Monday, September 18, 2006

Aaron Stu? Kristin Sue? Mary Sue Tarses?

From this morning's column about "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip":

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," the new NBC drama set behind the scenes at a sketch comedy show that bears a more than passing resemblance to "Saturday Night Live," is this season's most-hyped new series. It is the show whose script has been floating around the Internet for months, the show that NBC ripped up its schedule to protect.

It's also Aaron Sorkin's Mary Sue story.

Mary Sue, a term coined in the '70s by "Star Trek" fan Paula Smith, applies to any fan-fiction character who is a blatant attempt by the author to insert her- or himself into the world of their favorite show, and usually in a way that has all the other characters going on about how wonderful she or he is. Your quintessential Mary Sue would save the Enterprise from sure destruction, then seduce Kirk and/or Spock.

Now, because Sorkin -- the creator of "The West Wing" and "Sports Night" -- is one of the half-dozen or so writers working in television who could be called a genius without hyperbole, it's a good Mary Sue story. But there's no getting around the fact that "Studio 60" is, essentially, Sorkin imagining what it would be like if he and directing partner Thomas Schlamme were brought in to rescue "Saturday Night Live," with several of their friends, former colleagues and ex-girlfriends brought along for the ride.

The average viewer may not know or care that Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford are playing mix-and-match versions of Sorkin and Schlamme, that Amanda Peet's network executive is modeled on former ABC president Jamie Tarses, or that Sarah Paulson's character is really Sorkin's ex, Kristin Chenoweth.

But Sorkin's unusually close relationship to the material is problematic whether you subscribe to Daily Variety or the Daily Worker. There's plenty of perfectly solid fan-fiction out there, as well as intensely personal mainstream drama, but the thing that's supposed to elevate mainstream fiction from the fan kind is a certain level of objectivity on the author's part, the ability to separate what works for the story from what they wish works for the story. Too often in "Studio 60," Sorkin chooses the latter.

To read the rest, click here.


Anonymous said...

Every time you refer to Kristin Chenoweth as Aaron Sorkin's ex-girlfriend, I cringe. I'm sure I'm being oversensitive, but it feels like you're somehow implying she got her West Wing role because she was dating the boss. She has such fantastic credentials on her own, and added a wonderful zing to the several-seasons old West Wing. If a man with those Broadway creds who happened to have dated a female writer/producer were on a TV show, would you consistently refer to that man as, for example, "Diane Ruggierio's ex-boyfriend"?


Matt said...

To be fair, Chenoweth got her part over a year after Sorkin left the show (and I think at the time there was a decidedly frosty relationship between Sorkin and Wells), so nepotism could, at best, have been a limited factor.

That said, Sorkin is known for a degree of nepotism--he, like other auteurs (Paul Thomas Anderson, Scorsese, Mamet) has a group of actors he turns to again and again (Whitford, Malina).

Alan Sepinwall said...

I am in no way implying that she got the job through nepotism, especially since Aaron was loooooong gone from the show by the time she was cast. I refer to her frequently as his ex-girlfriend because it's relevant to the show -- much moreso, frankly, than her stint as Annabeth.

Matthew Perry is playing Aaron, Sarah Paulson is playing Kristin, the two characters are exes on the show, and Aaron is very clearly working out some leftover relationship issues through the scripts. It ties into the whole idea that Aaron is working all of his friends and lovers into the show. Again, an earlier draft of the pilot script had Brad Whitford's character out on a date with a thinly-disguised Maureen Dowd (yet another Sorkin ex).