Monday, October 02, 2006

Don't worry about it.

Yup, time for my obligatory Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip post, which I watched last night again courtesy of the wonderful people of Toronto's CTV! I wasn't sure I was going to blog about the third episode of the show, given that I might start to seem like an obsessive about it, but I see that Lance Mannion is getting ready to liveblog the episode. So here are my thoughts on the show that Lance is about to liveblog.

[SPOILERS for tonights Studio 60!]

Lance mentions something someone else said last week about the show:

"Notice when people talk about STUDIO 60 they don't start the conversation by saying, 'I really liked it' or 'I hated it'? Instead it's always, What did you think?' I suspect no one really knows what to make of it."

Well, I'm getting closer to knowing what to make of it, and while I now know that it's pretty much what I've come close to saying in the previous weeks, I haven't been able to phrase it so starkly. Here it is: Studio 60 bears too strong a resemblance to The West Wing.

Maybe this is only my problem, given how many times I've watched various episodes of TWW, but once again, I couldn't watch this show and hear that dialogue without picking out small bits, and larger themes, from the earlier show. Yes, Studio 60 is about a TV show as opposed to TWW's White House. But Sorkin is still saying exactly the same things. He's talking about how good people can come together and work hard for a greater purpose. He's talking about how people of very high standards have to wrestle against dumbing down their work (here it's ratings; on TWW it was polling results). We have people who have spent their lives in a given business (TV or politics), rising to great success and working at a very high level, being caught completely by surprise by developments they should have seen coming a mile away.

Stripping aside the particulars because Studio 60 happens in a TV studio, nothing ever happens to a character here that didn't happen in a similar way to someone on The West Wing.

Lance notes that he thinks the show has to show some actual sketches, sooner or later. This episode comes close: one sketch is seen extensively, in rehearsal. The sketch, a comedy bit about the contemporary ignorance of and lack of respect for science, is frankly kind of painful to watch, but the crutch here, obviously, is that we're only seeing a rehearsal. And then, in the episode's fourth act, there is a montage of bits from the actual taping of the show. This consists of tiny bits of various sketches broken up by shots of the directors directing, the cast members changing costumes after their bits, et cetera. We hear tiny portions of sketches ("Pimp your trike"), but mainly the sketches that get the most "talk-time" in Sorkin's teleplay, the "Weekend Update" analogue and some sketch involving Commedia dell'arte, exist only in that very talk-time where "Crazy Christians" also resides.

In three episodes thus far, Aaron Sorkin's done a lot of telling. He tells us that Jordan Whatshername is brilliant. He tells us that Matt is an amazing writer, that Danny is a brilliant director, and that the blonde on the cast is howlingly funny. But he has yet, so far as I can tell, actually shown us any of that. This is the biggest problem with Studio 60, and it's a big one. Sorkin was able to show us, many times, that Jed Bartlet was a good President, that CJ Cregg could handle the press brilliantly, that Toby was despite his outward cynicism more idealistic than anyone else in the senior staff combined. Sorkin's gotta start showing us this stuff, or Studio 60 is doomed to be what it already feels like: a show on which a lot of good actors portray people who constantly tell us how brilliant they are without ever actually seeming to do anything brilliant.

Studio 60 really needs to get out of the gate, and soon. Three episodes in, and I still feel like I'm watching an unending pilot episode. The show needs to go somewhere, and this is where I'm worried a bit about the subject matter hampering things. What can we see here, other than each episode being about the preparation of one more episode of Friday Night Live or whatever it is?

One final note: I've written before of how much I admire the work of filmmaker Cameron Crowe. I always feel like Crowe's work displays lots of wonderful insight, but his most recent film, Elizabethtown, was widely panned by critics. When I finally saw it, I enjoyed it, but I had to concede a point to the critics: Elizabethtown was stunningly self-indulgent, as if Crowe had basically gone with every instinct in his head with nobody to tell him otherwise. I'm afraid that Studio 60 is going to become Aaron Sorkin's Elizabethtown.

And yet, what will I be doing this coming Sunday at 10:00? Tuning into CTV from Toronto. O Canada!

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