Thursday, May 24, 2007

Studio 60: Addition by subtraction

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?

19 comments:

Diana said...

I enjoyed this for all the wrong reasons. I wonder if Sorkin intended for this episode to be as funny as it ended up.

I agree with you on the Harriet and Matt plot. While it was nice to see the other characters berate Harriet for constantly talking about Matt, she didn't learn her lesson. On his past shows Sorkin proved that he was incapable of writing romantic relationships(the 2nd season Dana/Casey relationship is a prime example), yet he keeps trying. This episode proves it's the writing and not the acting killing this storyline because Perry wasn't even present.

I commented on the episode at my personal blog:
http://www.mediaobsessed.com

theblankscreen said...

Alan

Completely unrelated...now that GG has gone I thought you might like a momento

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Just a little something to remember the show by *S*

Terry

theblankscreen said...

http://cgi.ebay.com/Lorelais-Jeep-Wra
ngler-from-Gilmore-Girls_W0QQitemZ14
0121481825QQihZ004QQcategoryZ201QQs
sPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

Stacie said...

I enjoyed the episode a lot, but I have enjoyed the series all along. Then again, I never saw "Sports Night" and only watched 1 or 2 seasons of "West Wing." Perhaps what killed "Studio 60" included people's insistence on comparing it to those other programs...

Devin McCullen said...

I was futzing around on the computer, so I guess I missed some of the visual jokes. I do want to say to any network people out there, if you ever have Alison Janney on a live TV show, it goes kablooey, and she loses it and fires off an extended rant at the end of the show - Let us hear it, for goodness' sake! (Yeah, it's unlikely, but right is right.)

Anyway, speaking of Summer Burn-Off Theater, 1)When are they supposed to show the leftover episodes of Drive, and 2)Any idea how House and Boston Public got stuck with new episodes that they're showing next Tuesday? (Especially when FOX spent a few weeks with a Monday at 8 slot showing House reruns?)

M.A.Peel said...

Alan, I like reading you on all the shows you cover, but your Studio 60 posts are by far my favorite. Yes to everything you said (Simon as Jack Tripper and Peter Brady--what a riot:). It was great to see Allison Janney. Someone should develop a show for her.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Anyway, speaking of Summer Burn-Off Theater, 1)When are they supposed to show the leftover episodes of Drive, and 2)Any idea how House and Boston Public got stuck with new episodes that they're showing next Tuesday? (Especially when FOX spent a few weeks with a Monday at 8 slot showing House reruns?)

Not sure on Drive, but the other two are the result of Fox and ABC making last-minute decisions regarding On the Lot (which wasn't originally going to debut post-Idol) and The Bachelor (which wasn't originally going to get an "After the Rose" special). With the calamitous ratings for On the Lot, I'm sure Fox would rather have one extra House original rating for their end-of-season totals.

TL said...

All in all, I thought that was the best episode of the season. Sorkin must be pissed that the absence of all of what seem to be his favorite elements of the show made it that way. I especially liked the cast's resignation about the "disaster episode," that they treated it kind of like the whether.

Matt said...

Drive is supposed to air the remaining two episodes on July 4, I've read somewhere.

And holding an extra episode of House for "post-season" is a decision that was made long ago (Fox has been hyping On The Lot for months), though I really don't get it, especially since they could have still run On The Lot in that slot and just had one fewer repeat of House on Tuesdays.

jim treacher said...

"Perhaps what killed 'Studio 60' included people's insistence on comparing it to those other programs..."

Or perhaps comparing it to Doing Absolutely Anything Else With My Time.

Alan Sepinwall said...

(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.)

And the preliminary numbers sure don't fill me with confidence that the show will air next week. It averaged 3.9 million viewers, finishing, behind both a "Shark" repeat (11 million) and a "Grey's" rerun (5.4 million).

I know the counter-argument is, "Well, what else are they going to put there?" But I imagine "ER" repeats, even at this late stage of that show's life, will do better, and business-wise, there's little value to NBC in continuing to air leftover episodes of a series with no future on their airwaves.

J said...

I'm sure Fox would rather have one extra House original rating for their end-of-season totals

Yeah, this was stupid. I get what they were going for, but pissing off series fans to lure in viewers for less-expensive drama shows doesn't seem like such a wise move. I've lazily settled into a House/Boston Public Tuesday night block, and now I'll be missing both finales. Television is dead to me until September.

Beware the Doctor Who "daleks in Manhattan" epsiodes. shudder

Nicole said...

I wish Allison Janney would have been in every episode because she was my favourite part. I still like Cal and Steven Weber's character, but D.L. Hughley's search for a date reminded me of how much of an insufferable prick he can be and then the entire Darius fiasco came back to mind and I flipped the channel for those scenes.

I have never watched Sportsnight and West Wing and so I never compared Studio 60 to other Sorkin shows. Frankly, I hear of this talk that he is a good writer, but I have yet to see an example of it and this debacle does not encourage me to seek out the other shows.

Anonymous said...

The show on ABC is Boston LEGAL. Boston Publix was FOX's David E. Kelley series set in a high school.

KEVIN МАРУСЕК said...

For the record, even with a 2 minute season recap and the 15 second opening credit sequence, the show's running time topped out at 36 minutes exactly. Someone at the network needs a paddling.

Despite the absence of the three biggest stars of the show, this week's episode ranks among the best of the series. Whatever happens with Studio 60, Timothy Busfield deserves an Emmy nomination. And to hear Aaron Sorkin's words once again spoken by Allison Janney (who guest starred as a "guest host") was music to my ears.

And I thought the season finale of The Office would stand out as the highlight of NBC's '06-'07 season. Sorkin and Schlamme just blew it out of the water with what was essentially a standalone, placeholder episode.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this show was helped considerably by the absence of the 3 supposed "leads". As much as I like Perry and Whitford, their characters have become blowhards who suck all the air out of every scene they're in. I just wish that Paulson's Harriet could have disappeared too, and not come back.

Giving Busfield more screen time was a great idea. Why is it that every plotline they give to D.L. Hughley makes him look worse? And it's too bad that after his "insurance rates" moment, they had Weber's character drunk and saying supposedly wacky things. And Allison Janney stole every scene she was in--I could've watched her for the hour (or 55 minutes, or 36 minutes, whatever).

What IS so funny about tables collapsing? Sorkin's done it twice now. Har-har. And a german shepherd that only understands German? Isn't that a joke that a 1st-grader would tell?

So, some good scenes, some great performances, and a lot of teeth-gratingly bad attempts at comedy and "wackiness". Another typical "Studio 60".

Anonymous said...

I don't even think the commands were German at all...

Art Morris said...

I really WANT to like this show, if only because they gave Nate Torrence a chance.

John said...

You've gone quite mad, man. It was, by far, the most insufferable and appalling the series has managed. I began as a huge advocate for what I still believe was a wonderful theatrical piece of television. But now, dear God, now. It was the most moronic form of farce, mixed in with the ghastly plot cliches you list. I hate Sorkin for proving NBC right.

Extended thoughts here:

http://botherer.cream.org/?p=729