"Studio 60" episode two spoilers, just as soon as I figure out what "intellectual reach-around" means...
Oh, Sorkin, you keep getting me and you keep losing me.
You had me when Amanda Peet stopped trying to act with her smile alone and made me actually believe that Jordan could exist ("Clear it" was a nice line); then you lost me in her meeting about the network affiliates, where she got about 17 different things wrong about the TV business. (Notably the idea that she's bullet-proof on Friday nights because the movie studios need to advertise their product. Hey, Jordan; by 11:30 on a Friday night, the battle for who's going to win that weekend's box office is all but over, which is why Thursdays in primetime is when the heavy movie ad dollars are spent.)
You had me when you gave Matthew Perry more to do and he proved up to the challenge. Could he be any more of a leading man? (Sorry. Must... resist... Chandler!) He could do goofy (his belief in the doomsday clock's sentience), hostile (dressing down the badly-dressed writing staff, threatening to bench Harriet), inspired (dreaming up the cold open), etc. He's really showing all the colors. Then you lost me by making Harriet so shrill and annoying. Hey, I get that you're trying to have the last word in that particular relationship, but let it go already.
Speaking of not letting things go, you lost me when you had to dredge up your Television Without Pity fiasco again, after already looking so lame on the subject in "The U.S. Poet Laureate." I'll have you know that I'm not writing this in my pajamas -- though my t-shirt does have a hole in the armpit. So there.
You also lost me with the prayer circle. WTF? IM,WTFF? I totally believe this is something Harriet would want to do, and maybe one or two other people in the cast, but everyone? The way it was presented, this is A)a long-standing tradition, and B)something where the lead prayer job gets rotated. Just not buying it, not even as something the others do to appease Harriet, since she hasn't been written so far as someone who forces her faith on others. The first episode established that she was "the religious one," and showbiz in general tends to be one of the most agnostic professions I know of. The whole scene felt like a very forced attempt by Sorkin to show that, in spite of all the anti-Christian jabs of the last two hours, he doesn't hate all Christians. Don't you see? They prayed together! Did you see that? Are you looking?
But the big You Lost Me moment comes right at the end, when Matt's big sketch, the idea he's been fretting about for the whole episode, the one that's supposed to signal the beginning of a creative renaissance at "Studio 60," the one that the whole Eureka! scene with the tight close-ups and soaring music wanted us to believe is just brilliant... well, it sucked.
Okay, maybe it didn't suck. It was kind of clever, in a college drama revue night sort of way. But as the saving grace of a big-budget, allegedly cutting-edge sketch comedy TV show? No. Not at all. Not even when they dress it up with the orchestra and the opera singers. It's not something I would be stunned to see on the real "SNL," but that's the whole point; if the real "SNL" did it, I would shrug and wonder when they were going to get to the new Digital Short.
(And speaking of the real "SNL," I understand Aaron not wanting to offend the people there too much, hence the acknowledgment that that show co-exists with "Studio 60" in this universe, but all that does is make "Studio 60" seem like a pale imitation. That whole bit where Matt and Danny rattle off Wes' credentials and suggest they'd rather be sitting in Lorne Michaels' chair? Huh? Wha? Wes isn't some visionary; he's the guy who ripped of "SNL" and called it "Fridays," only it's still on the air 20 years later.)
On top of everything else, after making such a big deal about how Matt and Harriet's relationship fell apart while she was promoting her record, we actually hear her sing and she's not very good. I mean, Sarah Paulson's voice is better than mine, but would need a whole lotta Studio Magic to sound good on a CD. And given how much the show tries to sell us on the characters' creative integrity, I don't believe she's the sort of person who would enter a branch of the entertainment industry for which she wasn't qualified.
Because this show is about the creative process -- much moreso than "Sports Night," or "The West Wing" (where we only ever heard snippets of the speeches Sam and Toby wrote) -- we have to on some level believe in the characters' talent, believe that Matt and Danny are making the show better, and if this is the best Aaron (not a trained sketch comedy writer) can do, that's going to be an uphill fight. (Wisely, he declined to show us any of "Crazy Christians," which couldn't remotely live up to the hype it got in the pilot. So much for all of Jordan's talk about how they should open the show with it.) He keeps telling us one thing is going on when we can clearly see it's something else, and unless he can import people capable of writing a great sketch (or, in the case of Mark McKinney, who's on the writing staff but treated like a researcher, let them write for him), I don't see this big fat problem going away.
And then, just as I was ready to write the show off altogether, we get that shot of Matt realizing that the doomsday clock has started again, and he had me again -- at least for another week. But my faith in the power of Sorkin is really being tried here.
What did everybody else think? And was I the only one weirded out by a Lou Grant reference one week after Ed Asner played the head of NBS' parent company?