Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Studio 60: The flabby dog story

Spoilers for "Studio 60" coming up just as soon as I ask my wife why she chose the violin over the viola...

Well, that was less hateable than it was flat and labored. I used to complain about the 30-minute length of "Sports Night," that every time an episode was really building up a head of steam, they had to roll credits. This was the opposite, a thin idea stretched out beyond interest. Maybe as a single episode, it would have worked better, but there isn't remotely two hours worth of story here.

I wasn't wild about "The West Coast Delay," but at least when that one shifted into Murphy's Law farce, it moved like one. "Nevada Day Part I" just limped along, filling in details to explain the in media res opening at a pace suggesting an Abe Simpson story involving an onion on his belt (which, in fairness, was the style at the time). Outside of Tom's reaction to the dog sniffing out the joint, I don't even think I cracked a smile, let alone laughed, at any of this. And what was with Matt's voiceover summarizing everything we just saw at the end of the show? That's the sort of narrative spoonfeeding you save for the beginning of part two, not the end of part one. It was so clumsy and pointless that I would assume it was the result of a network note if I didn't know that Sorkin's deal banned all network notes.

The previews for this episode had me going to the store to stock up on anti-nausea medication to deal with Sorkin using the John Goodman character as a red state punching bag, but I have to admit that the character wasn't nearly as annoying as I had feared. When Sorkin introduced Goodman as Glenallen Walken in his "Screw you, Wells!" farewell to "The West Wing," there was that one bit where Walken broke down the origins of World War I, and I thought, "Huh. That sounded not dissimilar to a lecture Bartlet might have given." Wells quickly turned Walken into a cartoon (also with a dog), but Sorkin seems to understand how to use Goodman to create a non-strawman Republican character.

The wordiness of Sorkin's attempts at sketch comedy make it impossible to tell whether his ideas might work with someone else writing them, but the fact that Danny trashed the Jesus sketch doesn't make up for how long we had to sit through the read through of the thing. The creative process is only interesting viewing if we get to see when, how and why a sketch goes from troubled to funny, and Sorkin has proved himself incapable of getting to Point B on that.

Lots of leftover problems from earlier episodes, whether it's the continued references to "Search and Destroy" as a smash hit in the making to Sorkin's misguided belief that anyone without a Variety subscription would care about Jordan's sex life and Jordan's complete political naivete, which Jack nicely illustrated on the plane with Danny. But the only time I was actually motivated to yell at the TV was the hint that Tom had an important reason for speeding. Maybe Sorkin will prove me wrong with some unexpectedly moving reveal in part two, but what's wrong with the guy just doing some reckless driving?

Meh -- which, for this show, is arguably a step up. What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

OK, Studio 60 is by no means the only show to do this, but they illustrated one of my minor pet peeves: The overly extensive flashback. When the premise is that character A is telling a story and we see it all in flashback, a lot of times there are things shown that no one would ever bother to include if they were actually telling the story.

The specific instance in this case was having them describe the Jesus as head of Standards sketch to the judge. Why would you do this? It has nothing to do with the reason you're in Pahrump. Of course, they did it so the judge could be offended by it, but it makes no sense. (Then again, neither does Simon explaining 39 times that the joint was his.) But again, other shows do this too - this just called attention to it.

Overall, I pretty much agree with Alan. Not a lot to get me excited one way or the other.

Unknown said...

I wondered about the speeding thing too, but I expect it will be for some schmaltzy reason like Tom trying to see his little brother before he shipped out ot Afghanistan.

Matt said...

I agree with you on the flab. I think there might be a little too much for a 60/44 minute episode (we've yet to explain why Tom was speeding in Pahrump years ago), but there's not enough for a full two-parter in the plotline--it's more like a 90 minute episode.

Another odd thing was that two directors were credited (Busfield and Leslie Linka Glatter). Did one direct the "Pahrump" bits while the other did the stuff on the normal set?

Anonymous said...

I wasn't sure how I felt about the Goodman character. He seemed way too smug, if not a strawman. Did he really need to snarl "Who're the two Japs?" just to get ar rise out of Danny and Jack? Mostly I just was concered for his health.

I actually laughed during the rehearsal of the Standards and Practicies sketch, mostly because of Corddry's hippie delivery, I thought it really worked.

Why does there need to be a reason Tom was speeding thru Pahrump? Haven't we all just sped through from time to time?

On the other hand, I like the idea of Matt having to run the show by himself. I think the problem is that Sorkin had part two in his head before he wrote part one. And there's not enough part one in there.

Anonymous said...

Clumsy and pointless is right, Alan. After this ep., I was thinking, "Okay, I think I'm done. No need to watch this show any more. Time to move on."

Not with the white-hot fury of a million suns, but with simple resignation that S60 is a waste of time. The cutesified story structure, the endlessly repeated information, the tired satirical targets... I'm just done.

I cracked a smile twice, courtesy of Nate Corddry. ("You brought assassins?" "I'm a basset hound guy!")

As for the Jesus sketch, it blows my mind that Sorkin didn't even understand his own premise. The meta-joke of this sketch should've been having characters repeat and repeat the name of Jesus Christ in vain, except it's NOT in vain because Jesus is there in the room. In that way, it's sort of like "The Penis Song"... just an excuse to say the forbidden.

He had a touch of that when someone said, "Jesus Christ, it's cold in here." But instead of the literal-minded, unfunny stuff with Jesus explaining how he feels about having his name taken in vain, or describing his "Father issues," just keep hitting the meta-joke, and hope that the absurdity is enhanced by the repetition:

"Jesus, this is a bad sketch."

"Christ, what were they thinking?"

"Jesus Christ, what can we do about this?"

Maybe the Jesus character says nothing; he just nods or shrugs or shakes his head after each line... as if these were statements directed at him for comment.

"Oh Jesus, why did I get in the television business?"

Jesus smiles wryly.

"Jesus Christ, we cannot put this on the air!"

Jesus nods.

"Christ, is there any way to save this sketch?"

Jesus shrugs.

Oh, one more thing: Pahrump is not that fucking funny of a word.

Heather K said...

I agree that Pahrump seems like the kind of town that you speed through without noticing until they pull you over and you realize that it is the kind of small town that makes all of its operating funds by ticketing speeders. Which begs the question why wasn't there just a big fine that Tom could pay from LA like there usually is in those towns (reckless endangerment not withstanding).

I thought there was some of the Jesus Christ repitition in the sketch, but that not all of the actors were getting it across either in the diner or in the table read.

It was a little slow, but I wasn't angry at it like I have been, mostly just resigned to watching it until it is over.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Once again I'm in the minority - I liked the ep quite a bit. Thought Goodman was excellent, and as noted not a caricature; thought the relationships among the "Big 3" were delved into more deeply with the fight stuff and the joint paranoia. As for the Jesus sketch, I thought the lackluster delivery, in both the diner and table read, were very natural - it shouldn't have been polished, or sharp, that was kind of the point. And even with that caveat, this was the first time I wished we had a chance to see the whole skit - to see SNL do it Saturday night. This still isn't WW or SportsNight-level stuff, but I'm enjoying just fine the writing and acting, and the further we get away from the first few eps' "Matt Albie is a genius" stuff, the more relaxed the show gets.

lizfinnarnold said...

I was also afraid for John Goodman's health -- he DID NOT look good.

They kept repeating the same old story over and over again -- I know they were explaining it to new people each time - but WE the audience had to hear it 10 times.

Also, I liked not having Matthew Perry around. His Sorkin rants and raves/walks and talks are annoying.

Plus, what happened to all the writers on the show? Matt calls in the cast to "rewrite" the show but not his stable of well paid writers?

JMD said...

Really, the problem with Sorkin's characters, at least the ones he fancies as important or akin to him, is that they -always- have some noble reason for doing something that we are initially led to believe is wrong.

Of course, Tom Jeter is going to have a good reason for speeding. It's going to be some noble, important reason which illustrates his care and concern for his friends or family. It's going to be something that we are told we have to respect - something that justifies the speeding. (Of course, legally, even if he had some purported reason to speed, he still failed to appear, which is a separate offense and doesn't depend on the specific circumstances of the original offense for which he failed to appear.). But he'll have some sob story so that we will know - know - that he had to speed, as that is what a good and noble person would do under the circumstances. And of course, he is only arrested in the first place due to a misunderstanding and the victim's greed in contemplation of a later civil suit.

Simon Stiles nobly steps up and disregards his own legal interests and confesses to multiple crimes in order to save his friend.

Heck, the producers of the show can't even infringe a copyright without it resulting in one writer stepping up to fall on the sword for the offender (and it all working out to where the show actually owned what they thought they had inadvertently stolen). Similarly, Harriet Hayes can only offend people when she is formally and truly misquoted, although he original quote is fodder for condescension from Matt Albie.

It was the same on West Wing. The characters only do the wrong thing when the wrong thing is, actually, the right thing, but we have to go through the entire episode (or in this case, two) before we learn it.

By the way, Jack Rudolph is saavy enough to know the governor of Nevada, call the governor of Nevada, and convince the governor of Nevada to dispatch a judge to the municipal building in Pahrump, NV, but he doesn't bother to bring a licensed member of the Nevada bar? The corporate counsel from NBS is not licensed in Nevada but attempts to "appear" in court and file a motion without first trying to get pro hac vice admission into court? My, my.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I feel weird now, but I actually loved this episode. It seemed a lot more "West Wing" than previous episodes, and I liked the scenes with the gays outside the diner, as it was a bit darker than the scenes we usually have, but those times seem to be where Studio 60 excels.

Though at the least, it looks like that Nate Corddry is quickly becoming one of Sorkin's patented "Power Players". The guy deserves it, as he really is a class act.

Anonymous said...

Phew. I just looked at the ratings, and it looks like Studio 60 did a bit better than its last outing (7.89 million), albeit lower than FNL, though that was when all the other networks were airing reruns, so FNL's ratings have to be taken with a huge grain of salt.

That said, it would be good for FNL to find a good time slot somewhere. I give NBC credit for trying to market it as a family show, and based on the show, although it's darker than would usually be expected, it can pass as one. Problem is that it seems like families don't agree, and hopefully NBC can find a good "adult" block somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, maybe I was just in a good mood or something, but I quite liked this episode; it was probably my favourite so far. I love Goodman (and I, too, am worried about his health). There was lots of Weber and Corddry, both of whom made me laugh more than once, and very little Peet, whom I still don't like.

I agree that the sketch was lame, but it was still funnier than any of the other sketches we've seen. And yes, I could have done without Matt and Harriet's ongoing culture war, the tired flashback structure or the soon-to-be-revealed noble reason for the speeding in the first place. But this was still the most enjoyable episode since the show started.

Anonymous said...

I actually kind of liked the sketch. (Probably owing to Nate Corddry.) So I was confused that this was the sketch that they said, gee, we should pull that, it is not funny.

Anonymous said...

I originally had an impression that there was suppose to a build up of suspense on whether or not they would make it back in time.

By the end of the episode, I don't really care if they make it back in time.

The only think remotely interesting is why Tom was speeding. That doesn't qualify as a cliffhanger in anyones book.

I agree that this barely works as one episode.

Anonymous said...

Hey, any episode with that much Steven Weber can't be that bad. He's in his own separate show - and it's a better one.

Anonymous said...

Hey, any episode with that much Steven Weber can't be that bad. He's in his own separate show - and it's a better one.

Pitch: "It's House -- but he's a network executive!"

Marty McKee said...

Geez (get it?), some of you sure are trying really hard not to like this show. I don't understand why you're still watching it.