loved Sports Night from the very beginning, and though it took me a bit longer to warm up to The West Wing, warm up I did. They were witty, intelligent, occasionally gripping shows, basically nothing somebody else hasn’t said long ago somewhere else, so I won’t rehash them here. I quit watching WW shortly after Sorkin’s exit; I didn’t want to stop, but I just didn’t enjoy it any more. I’ve never been an ER girl, and ER in the White House is exactly what it became.

With all that, I expected to enjoy, if not immediately fall for, Studio 60. Matthew Perry, for pete’s sake! Always one of my to-die-fors from Friends, the idea of Matthew Perry speaking Sorkin lines had to be a sure-fire. Bradley Whitford, fresh off the stale WW and, hopefully, just fresh.

Alas. Fresh seems to be the last thing Sorkin’s capable of producing right now. Old inside jokes and self-parodies, knee-jerk liberal platitudes and Bush/Christian/conservative bashing are Studio 60’s mainstay so far. Surprisingly, it’s not even who/what he’s bashing that I mind. It’s that it’s so done. There is no longer anything new, brave, smart, clever, or stylish about whinging (no, I don’t mean “whining,” I mean “whinging,” pronounced to rhyme with “binging,” see also Firefly) about Republicans, calling Christians stupid, ignorant, naive, and extreme, or tipping the wink to your old shows, to the amusement of those shows’ fans and nobody else. And new, brave, smart, clever, and stylish used to be Sorkin’s hallmark. There were a few hat-tips from West Wing to Sports Night, but the latter was on only two seasons and had few viewers, so those inside nods were gracious and felt good to us diehard fans who hated to see SN go. But WW was on so long that you’d have to either have no TV or have no workplace water cooler … or no blogs, a category Sorkin recently added to his shit list, judging by a rant Perry gave in episode two … not to see the copying. And memo to Thomas Schlamme: Sports Night lines delivered under West Wing lighting are not working. I-knew-it-when, so when the Studio 60 character Harriet Hayes marches in to unleash the fury of the woman scorned on Perry’s Matthew with a speech straight out of Sports Night, I’m hearing Felicity Huffman but watching Allison Janney, who tonight will be played by Sarah Paulson. It’s disturbing.

The worst part about Sorkin’s kneejerking is that it’s contagious. When he spends two or three episodes nonstop bitching about stupid Christians (and guess what, I know there are plenty out there. Plenty of stupid people of all philosophic persuasions out there, folks) and conservatives in general, he makes me think “bullshit” when he trots out a story about Grease and The Crucible at a Missouri high schoolthe latter having been cancelled “because it portrays Christians in a bad light” after uptight Christians complained about the former. But it’s a true story, of course, because as Perry’s character, again, said, when slurring Liberty University in Virginia (founder Jerry Falwell being one of Sorkin’s true hates, from SN right on up), “I don’t want to get anything wrong.”

Well, Sorkin, you’ve got it wrong. Quit your bitching. It’s annoying. It’s far more self-righteous and whiny than it ever was in the faux White House, which is saying something, since the pontificating found a far more appropriate venue on Pennsylvania Avenue than it ever will on the Sunset Strip. Your players are working hard for you. I was worried about Perry, who seemed deathly nervous in episode one and whom Sorkin wasn’t helping out by alternately writing him as a total screw-up one minute and the grown-up in the creative partnership with Whitford’s character the next, but he’s settling down and might make a fine grown-up nonChandler. Whitford I never worry about. Paulson is sweet and totally entertaining–her Holly Hunter impression is ear-poppingly accurate–and the rest of the cast, notably D.L. Hughley, are working hard to make it look easy, and it’s effective. Amanda Peet is keeping it low-key; she’s a wait-and-see for an emotional moment for her character, but the one who’s impressing me the most is Steven Weber. He’s a great foil for Peet’s character, and who knew he could do that if, like me, you’d only seen him being goofy on Wings?

I will say there is one aspect in which I would like to see Studio 60 emulate The West Wing a little more: Timothy Busfield, you are sweet and charming. Please regrow your beard. Thank you.


  1. So far I’m digging this show. Never saw Sports Night so I wasn’t bothered by the “in jokes.”

    I had much more to say about your review (especially paragraph four) but for now I think I’ll conserve my creative energy for something other than whinging. ;-)

    Firefly rules.

    Comment by Allen — October 13, 2006 @ 6:17 am

  2. […] I’ve been justifiably hard on Studio 60 since its premiere, and I slogged through episode after episode yelling at the TV, grumbling after it was over, and hoping the next episode would pull up. Aaron Sorkin finally proved, with December 4th’s “The Christmas Show,” that he’s still got it. An episode with all the snap of the best of Sports Night, a taste of some of the worthier political posturing of The West Wing, and a dash of (gasp) character development. I finally realized that’s been the problem all along–the characters exist merely to rant about Sorkin’s political opinions, much like a multi-million dollar human version of the blogs Sorkin seems to hate. In “The Christmas Show,” though, he actually seemed to allow the characters to let down and develop some on their own, even unbending enough to acknowledge that the opinion of an anonymous consumer could be a reasonably important thing in the marketplace of television and movies. Romantic subplots were advanced, something I always like to see, Jack the Hardass Executive became a sympathetic human being, and Jordan the Female Executive is going to be dealing with a pregnancy and child. It always concerns me when shows take up motherhood as a theme, but it beats most of the alternative ways of addressing the possibility of pregnancy for a single woman on TV. I’ll take iit. […]

    Pingback by Anwyn’s Notes in the Margin » Studio 60: It’s Alive — December 24, 2006 @ 7:02 pm

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