Sunday, October 22, 2006

A-1, Vic-20, Heinz 57, Studio 60

I didn't blog last week's episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip because I just started to feel like Comic Book Guy* a little bit, endlessly snarking on Aaron Sorkin for executing a show that I am increasingly feeling to be an exercise in self-indulgence. But last night I was thumbing through my copy of the Seasons Three and Four book of The West Wing: Shooting Scripts, and I quite by accident uncovered yet another example of Sorkin apparently using Studio 60 as a dumping ground for stuff from his own personal life.

The major subplot thus far in Studio 60's run is the romance between genius comedy writer Matt (Matthew Perry) and genius comedy actress Harriet (Sarah Paulson). This romance has led to all manner of preachy nonsense in the show, since Matt's a staunch liberal and Harriet's a Red-State baptist. They're a metaphor for the Red States and the Blue States coming together once a week, for ninety minutes, to laugh together. And the healing power of laughter and so on. (I'm not making this up. The script for last week's episode spelled all this out, via a visiting reporter played by Christine Lahti.)

Now, I generally find the Matt-Harriet romance irritating, because (a) I can't stand the whole "You guys stand for half this country hating the other half!" stuff, and (b) I don't think that these two leads have one iota of chemistry between them. Maybe we're just supposed to buy into it because Sorkin's telling us to, or maybe he's got something more sophisticated up his sleeve and they're one of those couples that everybody knows shouldn't be together but them. (I frankly doubt the latter, but we'll see.) But anyway, one interaction between Matt and Harriet that got a lot of screentime was Harriet's gift to Matt of a baseball bat signed by "Darren Wells" of the Dodgers. That bat's been all over the show ever since, never leaving Matt's desk despite some shenanigans revolving around Darren Wells having written his phone number on the bat. OK? OK.

So now last night I'm reading the TWW script book, and in an introductory passage at the beginning, Sorkin writes of a time when someone proposed doing a Halloween-themed episode of The West Wing:

And he'd [Kevin Falls, an executive producer] wanted to do a Halloween show ever since SportsNight. I wasn't wild about the idea -- paper cutouts of ghosts and goblins at Margaret's desk? -- but lacking any ideas of my own, I turned to Kevin and the staff and said what I usually say when I have nothing at all, "Okay, that's it for a while," and went back to my office to play with my Darren Dreifort baseball bat. [Emphasis added.]

Now, he doesn't tell us who gave him the Darren Dreifort bat in real life, but it clearly made its way into Studio 60, where all he did was change the last name of the player! Darren Dreifort, of course, was a pitcher for the Dodgers (now apparently retired after lots of injuries), as is Darren Wells on the show. And you might wonder why a pitcher is giving out a bat, a point which Sorkin made in the script.

Now, obviously very few people are going to notice stuff like this, but even if we can't put our finger on it so directly, this is a big way in which the air of falsity that I'm detecting all through Studio 60 creeps into the show. I have no problem with Sorkin using his life experiences in television to tell stories -- it's part of that whole "Write what you know" thing, and roman a clef tales have a long lineage. But every detail like this that crops up makes it feel more and more like Studio 60 is one giant wish-fulfillment fantasy for Aaron Sorkin. It's like he's trying to achieve through writing what he's not allowed to achieve through mushrooms anymore, and I find that sad because the guy is a gifted writer. A Few Good Men is a really good movie (and its lead character also was a guy who did his best thinking whilst toting a baseball bat!), The American President is one of my favorite movies, and the first two seasons of The West Wing are obviously great, with the third and fourth being less good but still having frequent moments of greatness. I hope he finds that stroke again, if not with Studio 60, then maybe with something else.

(John likes Harriet and Matt just fine, for what it's worth. Also, for those who think that Sorkin's trend towards preachiness is a new development, check out the script to The American President, which contains some very preachy material that thankfully didn't make it into the final cut of the movie.)

* Did you know that Comic Book Guy's real name was revealed at some point? I didn't! Click through that link above to find out. The things you learn!

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