Before I start, let me say that I’m going to be abbreviating the name of the show to “Studio 60”, both for the name of the show, and the show with-in the show. Our dictatorial leader may argue against that, saying that I don’t work on the show. I do though happen to be friends with someone who does work on the show, so I think that’s close enough. Also, Jenna, if you read this, don’t hate me. I have missed either one or two of the episodes, so if anybody has seen anything on them that contradicts my findings, let me know.
I want Studio 60 to succeed. I really do. In theory. The problem is that I can’t bring myself to like it as much as I think I should. While I like a good deal of the characters (or at least their potential) and possible conflict ideas that could be presented, the actual realization of these characters and stories is leaving a bit to be desired in my mind.
Maybe the bar has just been set too high. The creator/writer of the show is the guy behind the West Wing, and one of my personal favorites, Sports Night. Heck, I even patterned my senior video project after this style, with moderate success. I guess my thought was that he’d be able to take best parts of West Wing, and apply them to the same themes and fast-paced nature that Sports Night brought us. Plus there was an “all-star” cast. I don’t argue with the caliber of the lead actors, but, NBC, saying that Sarah Paulson and Nate Corddry are stars doesn’t make them that. That’s like saying that Diet Coke tastes great. It really doesn’t, but the more you hear it, the more you start to believe it may be true. Unfortunately, when you go to taste it, you know you’re completely wrong.
That’s not to say that the two of them aren’t serviceable. They’re perfectly fine actors. Do I believe that they, along with D.L. Hughley, are stars of a late night comedy show? Mostly no. I think this is more of a testament to how they’re written, rather than how they’re performed. But I’ll get to that.
I think that one of the show’s problems is that its focus is too wide. Rather than having a few main characters and a bunch of side characters, they decided to give everyone a more equal share of the time, this being the reason that NBC decided to tell us about fifteen names of people starring on the show. What made Sport Night so good wasn’t its author’s famous idealism, or his apparent love of TV/sports as means to change people’s lives, but it was the relationship between the two leads, played by Peter Krause (who has since been nominated for multiple emmys for Six Feet Under) and Josh Charles, (who has since appeared in Muppets From Space). These two were written and portrayed perfectly, making us believe that they were age-old friends and not just two actors who were thrown together after auditions. It was pure perfection. Of course there were other characters including what I would bill as two other leads, two supporting roles, and a bunch of side/background characters who were always there and consistently had lines, but no stories focused on them.
Studio 60 (the drama) recycles this relationship, and even with Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford playing the parts, it just doesn’t seem the same. They just don’t have that “I know what you’re thinking before you even thought about it” vibe that they could. I understand that the scenes are shorter and slower than on Sports Night, but Perry and Whitford’s characters just don’t give off that best friends thing, as much as everyone on the show says.
In fact, that’s probably the show’s second biggest problem. Nobody lives up to their self-induced hype. These two are supposed to be a Brilliant writer, and producer, but every sketch we’ve seen Perry write has been mostly unfunny, and I barely ever see Whitford doing any sort of show-running. It extends to other characters and even the show itself. Amanda Peet is touted as a network-saving genius studio executive, even though all she does is hang out at Studio 60 (there must not be other shows on her network), talk about not having friends, and look knowingly at Perry and Whitford” about what, I don’t know. The three big stars of the show seem just too uptight and serious backstage, and not loose and funny as you’d expect them to be ” especially at the many wrap parties we’ve been able to see. In fact we’ve seen more wrap parties than actual episodes of the show on the show. They should just call it “Hollywood Post-Show Cocktail Party”. And because of that we have no reason to believe that the show (within the show) is actually improving (the reason that Perry and Whitford were brought in to run it in the first place). Everyone talks about how great the variety show is, but all I’ve seen are a few awful GWB impressions, two introductions for the Nicolas Cage show, “Meet the Press with Juliet Lewis” (???), and multiple indictments of organized religion (one of which was so “brilliant”” and hyped” that we felt cheated when we didn’t even get to see any of it).
Maybe it’s ripping SNL’s inability to be funny, but the theme of the show is so idealistic about the power of good entertainment, and the lack of that on TV that I hardly think that’s the case. It seems to be saying that SNL (which exists in the world of Studio 60) is bad, but could be as great as it once was (the overhyped nostalgia at work)” but offers few solutions as to what the remedy could be.
Which brings me to the biggest problem. Sorkin was ALWAYS preachy. There was the episodes of Sports Night dealing with moral issues of hunting, flying the confederate flag, marijuana legalization, and more, and those were in the first 7 episodes. The West Wing took that to another level by having the perfect president tell everyone how things should be in an ideal world. There was a post-9/11 episode that consisted of the White House staff talking to a group on a field trip about why the terrorists hate America, and what a perfect world would be like, and who could forget the President yelling at God from inside the national cathedral.
Studio 60 (the drama) seems to take that preachiness and force-feed us, with multiple morals for each episode. If I want my morals given to me, I want them in small doses. This past week we were given two separate lectures on the merits of television history (including the fact that neither of Nate Corddry’s fifty-some year old parents had never heard of Abbot and Costello or “Who’s on First”, and the other story being about blacklisting), the plight of the smart black comedian to rise above stereotypes and dangerous upbringings, and a studio executive going on a tirade against a drama set in the U.N. that nobody would care about (a nod to executives questioning The West Wing in its formative years?…at the very least a shot at execs for not liking “smart” TV). All of these were not only blatantly told to us, but in HUUUUGE monologues that not only lacked any kind of subtlety, but rather than informing, seemed to condescend by telling us that we don’t know as much as Aaron Sorkin. We get it. You’re a well-educated Hollywood big shot, and we’re small America, and therefore we’re idiots. I’ve got news for you. Small America probably couldn’t care less about how much you know, and by treating them like know-nothings, you defeat your purpose of turning people to good TV, by driving them away.
And for a show that’s as slickly produced, and high-and-mighty about how bad everything else on TV is, you surely have given us some predictable storylines. A vagrant walks into the dressing room of the building and takes an old staff picture that’s hanging on the wall. He mutters the names of some famous old-time Hollywood writers. It turns out that he’s one of the people in the picture!!!! What a shock! D.L. Hughley takes Matthew Perry to see a black stand-up comic, in hopes that he’ll bring some diversity to the writing staff. The comic is the stereotypical “whites do things this way, and blacks do them this way” guy, and Hughley is embarrassed. The two of them hang out at the bar though, and as they’re about to leave, they hear a guy who would be great on the staff!!! I was surprised!!! Perry’s ex-girlfriend and star of the show starts dating a baseball player. He’s not such a good guy, it turns out!!! OMG!!!
NBC is wondering why nobody is watching what was the most talked about show for the fall season. The thing is, they did watch. The first episode did good numbers. The show has been steadily losing viewers each week, and it’s not hard to see why. People don’t like being told what to think by Hollywood types, not overtly at least. Sorkin tried to do with L.A. what he did with Washington, make a corrupt system look ideal. The situations in Hollywood, though, just seem superficial compared to the problems that a world leader faces, and offer less logical ways to discuss things of such vast importance. While I agree with what Sorkin says, I disagree with how he’s saying it these days.
I’ll keep watching. I want to like the show. But will I miss the characters when it ends? Will I want to know what happens to them? Not really. Sorkin has chosen his themes and morals over his characters this time around, and not even I have the blinders to overlook it. I believe in the ideal of “Studio 60”, (that quality TV is going by the wayside, and that the American audience is complacent with watching crap) just not the way it’s being fed to me.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip receives two stars for being an incredibly polished and well put-together show, better than 80 percent of TV these days, but one that knows it, and rubs its face in the fact that the rest of television is awful except for it, the program that will restore brains to the boob-tube. Characters suffer because of Sorkin’s need to prove a point, and the name dropping of obscure authors, musicians, etc. only serve to alienate the audience that it depends on to keep running. Please, just don’t blame the fans for not watching your quality television program; blame yourself.