Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Studio 60: Better?

Spoilers for "Studio 60" just as soon as I take off my radio mic...

Wow. An episode where I didn't feel the need to yell at the TV even once -- or, at least, where Sorkin pre-empted my yelling at the last minute. Martha/Maureen delivering another speech about how Important this show is? Deftly undercut by the appearance of Tom in a lobster suit. The "Jenny Doesn't Have a Baby" sketch being the kind of thing "SNL" would dump after the second musical number? Matt admits it's not funny. The Nancy Grace sketch wasn't much better, but even there, Matt damned it with faint praise by referring to it simply as the best thing they had that week.

So with a minimum of Sorkin telling me one thing and showing me something else, I could appreciate the characters more. This was the first week, for instance, that I actually liked Harriet. And while the "Search and Destroy" subplot was another case of Aaron being way behind the curve in the TV business -- reality sleaze lost its mass appeal years ago, and all of the big current hits are about becoming rich, famous or both -- I really liked the scenes where Jordan stood up to Jack and then got Bob Wright (or whatever the character's name is) on her side. (A negative: how in the world does Jordan not know who Bill Parcells is?)

I would have liked more of Lauren Graham -- if ever there was an actress born to deliver Sorkin dialogue, it's her -- but I'm hoping she'll have a larger showcase next week.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

It didn't help that the Nancy Grace sketch was identical to the Amy Poehler Nancy Grace sketch on SNL a week and a half ago.

The executive stuff was what worked the most for me, with Jack and Jordan both coming off as reasonable.

What did you think of Jordan dissing HBO? Man, Sorkin can be petty.

It may be the fact that I found her to be the most loathsome being in the history of television on Jack and Bobby and her later seasons of Chicago Hope, but Lahiti's Martha struck me as terrifying and not likable. I kept expecting Matt at the end to call her a manipulative vampire. But that's just me.

Joel said...

The Nancy Grace sketch worked until the dialogue started to overflow, Sorkin style. So what was missing... the girl's cell phone? It kind of got lost in the Sorkin-esque speed prose.

And, Alan, did you believe that Martha could do all those interviews without having a tape recorder and/or taking notes? Think she was doing all that as background? I don't know of any reporter, even ones on long lead stories like that, not recording almost everything they do.

Looking forward to next week, for one reason: More Lauren Graham! And doing an entire episode revolving around the after-party seems like a good idea.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Joel, after Martha finished talking to Harriet, there was the bit where she asked Tom for a pen, and when he couldn't find one in the pocket of his lobster suit, she went running to find one. The idea, I guess, is that Martha tries to intimidate her interview subjects by making them think she has perfect recall, when what she's really doing is scribbling notes when they're not looking.

I wonder if that's something Aaron picked up from Maureen Dowd, or just a humanizing character touch.

Forgot to mention two things: 1)"Bad crack in the schoolyard" was Aaron's line from press tour (and the one that inspired Matthew Perry's "Bad Vicodin in the schoolyard" follow-up), and 2)When Aaron made his first appearance at press tour after the airport drug bust, he told a group of approaching reporters (including me), "Let the rectal probing begin!," which he then modified and put in Simon's mouth. Guess he likes certain turns of phrase.

Anonymous said...

I got the impression that Jordan did know Parcells and was going for the "Hall of Fame coach" angle, but was undercut by the hilarious "hasn't won a playoff game" angle.

Joel said...

Yeah, I remembered that moment.. when Martha was looking for a pen at the end of the Sting rehearsal scene. That was the only indication to me that she wrote down anything. Still doesn't make for accurate quoting, to be honest... unless she has a photographic memory. Don't know. If I didn't record the vast majority of the interviews I did, I wouldn't remember a thing about them.

Alan Sepinwall said...

My short-term memory is pretty good. I once did an hour-long phone interview for my college paper, and when I hung up, I discovered that the phone tap gizmo on the tape recorder hadn't worked. Since I had been making mental notes throughout of what the best quotes were, I quickly jumped onto a computer and typed them in. If they weren't 100% accurate, they were close. If I'd waited a half-hour to check the recorder, on the other hand, I would've been screwed.

Anonymous said...

Oddly, I seem to be getting used to the sketches (as make-believe representations of comedy, not comedy itself), I'm less annoyed or distracted by their unfunniness, and can better enjoy the good things in S60. (Last night's being: Steven Weber, Ed Asner, and about 70 percent of Christine Lahti.)

When Sorkin name-checked Pericles this week (after Strindberg last week), I guess that's the point in the S60 drinking game where you chug.

And the insufferable Nicolas Cage guy... bad enough without Sorkin putting words like "Australasian" in his punch lines.

Now Alan, while you graciously perceive the lobster-suit moment as a self-aware puncturing of Sorkin's own pretensions, I was much more distressed by what's happening to Matt Perry's character. Sitting at his computer saying "I suck" or whatever, then harshly critiquing his own writing later ("I don't want the actors to have to MAKE it good... I want it good when they get it...")... what's the word for someone making himself more grandiose while pretending to put himself down?

With Matt-as-Aaron, it's now like: "Oh, the blood, the sweat, the tears of it all! Aaron, you beautiful wounded genius... if only the world understood you. You SUFFER for your soup. You demand perfection from yourself, from your soup..." And so forth in similar fashion. So, lobster-suit notwithstanding, I feel put off by the self-serious, pretentious glumness of Matt-as-Aaron. It's straitjacketing the actor.

Meanwhile, I have a sketch idea I want to share. It'll be viable the further in time we get from the recent massacre in Pennsylvania, but the sketch is called "Amish Improv."

Three cast members in full Amish drag on a bare stage. A few other "Amish" scattered in the audience. Lead guy on stage welcomes the crowd, says they're going to improvise a scene based on audience suggestions. "I need a daily activity. Just yell something out."

Someone yells, "Churning butter!"

"I heard churning butter, good. Now we need a Commandment."

Someone yells out, "Thou shalt not bear false witness!"

"Okay, we got churning butter, and Thou shalt not bear false witness. Here we go..."

That's it in a nutshell. "Amish Improv." A professional comedy writer could make something of that.

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting to hear what Alan thought of the HBO diss. Or perhaps it wasn't a diss, but just another self-justifying scene, this time called "Why I'm On a Commercial Network."

I still miss Sports Night.

Anonymous said...

I thought the reporter was looking for a pen so she could get Sting's autograph.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Steven, I was too distracted trying to figure out who the playwright was supposed to be to notice exactly what was said about HBO.

(And on the playwright front, my guesses were either that he was another Aaron analogue ("Nations" sounded a bit like "West Wing"), or maybe Jon Robin Baitz (the only guy Sorkin ever let write a "West Wing" episode without him). Fienberg suggested it might be Greg Berlanti, who worked with Schlamme on "Jack & Bobby."

Heather K said...

I vote the playwright is Sorkin.

Anonymous said...

Alan: The playwright makes a comment, something like HBO being friendly to artists, and Jordan snarks about the artistic integrity of Taxicab Confessions, then telling the playwright that he should want his show to "be seen by everyone, for free."

Matt said...

The playwright is clearly Sorkin. It's not Berlanti, who got his big break running "Dawson's Creek." Berlanti may be the most underrated showrunner in the business--having managed to briefly make Dawson's not suck, Everwood, Jack and Bobby, and now salvaging Brothers and Sisters.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if that's something Aaron picked up from Maureen Dowd, or just a humanizing character touch."

Now we know: Lahti's not playing Maureen Dowd, she's playing Truman Capote, who famously took no notes and bragged about his preternatural recall ability. If she falls in love with Danny and drinks herself to death, we'll know for sure.

The most distracting thing for me this week wasn't looking for parallels to Sorkin's life, but wondering when Amanda Peet is going to start showing. There were a few scenes there where she was shot just from the shoulders up, but then there were some where you could see her belly and it didn't look that big at all.

Anonymous said...

It's very interesting how every week there are some people saying, "Hurray, this show is finally looking up!" and an equal number saying, "Ugh. I want to like it, but this was terrible."

Anonymous said...

Without spoiling anything, 30 Rock tonight will do the radio-mic gag much better.

dark tyler said...

Well, I'm afraid that soon enought we'll all stop looking for Sorkin parallels and Amanda Peet's belly (although from what I hear it is supposed to be written into the show) because NBC will give Monday 30th to Friday Night Lights in hope that it will do better than Studio 60.

If it does, Sorkin goes, probably. If it doesn't, they both do? Alan, any insight on the sitch? I'd hate to see any the shows go (to me, they're by far the best two new shows) but it seems highly unlikely that any of them are going to make it, let alone both of them.

Sigh. And why exactly would that guy go to NBS instead of HBO?

Anonymous said...

i was driven so nuts by the Lahti character (no pen, no tape recorder, nothing) that I nearly couldn't watch the whole thing.

The Harriet-Matt scene at the end, though, nearly salvaged the whole thing.

I want to watch that show -- about relationships and people who make bad choices despite being smart and literate and having read both Strindberg AND Pericles.

I want more of that, and the sketches really have to improve.

And btw, what happened to the Matt-Danny relationship? Why does DL Hughley only get one scene a week?

I'm still hanging in there with this show, but I still can't quite put my finger on what's gone wrong. Aside from the sketches, that is.

anyhoo, I live in hope that Sorkin will make a reference to the state of TV that is not 5-10 years out of date.

Anonymous said...

and I also agree, Amy Poehler's Nancy Grace was far funnier than Harriet's. That was far too long and not remotely funny.

Though Harriet's Juliette Lewis was terrific.