Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Studio 60: In praise of Matthew Perry

Spoilers for "Studio 60" coming right up...

There's so much to trash about last night's episode, from the usual soul-sucking nature of the Matt/Harriet scenes to the ongoing grossness of Jordan/Danny to the sledgehammer references to 1999 to the even more sledgehammer-y attempt at pulling a "Bruce Willis has been dead since the first scene!" twist that I really hope you all saw coming from 12 miles away.

But either I'm in a charitable mood or I'm getting bored with the weekly negativity, so let's turn the focus for this post on the bright, shining aspect of this show: Matthew Perry.

In my review of last week's "Scrubs," I noted that John C. McGinley probably didn't have to dig too deep to find motivation for a scene about fearing for his unborn baby's health. Similarly, it's not exactly a stretch for Matthew Perry to imagine himself as a pill-popper, anymore than John Spencer knew how to play a drunk or how Sorkin or David Milch know how to write about addictive behavior. But these men in general and Perry in particular bring more than personal knowledge to the table.

Even in the midst of the telegraphed silliness about Matt Albie's imaginary anagramically-named friend Tim Batale (props to the fine people at TWoP for pointing this out, I wouldn't have spelled Batale that way, and am generally not great at word puzzles), I found myself really interested in what Perry was going to do next, how he would deliver a line, or look at a co-star. He's not infallible -- even he can't make me give a toss about the Matt/Harriet relationship or not think that Matt acts like an ass at every turn of that storyline -- but overall it's a revelatory dramatic performance, and one that makes me want to see what he does after this show gets canceled.

A few other thoughts:
  • So Luke worked at "Studio 60" too, huh? Between him and Matt and Danny, why does it seem like all the writing alums have, instead of producing broad sitcoms or movies, have all gone the art film route?
  • Where were Ricky and/or Ron? During the set visit last month, Sorkin lamented having a tighter budget for the rest of the season, but I can't imagine that either of Evan Handler and Carlos Jacott cost significantly more than Stephen Tobolowsky. Then again, Tobolowsky was there more as a substitute Wes (Ricky and Ron would've been low on the totem pole, assuming they were even with the show at the time), and I'm guessing the "Numb3rs" people are balking at making Judd Hirsch too available.
  • Tom and Dylan going in circles on their metric system sketch felt very recycled Sorkin -- the sort of scene that Casey and Danny or Sam and Toby would have been in -- but not in a bad way. I laughed a few times, particularly when McKinney ripped them for their bad Canadian accents.
  • Okay, so it's 1999, and Harriet is still working on her Juliette Lewis impression? It would have been dated even back then. And her Julia Roberts sounded exactly like Sarah Paulson's regular speaking voice.
  • If I hadn't been watching the episode at the office on NBC.com, where the media player throws a hissy fit anytime you try to fast forward, I would have skipped past every Danny and Jordan scene, and especially any Jordan and Hallie scene. There is no way that, in 2007, any network would try a show like "The Reckoning" -- not because it's in poor taste, but because the mass audience for that sort of thing doesn't exist anymore, and hasn't for five or six years, if ever.
  • As I joked last week, Perry in the baseball cap didn't look seven years younger, but at least Schlamme or Sorkin had the good sense not to even attempt to make Brad Whitford look younger, instead hiding his face in his flashback cameo.
  • And speaking of Schlamme, and/or the editor, nice work on the cut from flashback Matt bouncing the ball to present day Matt catching it on the rebound.

What did everybody else think?


Heather K said...

I actually liked that this episode let me totally let go of any care at all about Matt and Harry. It was doomed from the start. The second he called her a nutbar; they were done. Not that they might not still flirt/have a stab at a relationship, but it wouldn't matter because they were done. She is never going to really love him and vice versa. That's great, now will Sorkin please let that one die a quick little death.

In spite of myself, I found myself liking the Jordan/Danny scene when he talked to the baby in the tummy. I think I might be starting to like them (despite their stalker beginnings).

Heather K said...

Oh yeah, and I love Matt Perry. He was great. It needs nothing more said.

Anonymous said...

Why do you continue to watch this show, Alan? Are you still naively clinging to the notion that it will get better? Or is it just to pick it apart? It's clearly never going to improve, so I think it must be the latter. And, while I think the show's failings were initially fascinating in a trainwreck sort of way, I can't imagine coming back to something I clearly disliked so much week after week. So what's the deal?

Anonymous said...

Couldn't watch it last night -- there was a movie with Scott Bakula ;-)


J said...

Lasted two and a half minutes, this week. The singer who opened the show was so horrid that I thought, in quick succession:

(a) "This program must be for people who love aural crap - and the way NBC pushed Corinne Bailey Rae on us on every one of their shows, I'd best avoid that network as much as possible in the coming weeks"

(b) "This horrible, horrible music is still better than one of Sorkin's mock-skits."

(c) "I wonder what's on ABC, right now?"

Turns out that Brian is Somewhere in the Title of this Show show is bearable, if not especially good.

Jeff said...

i'm bad at anagrams: what did i miss?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Tim Batale is an anagram for Matt Albie.

Undercover Black Man said...

Matt Perry is a real good actor. It's fun to watch the spin he puts on the ball.

I didn't see the Batale reveal coming... but when it came, I was like, "So freaking what? Is that sort of cutesy shit supposed to be the equivalent of artful writing?" It had no genuine human meaning. None. It was just a parlor trick. Or an attempt at a parlor trick.

Now... a metric conversion sketch? Excuse me... a METRIC CONVERSION sketch?? When's the last time you heard the words "metric system" uttered in our public discourse?

Besides, "SNL" did the killer metric-conversion sketch of all times 30 years ago... Dan Aykroyd's "Deca-bet." ("Mucus becomes LMNOucus...") If this was the only pretext Sorkin could come up with for some Canadian jokes, then... Hey, wait a minute... Canadian jokes? Excuse me... CANADIAN JOKES??

And don't forget the drinking game. "Aristophanes!" (*chug*) Plus, I have my doubts as to whether D.L. Hughley can pronounce "Lysistrata," let alone credible portray someone who could act it. I just had to laugh when Matt said that line.

All of which brings me to anonymous's existential query: Why keep watching?

I do not know. Glad to say I didn't bother watching last week's "Part 3"... but I don't accept anon's premise that it's illegitimate to watch S60 just to pick it apart. This show is interesting in the ways that it fails, compared to most failures. We're not watching incompetence. We're watching vanity, hubris... the stuff of Aristophanes! (*chug*)

TomV - PiscatawayNJ said...

There are times I think that the biggest problem with this show is the setting.I just don't think that most people really care that much about SNL, or a program about a fictitious behind the scenes SNL-type show.Why would they?

I was eagerly anticipating this show, since I am a fan of SNL, and thought a behind the scenes scenerio could be good. Somewhere along the line, Sorkin has lost his way with these weak-ass plots and storylines.

I wonder what if the show was set in an "American Idol-type" setting.I don't know if the writing would have improved, but people that follow that juggernaught of a show would at least take a peek and see what it was all about. Harriet could have been a drunken judge that was always out of it!

I gotta go turn my hat around now, the kids hate when I try to be look younger....

Luna said...

TomV--the obvious rebuttal is that 30 Rock, the other NBC "program about a fictitious behind the scenes SNL-type show" has been widely well received and is, in fact, pretty freakin' awesome.

Undercover--You know what? I did an award-winning project on American reactions to the possibility of a metric-system conversion. In sixth grade. When I was eleven. (I agree with your rationale for watching--I really don't like anything about the show, with the possible exception of Steven Weber, but all the myriad ways in which it manages to be bad in spite of all its initial potential are utterly captivating.

Luna said...

TomV--the obvious rebuttal is that 30 Rock, the other NBC "program about a fictitious behind the scenes SNL-type show" has been widely well received and is, in fact, pretty freakin' awesome.

Undercover--You know what? I did an award-winning project on American reactions to the possibility of a metric-system conversion. In sixth grade. When I was eleven. (I agree with your rationale for watching--I really don't like anything about the show, with the possible exception of Steven Weber, but all the myriad ways in which it manages to be bad in spite of all its initial potential are utterly captivating.

Luna said...

Double-posted. I am dumb. Sorry.

ooda said...

I liked the episode, and up to this point, it's one of my favorite. Matt Perry did a good job acting, but I also loved seeing the scenes with Cal in the control room. Hell, any scene with Cal I'll generally like, and having them in the control room just helps. It was handled well in Sports Night, and while it would take a lot to get the same chemistry as Dana, Natalie and Jeremy had, but they seem to come close.

Having Thomas Schlamme back I love, as he brings a level of class to the directing that can't really be matched.

The Danny/Jordan scenes I'm still not a fan of, but they were decent this time round. I'm just happy to see him back in a suit, looking somewhat normal instead of the intensified yuppie version that was present whenever he donned the black turtleneck/suit-jacket combo.

Most of all, the drugs storyline should be a good one, as we're now getting onto territory that Sorkin knows something about, and by this point it would be nice to see the show getting into some more significant drama.

Still there's one thing that has pissed me off continually. Why aren't there anymore writers? I know there's a budget issue, but at least getting some glorified extras to sit in would make a difference for the better. Old "Studio 60" had what looked like forty writers (okay, interns and junior writers made up a big chunk of that, but that's neither here nor there), so jumping back to present day "Studio 60" ends up feeling a bit drab in comparison.

Though I do counter the point the anonymous poster put forward. As was once said and often quoted, "reports of my death have been greatly exagerated", Studio 60, while not great, is still good enough to keep watching with the lingering thought in one's head that it has the potential to improve. We've seen what he can do with Sports Night and The West Wing, so it's not unfathomable to think the same may happen here. Hell, this drug abuse storyline could be just the thing that pulls the show out of the gutters.

Matt said...

I haven't watched yet, but "Tom Jeter's Metric Conversion" is a nice bit of continuity. It's consistently been on the "board" in Matt's office, and I believe there've been a couple of references to it in dialogue. Admittedly, it's a throwaway Jon Stewart joke (see in the back of America: The Book), but you gotta admire the continuity.

Joe in Philly said...

The show survives based on the charisma of Perry, Whitford, Webber and Peet.

The driving conflict was producing a TV show and no one cared. They retooled and the driving conflict is interpersonal relationships of characters no one likes and relationships no one believes.

Add to that unfunny comedy, unsexy female leads, and Sorkin's tired tricks, and I can't stay away.

Tom G said...

I tend to agree with Joe. Every week I watch this show, and every week I ask myself why. Tonight I decided its because of Peete, Perry, Whitford, Paulson, and Webber. I like the actors, but the plots are just not cutting it.

mel said...

Perhaps I am alone in this, but I do not like the drug story. I am continually feeling on this show a sense of been there, done that (the Christian-right attacks being the most obvious examples).
They started off with Danny just off drugs and Matt being supportive--the rock in the relationship. Now the roles are to be reversed, I suppose. Some rock, huh?

I know that the drug issue is part of capturing some of what really goes on behind the scenes on an SNL type show, but I just don't care about it done in this particular way. Still, I agree that Perry is great, though he was so undermined by the stupid baseball cap and by the fact that the often condescending Albie was getting advice on how to cope and then taking drugs from a third-rate singer.

Finally, the opening with the crappy music was painful and seemingly endless--but perhaps appropriate in that it really set the stage for the awfulness to come.

Anonymous said...

someone said "When's the last time you heard the words "metric system" uttered in our public discourse"
Actually, HIMYM had a funny, one line metric/Canadia joke, I thought. The line about the length of the marathon. I just like the way Ted dismissed Robin something like "OK, Canada" and turned to the others and gave the miles. It was funny to me (not too much as I am reading my description, though!)

Matt said...

Maybe Sorkin went down the following road--A lot of folks say Matt Albie is an ass. Hey, there's another character on TV who's a pretty much unmittigated ass, and he's winning loads of awards and critical acclaim. And his character's hooked on Vicodin. I can write addiction! Matt can play addiction! Let's go!