Ahhh, Summer Burn-Off Theatre, the lifeblood of a TV blogger in that otherwise deathly period between the end of the network season and the premieres of all the summer cable shows. "Studio 60" spoilers coming up just as soon as I locate my blood squibs...
I wrestled with whether to write anything about the burn-off run of "Studio 60." I was such an early and fervent basher of the show that it led me to have words with Aaron Sorkin, and the idea of continuing to trash the show after it's already been canceled feels like overkill.
And yet I felt the need to tune in tonight for the same reason I kept watching all fall, well after I had realized how much I disliked the show, when readers of this blog and my column know how quick I am to give up on series that just aren't doing it for me. "Studio 60" was awful, but it was compellingly awful. Maybe, I thought, the final episodes would continue to provide object lessons in how not to do a weekly drama series.
Instead, oddly, the first post-cancellation episode turned out to be kinda decent -- not least because Matt, Danny and Jordan were absent from the entire hour. (At least from final cut, anyway; all four episode-specific photos on NBC's media site feature Whitford and/or Perry, suggesting they were in the episode at an early stage and got cut at the end.) I know I wrote often that Matthew Perry was the best thing about the show (or maybe second best, after Steven Weber), but the Matt character was insufferable most of the time, and the Danny/Jordan relationship was the second-biggest miscalculation of the entire series -- after only Sorkin's belief that anyone would like or be interested in the Matt/Harriet relationship.
So keeping the three alleged stars out of the picture all night allowed the show to breathe instead of drowning in the usual fumbled attempts at romantic comedy involving actors and characters with zero on-screen chemistry. Instead, Sorkin got to focus on something he does well: farce. This was no "Thespis," but it was light, it moved, and it put most of the load on three actors with excellent comedy chops: Tim Busfield, Weber (amusingly drunk for the whole show), and Allison Janney. I suppose it should be confusing that Janney was playing herself as an ex-"West Wing" star and sharing scenes with the actor who had played her love interest on that show but was playing a different character here, but the two played so well off each other -- just as Busfield and Weber did -- that I didn't much care.
The hour still had some of the usual "Studio 60" problems. After being briefly appealing in the early going (especially when she was imitating Janney's spaz-out during the gangster sketch), Harriet went right back to being insufferable and pathetic as she once again let the rest of the world lecture her on what to do with her romantic life. When Dylan said, "I'm not sure why the two of you aren't just together," I wanted to scream, "BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO CHEMISTRY AND ARE EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE TO EACH OTHER AT EVERY TURN!" (I didn't, but only because that would have woken up my daughter, who needs her sleep to beat the flu.) And Simon's two-dates-for-one-trip subplot was, like Jordan and Danny getting locked on the roof, another example of Sorkin ripping off the kind of incredibly low-brow TV he tries to act above. (And with the roof story, at least he had the semi-decency to have Danny complain about what a hackneyed situation it was, where nobody bothered to comment on how Simon had suddenly turned into Jack Tripper or Peter Brady.)
Overall, though, I didn't hate this one. The previews for the next episode prominently feature Perry, Whitford and Peet, so I imagine I'll be writing a screed a week from now. (Assuming, of course, that the ratings aren't so terrible that NBC doesn't just pull the plug on this experiment and go back to "ER" reruns.) But for one night, I'm glad I don't have to kick the sick puppy.
What did everybody else think?