Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Studio 60: Look who's stalking

God bless this series of tubes. I'm still TV-less, but I just got through the latest "Studio 60" episode over on NBC.com. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I pay royalties to the "Veronica Mars" guys for stealing one of their episode titles for my subject line...

I quote my friend Phil: "Boy, when Sorkin says the show's going to lurch into more of a romantic comedy, it really lurches, huh?" If this is a sign of what the new direction is going to be, I don't think I'm in danger of having to write a "Boy, 'Studio 60' has sure gotten better" column anytime soon.

Could Danny possibly be any creepier in his pursuit of Jordan? I know that dogged pursuit in the face of constant rejection is a classic romcom trope, going back to '30s screwball comedies, even back to Shakespeare, but those stories always take place in some elevated plane of reality. This, on the other hand, is a show that tries to trade on taking place in something resembling the real world, and in the real world, Danny's a walking sexual harassment suit. Jordan's already been a tabloid joke for months, and now he's calling around to every celebrity he knows to get them to help him woo his pregnant boss? Is there any way that doesn't wind up on Defamer or Page Six or PerezHilton?

And the thing of it is, the show has Jordan go and make this point, and has Danny play contrite for all of 30 seconds, only to have him insist that he's going to go right on doing it, anyway. If they had chopped off that very last bit, it would have been fine, would have shown that Danny can be arrogant and impetuous and overbearing but is also capable of listening to the woman he's allegedly interested in. That would be a decent jumping-off point for their inevitable coupling. What Sorkin actually did, however, just squicked me out.

Also squicky? Simon acting like Darius has to be his manservant for the next 75 years because he happened to be standing next to Matt when Matt offered him a job.

Just plain boring? Matt and Harriet. No chemistry, nothing interesting about the two of them behaving like five-year-olds, no point except that they're The Couple We've All Been Waiting For or somesuch.

Really frustrating? The FCC subplot, which would actually be really good if Sorkin had bothered to give Jack and Wilson a cause that only a complete imbecile would be on the wrong side of. Have them support the First Amendment by going to bat for some fictionalized version of Howard Stern or Sarah Silverman, and you have a much more complicated, much more interesting, much better storyline.

And continuing with the show's complete disinterest in nuance, we have Jordan's new nemesis from Illiterate Programming. Leaving aside the fact that both Jordan and Sorkin's condemnation of reality TV ignores Sturgeon's Law, why does the new VP have to be such a blatant conniving bitch? Bob Rumson was more sympathetic. And her show idea was just as lame and unlikely to gather a huge audience as "Search and Destroy."

(Oddly enough, the first time I heard of "The 48 Laws of Power" was on "The Contender," where one of the contestants had read it and was using it to manipulate the others.)

But I'll give "Monday" this, and maybe only this: I could see Dylan's chubbby gymnast idea being very funny.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I've been a Sorkin fan since "A Few Good Men" but, to quote an infamous line from The West Wing: "... boy, I don't know."

How can a guy as talented as Sorkin has shown to be in the past put out such dreck?

Actually, his current work is tainting my appreciation of his past work. I was watching my Sports Night DVDs over the holidays and now I see shades of Matt/Danny assery in Casey McCall (not so much Dan Rydell). Plus, Jordan/Harriet embodies the worse traits of the Dana Whitaker character.

I guess the flaws in Sorkin's work were always there but his shows were good so no one noticed. Now, because he's in charge of the stinkfest that is Studio 60, the flaws are readily apparent.

Mapeel said...

Sorkin has Greek tragedy written all over him. To mix world views, pride goeth before the fall . . .

Undercover Black Man said...

"Complete disinterest in nuance" is the thing. It's all surface-deep.

This ep. exemplifies Sorkin's method of ginning up enough so-called "conflict" to serve the mechanical demands of drama (have Jack call one of the board of directors a "moron"; have the new bitchy junior exec taunt Jordan with "there's another pretty girl at the dance, and this one's not pregnant"; have the new black writer accuse Simon of treating him like a "field nigger" ... Tell me where in real-life show business -- or ANY business -- do subordinates mouth off to their superiors this way!), but with no concern for what motivates his characters at the fundamental level.

Sorkin is facile enough with language that his scenes, in the hands of talented actors like Steven Weber and Ed Asner, go down smooth. But with the great drama-series characters, you're always aware of what's driving these people, down deep. Det. Sipowicz's rage. Tony Soprano's self-doubt. Jimmy McNulty's contempt for authority. Frank Pembleton's Jesuit arrogance.

But what do Matt Albie or Danny Tripp want out of life? What motivates them? Halfway into the season, we don't know, and Sorkin doesn't seem to care.

I'm not talking about information, like Danny's coke addiction. I'm talking about the beating heart of a human being. It's not there in "Studio 60." Sorkin's not interested in that kind of writing, and probably isn't capable of it. If he were, he'd be doing it.

To him, a character is an attitude, a way of speaking, not a soul. And that's the problem, one that won't be remedied by a course correction toward romantic comedy. Sorkin's all head, no heart.

Anonymous said...

Danny is seriously creeping me out! How can Bradley Whitford have still looked so cute and ernest as Josh as recently as last season and now be so thoroughly selling weird, old guy stalker? (And the glasses on top of the head - what is that? Sorkins idea of Hollywood hip? Ewwww.)

SJ said...

This is the first Sorkin show I have ever watched, and I have a really hard time believing that he's an A-grade writer. The show is so heavy handed it's ridiculous.

What happened to the snappiness of the pilot? This is clearly not the same show it seems.

Even the ridiculous (but hilarious) 30 Rock seems more realistic than this.

Anonymous said...

What is it with Sorkin and guys named Danny who go all stalker-ish? Did a Danny steal his girlfriend in high school or something?

First there was Dan Rydell, whose pursuit of Rebecca Wells was almost as squicky as the current Danny's pursuit of Jordan, except for the whole working-together factor. (Any cuteness between Dan and Rebecca in S1 was completely done away with in S2 when we learned Dan was incapable of having women not like him.) Then there was Danny Concanon, who, while not really "Every Breath You Take"-ish still didn't know how to take no for an answer and couldn't recognize what an enormous conflict of interest a relationship with CJ would be while he was still a reporter. And now this. It's not only tainting my opinion of Sorkin, it's actually tainting my opinion of Whitford, which I didn't know was possible. Ick, ick, ick.

I can only hope that the Tom/Lucy relationship turns out to be the Jeremy/Natalie equivalent, since, although those two were childish sometimes, they actually had a functional, relatively normal relationship, comparatively speaking.

Anonymous said...

hmmm.. looks like you've managed to watch everything I was planning to watch but decided to wait for my brother so I don't have to watch it all twice. ;-)
So I'll be back when that's done.
I did manage to watch What About Brian, but I can always watch
*that* twice. (yes, I like sentimental fluff. sue me.)


Anonymous said...

Forgot to ask, do we assume Sorkin read The 48 Laws of Power over the break? Or did he just read that New Yorker profile of the guy who wrote the book?

Hope everything's okay on the home front, Alan.

Anonymous said...

In an episode filled with infuriating things, somehow it was just one more Sorkin aside about the uselessness/weakness of women that pissed me off most. In the board room scene, he had Jack say that the question of whether news should be censored was a topic better suited "for an ethics class at a women's college."

Why? Why was adding "women's" even the least bit necessary unless he thought it made the joke? He equated anything feminine with being weak or confused or dumb again and again on Sports Night, and I always just winced and moved on because he'd given me these characters I loved so much (Dana, Jeremy, Danny, Issac).

I recognize that it's ridiculous that I gave him a pass then and now that he's making Studio 60, a show with almost no redeeming moments, I can't let it go... But I'm still waiting for some kind of mainstream indictment of Sorkin's treatment of women in his shows. God knows there's enough evidence. (Miss Alli's recaplet at TWoP touches on the absurdity of the Jordan/Danny Tripp plot given next week's previews.)

If I were a student in a TV writing class at a women's college, it'd be my thesis.

SJ said...

Btw, how excellent is the fact that you can watch so many shows now online?

Now only if HBO and Showtime offered their shows online (with a certain fee of course).

Anonymous said...

Also squicky? Simon acting like Darius has to be his manservant for the next 75 years because he happened to be standing next to Matt when Matt offered him a job.

Hell, Matt didn't so much offer him a job as tell him he had a job, and it was a lot more hackle-raising coming from a white man to a black man.

Anonymous said...

I love your column and your blog (and this is coming from a place of adoration), but I think your hate for all things Studio 60 and Aaron Sorkin is going a little too far. I'm not his biggest fan - mostly because there have been too many sexist lines in his otherwise very intelligent and witty dialogue and the plots and even language tends to repeat itself from show to show, but even I can admit that Studio 60 has got to be one of the high class shows on TV. I can also see why so many critics and TV writers hate his arrogant and self important ass, but it comes across like most of the vocal critics have a problem with him not liking them, more then anything else. That's just an observation; I don't mean to offend you in any way. I completely agree with the creepy version of Danny we were presented and how downright mean this could seem, but I have to argue that this might be who Danny is. If there is something Sorkin is good at, at least in my eyes, is creating a professionally brilliant, but otherwise adolescent, absent minded lunatic of a character. I found that to work rather well with Jeremy, Sam, Josh, Oliver and Will (the early years), but here I kind of got sick of it pretty fast. I also truly believe that the show should have stuck with the original plan and not turn the focus on the romantic so much. Especially since its author is so obviously incapable of writing a successful one.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alexa, I've gotten along just fine with Aaron as a person going back to the Sports Night days, and even in our recent encounter there was at least a pretense of being polite.

I can name several showrunners I've loathed personally whose work I still admired, just as I can name several creators who are really nice guys but do lousy work. And I've praised the former in print and said tough things against the latter. I try my best not to let the personal get into it.

I want TV to be good. I don't want to spend my time watching crap. If you've been following this blog for a while, you may have noticed how quickly the shows I don't care for drop out of the rotation. "Studio 60" is the one exception, and it's not because I have any kind of vendetta against Sorkin; it's because the ways in which it's bad fascinate me. But I also stick with it because Sorkin's track record has me naively holding out hope that it's going to get better, even though it was obvious from his comments last week that he doesn't think the show needs to get better.

Anonymous said...

I know I keep being a STUDIO 60 apologist, but it continues to seem to me that the vast majority of the flaws that people point out with the show also existed just as strongly in SPORTS NIGHT and WEST WING. And I'm not sure why people (including to some extent myself) are getting more annoyed by them here than they were in those shows.

Maybe it's because these things are more annoying when seen as part of a bigger pattern or maybe it's because we're just more jaded now, but I still just don't get it...I was recently reading something about how the problem with political coverage is that once a narrative about a candidate sticks it is next to impossible to break out of it ("Bush is dumb", "Al Gore takes credit for everything", "John Kerry flip flops", "John McCain is a maverick"...), and with lots of respect to Alan I am starting to feel that is the case with entertainment coverage as well. People made up their minds early about STUDIO 60 and use everything else to confirm their love or hate of the show.

Anonymous said...

I think in the case of of Sorkin we're seeing a dominant narrative - namely that he is a genius and can do no wrong - unraveling rather quickly.

BF said...

Why? Why was adding "women's" even the least bit necessary unless he thought it made the joke?

What would have made the joke would be to refer to the college as the Rocco Globbo School for Women. I hear they have a great typewriter maintenance course.

Anonymous said...

Given that Simon was almost fired by Rick and Ron for not being able to do impersonations of African-American celebrities, you'd think he'd be more sympathetic to Darius's not wanting to be pigeonholed as "the black writer".

Anonymous said...

One of my biggest irritations of the night was the fact that Jordan was made into a bitch and then apologized for it after "realizing" it - even though it's exactly the same way that Jack treated Jordan when she first came on. He never apologized. The stalking thing is ridiculous. But I have to disagree with Matt and Harriet. I like them. I like that he's still so jealous. I think they have good chemistry - but I also like both of them as actors in general.

Anonymous said...

The reason why there is no chemistry between Matt and Harriett is because Sarah Paulson is just plain weird looking. I'm not trying to be purposefully cruel, but she has a sort of "transvestite" look to her that makes the whole theme of "powerful men competing for her attention" ring very false. She just reminds me of the Joker from Batman every time I see her weird expressioned face. Switch the actress that plays Jeanie with the current Harriett and I think you have believability and chemistry. Plus, Paulson always looks in need of a shower.

As far as the whole Stalker thing for Danny / Jordan, I do think that there is always a fine line between a stalker and a pursuer. If the woman finds the attention flattering, the guy is 'cute' in his actions. If not, he is a dangerous, deranged stalker. Yet in both cases, the man most likely behaved the same, it is the interpretation that differs. I've seen this in real life a lot (and no, I haven't been accused of stalking before).

Anonymous said...

I found Paulson quite believable and sexy in Deadwood, where she played a wholly different role, of course.

Anonymous said...

I agree, maneul! Every time I real criticism of Sarah Paulson, I think, "But she's Miss Isringhausen! Blame the casting, or blame the writing. I'm a sorkinfreude, click-over-and-cringe viewer, so I blame both.

Anonymous said...

As Aaron says, I'm a few days late, but I still watched it (don't know if I watched any of the commercials, but I can say my brother didn't. they were gone by the time he got there)

Aside from saying that I never watched Sports Night (or a Few Good Men, for that Matter), I liked Danny Concannon -- conflict of interest aside. Hey, I watch Grey's Anatomy. Danny was in love and he was sweet and cute and I just missed him when he wasn't around. Josh and Donna felt right. Danny and ... who is it? Jordan? Why?
Matt and Harriet has been, so I don't have to figure out why. At least it's complicated.

But really, you're all right -- I have no idea who these people are. (I'm not really quite sure who Derek Shepherd is, either -- but I think he doesn't know either. I guess we can skip over that with bubble baths and snoring)

As for Simon and the new guy, my brother stopped and said -- did you hear them just say (the n word)? and then went into a rant on using words as words referencing that article in language log that I haven't read yet (and btw, Shonda has finally issued a statement)

Did the characters on TWW have... were they people? Josh was insecure and cocky, Toby was just glum, Sam was idealistic... and Bartlet, he was interesting (or boring when he went on till all hours on the Latin word for Yam, but still, it was funny).

I don't feel attached to these characters. I just like the way they use language. Another vote for elevating Shonda ahead of Aaron in my pantheon of favorite writers.
David E Kelley
(competition for #2 is getting heavy. my lack of thrill for fantasy sorta keeps me from a lot of what Joss does. I still haven't watched Firefly (sorry) and probably wouldn't go see Wonder Woman)

NBC is keeping this on cause of that penalty thing, aren't they? (I forget the details of that)

It's sad, cause I love behind the scenes of TV-type shows.

Anonymous said...

In the board room scene, he had Jack say that the question of whether news should be censored was a topic better suited "for an ethics class at a women's college."

Hilary, I think you may be mistaken. Wasn't it the "moron" board member who made the crack about the women's college, not Jack? I took the comment to be an indictment of the "moron" and his sexism.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Pete. I went back and watched the scene again... It does make it better to have Kurt Fuller (the moron) saying it, but it's still the same kind of comment he's had characters we're supposed to like make too...

Anonymous said...

Examples? Because Sorkin, or rather his representation of gender, never struck me as particularly sexist, at least as far as his TV oeuvre is concerned.

Anonymous said...

The difference between s60 and Sports Night or West Wing..

A) Sports Night wasn't nearly as self-important, and the West Wing had the gravitas of its setting to justify that self-importance.

B) Sports Night was better-lit than s60. Has anyone else noticed that s60 is a fairly dark show? Maybe that's why Danny's peristence over Rebecca seemed less creepy. (Oh, and Rebecca's co-workers thought Danny was nice and cute, which lessened the possible 'ick'-factor.)

And overall, s60 just isn't as well-written or well-plotted a show as either West Wing or Sports Night in their first seasons. It is what it is. It has lots of flaws, like, c'mon, Tom's parents never heard of Who's On First? Seriously? I mean, seriously?? No, really.. (you get the idea)... And the FCC is suing over a soldier swearing on a news report? and on and on...

Anonymous said...

film cricket, you can assume he read the New Yorker article and decided to use it transparently. The expository dialogue between Matt and the writers pretty much appropriated the article's angle. Probably had one of his staff writers summarize the laws on 48 index cards.

Did anyone else pick up on the fact that Danny's stalking is simply a transference of his addiction? The creepy thing is, I don't think Sorkin himself picks up on it because he's like that, too (problems with drugs, locks himself up in his office for manic solo writing sessions). If he had self-perspective (or collaborated with his staff) he could have made it a very compelling portrayal of Danny as a sympathetic but ultimately flawed figure struggling with his demons. Instead, it's presented in his eyes as charming eccentricity, when the rest of us recognize it as creepy. Same deal with the supposedly light-hearted bit with Matt and Jordan about his recommendation. If you were Danny's work partner and saw this destructive behavior, would you really enable it further? He had a relapse like a month ago and all of a sudden he's head over heels for somebody. Hello? Alarms! Sirens! There are the seedlings of real character development here, but the show glosses over all of them for laughs.

All of that, and I still love to watch. I give him lots of credit for that. Sorkinfreude, what a perfect word!

Anonymous said...

Now I'll have to back and rewatch Sports Night - I don't remember Dan's pursuit of Rebecca as being remotely squicky.

This show infuriates me, because when it's good, it's great. I've been watching the first few episodes again, and remembering why I like/d it so much. And starting to feel the same nostalgia for it that I still feel for Sports Night.

I do wish Sorkin would get some therapy and leave off with the axe-grinding. The ham-handed red state stuff (even I know Who's on First, for chrissakes) and the women who are still doing the bitchy/girly thing twenty years after junior high end is embarassing.

Anonymous said...

In case anyone is still reading this thread, I was over at Ken Levine's blog and he pointed out this Studio 60 parody


I'll let you paste it back together. or search for
Studio B On Wilshire Blvd