Saturday, June 02, 2007

Studio 60: The bitter aftertaste

Spoilers for the latest "Studio 60" coming up just as soon as I figure out how Sorkin and company could have possibly squandered Jenna Fischer's presence by failing to put her in a scene, even for five seconds, opposite Lucy Davis...

Last week's show was a budget-saver, minus the three leads and so self-contained that it could be aired at any point in the season (according to the production number, it was shot near the end of the season). So this episode was the real continuation of where we left off back in February, and even though I disliked almost all of it, I'm having a problem working up the passion to bash it. At this point -- especially when you have episodes like this that were clearly written after the real "Studio 60" ratings went into freefall and all the critics turned on Sorkin -- it'd be like kicking a dead horse, beating a sick puppy, or whatever cliche you want to choose.

That said, while the problems are the same as usual -- Danny is a smug, obnoxious hypocrite; the sketches are terrible; Mary the lawyer has even less chemistry with Matt than Harriet does (though I'm glad Sorkin can write irrational female stalkers as well as he does irrational male ones), etc. -- what's interesting (if predictable) was the part that worked: the last three or four minutes with Tom and his brother, which was so dramatically effective I almost resisted the urge to make a joke about how he was captured while STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF AFGHANISTAN!

Almost everything was just right -- Nate Corddry's performance, the editing, the use of silence and point of view shots, etc. -- except the show they were being used on. Simply put, this storyline feels like it has no place on a show set backstage at a latenight sketch comedy series, even if it's supposed to be a dramatic treatment of that world. This felt like Sorkin, under siege from the network, the critics and the fans, retreating back to familiar territory, even if it doesn't fit at all with what he's been trying to do.

The ratings actually took a minute uptick from last week's showing (from horrific to just putrid), so maybe the final episodes will all see the light of day -- especially if Ben Silverman is too busy making big-picture changes to care about the summer schedule. What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

This was indicative of what is wrong with this so and Sorkin's pretension, but it wasn't as bad as some of the others. What struck though, was that the attractive female lawyer who fancied Matt seems to exist only as a female character in Sorkin's mind. Here is a hot, smart, professional woman who abandons her ambition, smarts, and whatnot to put her dignity on the line to woo a Sorking subsitute (i.e., the drugged up Matt, who is messed up and unappreciative of anything that does not spring from his mind). Is this how Sorkin views smart professional women? Is this how smart professional women talk? They save all their articulate romantic protestations for drugged up pseudo-geniuses who write television shows? Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

That's not just a lawyer, coming on strong; that's a lawyer defending a sexual discrimination lawsuit, coming on strong.

I did notice one actual improvement in the structure of the show-within-a-show, which was having a 30-second gag ("Samantha Li, Thai Therapist") that jumps right into the goodnights. This stood out simply because Sorkin hasn't fully troubled himself to pretend that "Studio 60" is a competitor to SNL, rather than a carbon copy; surely a real competitor -- like, say, MadTV -- would vary their format a tiny bit from SNL's! In fact, Sorkin even keeps the patter "We have a great show tonight...[musical guest name] is here! So stick around, we'll be right back." To hell with the sex discrimination thing -- in real life, they might need intellectual property lawyers.

Nicole said...

The last five minutes with Tom almost made me forget about that stupid "women aren't funny line" or whatever it was. I don't know how old Harriet is supposed to be, but I have never had anyone tell me that being witty or funny is a bad thing. And even if that did happen, I don't think someone who becomes a comedy writer would have listened to that sexist advice.

I was surprised to hear that Jordin is a lawyer as well as an executive, and even more surprised that she ripped on Danny and did her job for a few minutes, before returning to a brain dead pregnant woman who needs a guy to tell her that her baby should be checked on when it's not moving.

At least Sorkin is accurate in portraying all lawyers to be socially retarded. I say this as one myself and should point out though, that lawyers normally brag about their LSAT score if they want to impress.

That rant aside, the last few minutes with Tom were really impressive and while perhaps not relevant to a comedy show, it did make me wish that this kind of quality would have shown up in earlier episodes.

Anonymous said...

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed last week's show. This week -- it was back to lame.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to Aaron Sorkin, we're ALL standing in the middle of Afghanistan.

Unknown said...

I agree with CG about The Disaster Show. It was a welcoming departure from the crap we've been stuck with since the pilot.

I felt like this week was just so tonally off that I couldn't enjoy it at all. None of the plots worked for me, especially the Nate/Afghanistan one.

I'm kicking myself for not connecting Lucy Davis/Jenna Fischer. It would have been amazing just to have them standing awkwardly next to one another....if only.

I blogged my review after the show aired at

Anonymous said...

I just got the impression that Sorkin writes his female characters how he wished they talked to men as opposed to how they actually do.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is so busy looking smug, hating Sorkin, that you're all missing the point of this episode. There are far more important things than ratings such as the fact that there ARE many of our fellow countrymen standing in the middle of Afghanistan whether we like it or not. They don't get to pick what assignments they have to do, they go where the military sends them. We've lost thousands of our fellow countrymen. I've personally lost several friends including one guy who WAS abducted.

And yes, 1 out of 5 pregnant women are at risk. Having a child is still that dangerous.

Stop being smug, lift your heads up and look around you.

This is what Sorkin is trying to say - and there's still millions of us (those ratings don't include the DVR +7 which increases the show's share by 20%) who do appreciate his work, as well as the work of Whitford, Perry and the other actors.


Anonymous said...

I think the "ratings don't matter in this crazy world of ours" lesson would be easier to take from someone whose ratings weren't in the toilet when he made the show. Come on, it's like getting your butt kicked in a tennis game or something and then screeching "who cares about tennis! There's suffering in the world!" right afterward. This is a TV blog. We talk about TV. Sorkin is a TV writer. If obstetrics or fighting terrorism were so much more important to him, he'd be free to pursue those fields. I'm glad he doesn't, because I love a lot of his work, too. But it's OK to not like it sometimes and say so. And smug? Sorkin practically invented it.

I too liked the end, but thought that part of the plot was ridiculous up until that point. I didn't quite get it. If no one had heard from him for days, why midnight on Friday as the the time to panic over it? If Tom hadn't heard from him either, and he usually hears from him on Fridays before the show, why all the hemming and hawing about talking to him about it? It's not like he doesn't know he hasn't gotten an email from him. I thought they were going to have him be all "guys, I know, duh" when they told him and have that be the reason he wasn't on his top game. But he really was just blissfully ignorant. I didn't get that.

But the thing that bothers me most is the stuff others have mentioned, which is the bizarre objectification of smart women. The reason it bothers me the most is because it makes me question my love for the West Wing, and I hate that! Somehow this show manages to make a woman saying "I have like a 230 IQ" sound like she's saying "I can put both my legs behind my head." For some reason it seems more like fetishizing intelligence in women rather than just acknowledging that it's sexy. There's an icky vibe there.

Anonymous said...

This is the first episode of the show that I've seen all of in many, many months, and then as well as now, I got the impression there's talent coming from every direction but somehow, it's not adding up. I've asked myself how it could be such a big misfire and how it could have been avoided, if at all. So here are a few somewhat organized thoughts:

1. I remember reading somewhere, maybe here, that Sorkin asked Lorne Michaels if he could follow him around for a week to see what life was like on the "SNL" set. Michaels said no, for whatever reason. But if he had said yes, do you think that the show would have gained something that would have improved it significantly?

2. The show has focused on other areas of the entertainment industry, but it's mainly concerned itself with one sketch comedy show. If Sorkin had done the opposite, would it have been better? Imagine if he focused on the entire entertainment industry and used this show as his most frequent example. In other words, imagine if Danny still remained a director, so he could talk to his friend Matt, the writer of a television show, who would have to answer to the network people, who would be concerned with the news and the ratings, and would have to answer to the corporate boards..and so on. I'm sort of stuck on this because I'm under the impression there's just not that much to discuss relating to the backstage events of a sketch comedy show.

3. On "30 Rock," whose season I am almost done watching (I had no time towards the end of the school year), we see some sketches, but it seems to me that Tina Fey and the others make them ridiculous on purpose. Of course, that show is an absurdist comedy, so it makes sense that she seems to treat some of the things that go on with little seriousness. I'm not sure that Sorkin and the others could do that without making the tone too uneven, but at the very least, it seems like it's worth a show. The way he treats the sketches now isn't working, for the most part.

Anonymous said...

Everytime I was this show, i find myself thinking, how much money did they spend on the set. No doubt, its a total environment, and early on I found myself distracted by all the doodads and graffiti, but now it all comes down to being a hallways to walk through while spouting Sorkinisms (parodied beautifully by 30 Rock, BTW. The SportsNight set was complex, and the WW was a rat warren of halls and Ethan Allan cubicles, but this is just too much.
I really think Sorkin spent more time on the design of the set than the design of the show and the sketches that show contains.

Unknown said...

how Sorkin and company could have possibly squandered Jenna Fischer's presence by failing to put her in a scene, even for five seconds, opposite Lucy Davis

I'm not sure Sorkin knows that either version of The Office exists. Neither aired before 1957.

Tom O'Keefe said...

I always thought something that would have helped this show would have been to bring in writers that did nothing but write the sketches and S60 jokes.

Chip said...

Yeah, that's right. Nate played it beautifully, if only it didn't feel so completely out of place on this show.

Anonymous said...

...before returning to a brain dead pregnant woman who needs a guy to tell her that her baby should be checked on when it's not moving.

Just to add to this -- so we're supposed to believe that Jordin doesn't have an expensive ob/gyn she can call day or night with questions and baby concerns? Gimme a break. Rich, powerful women don't generally turn to an ER as a first line of health care. It things like this that drive me up the wall - it's just plain LAZY writing.

Josh L said...

I really liked the season finale, it was a bit convienant and the budget was noticable in the episode, but it was a nice wrapping up of a brilliant series.

Read my review here