Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I guess Matt can turn off that countdown clock now

OK, so Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip ended last week. Did I like the show? I did enough to watch every episode; I may have even liked it enough to buy it on DVD if I see it cheap (like the fact that at Target you can get Firefly for under twenty bucks right now). But it was never as good as it could have been, and it never came anywhere near the heights that Aaron Sorkin can reach when he's really on his game. A Few Good Men? The American President? The first two-and-a-half seasons of The West Wing? All were far better than this show. Random thoughts abound:

:: Lance Mannion mocks it, but I consider it a cosmic injustice that I'll never again hear Ed Asner growl the word "Macao" again. I loved the way he said "Macao". In fact, I'd like to have Ed Asner record the word "Macao" for the outgoing message on my answering machine. And I loved Asner's pep-talk for Jack Rudolph, Action Executive during the Macao deal: "I took the ball ninety-nine yards, now take it the last one. Get us the touchdown. Take it to the damn house!" I just get all giggly when I say that line in my head. "Take it to the damn house!" I'll be getting some mileage out of that over the next few months, let me tell you.

:: I'll also miss the Studio 60 set. I loved the little world-within-a-world they created there, and I was always a bit disappointed when the show left it.

:: I enjoyed the last story arc, although it went on way too long what with yet more boring crap about Matt-and-Harriet, the worst couple in television history. And I do not buy for one second that they're "back together", whatever the hell that means. I don't know how good or bad an actress Sarah Paulson is, but I do know that she and Matthew Perry had as little chemistry as any two people I've ever seen on teevee.

:: Matthew Perry finally gets his chance to strut his acting stuff after Friends, gets the lead on a Sorkin show, and then has to play the guy who basically stays in his office looking conflicted the whole time. Perry got screwed.

:: There must be an interesting "inside baseball" story about this show's cancellation. Few shows that get yanked from the schedule at mid-season get a chance to end on a full-stop the way Studio 60 did; the show's last-aired episode was also a decent final episode. Did NBC go to Sorkin and tell him something along the lines of, "Look, you're highly unlikely to last the year, to say nothing of coming back next year, so if you've got any storyline stuff in the pipeline that you won't be able to live with yourself unless you get to write the endings, you'd better start thinking about that now."

:: Sorkin's biggest flaws on this show were twofold. The first? His hubris: the entire show's run reeked of his apparent "I am Writer, and verily I shall save thee from Bad TeeVee!" attitude. It's amazing, really; the entirety of Studio 60 basically turned out to be a giant Mary Sue story. If I write a Mary Sue story and submit it somewhere, it'll get rejected. Aaron Sorkin got big money to actually make his Mary Sue story into a show. Wow.

:: And what's with Sorkin's constant beef that TeeVee sucks across the board? Sure, if all you ever watch is stuff like Are You Smarter Than Your Kids or that sitcom with Jim Belushi, but really, isn't there some just plain great stuff on TeeVee nowadays? Sorkin's preaching against TeeVee on Studio 60 often seemed not unlike if a present-day clergyman were to devote sermon after sermon to denouncing Copernican theory.

:: Sorkin's other problem? His laziness. He's the James Horner of screenwriting. He has plenty of good ideas, but he has all these other ideas that he keeps using, over and over and over again. The glaring examples from the final episode? Well, the episode was titled "What Kind of Day Has It Been". That was also the title of the final episode of The West Wing's first season. On that episode of the earlier show, a major subplot is that an American Air Force pilot crashes in Iraq and has to be rescued before the Iraqis get him. On Studio 60's episode of the same name, a major subplot is an American military officer getting captured in Afghanistan (he's the brother of Tom Jarrett, one of the regulars). On TWW, there's a scene where a black military officer comes into the Oval Office and tells the President that he'll receive an update on the pilot's rescue by phone soon. On Studio 60, there's a scene where a black military officer receives an update on the military officer's fate by phone. On TWW, said black officer hands the President the phone and says, "I have the pilot on the phone. We got him out a few minutes ago." On Studio 60, said black officer hands Tom the phone and says, "I have your brother on the phone. We got him out a few minutes ago." Seriously, how lazy is that?! Especially to do the same thing again in the same episode, when he very carefully constructs Jordan McDeere's death only to say, "Yay, she's fine!"

Of course, this may not be laziness, so much as some pretty extravagant narcissism on Sorkin's part. It could be that he's really thinking, "This was such a great idea the first time, that I'm gonna do it again! And again! And again!" This is why Sorkin's stuff starts to sound the same, the more you watch it. It's not that he writes the same type of stuff every time (rapid-fire dialogue that goes by way faster than anyone would normally talk, "walk-and-talk" scenes, flashbacks galore), but that a lot of the time he actually writes the same stuff over again. So ultimately that's my disappointment with Studio 60: rather than come up with something new, Sorkin just wallowed in himself. And dammit, he can do better.

So, bon voyage, Studio 60. As Rossini said of Wagner: you had great moments, but awful quarters of an hour.


Erin said...

I mostly agree with you...except (I know it's an unpopular opinion) I actually didn't mind Matt and Harriet. In fact, I was rooting for them, and I thought the end of their story arc was sweet.

In related news, I understand Aaron Sorkin and Kristen Chenoweth are together.

Anonymous said...

Also, the last episode of SPORTS NIGHT's first season was also WHAT KIND OF DAY HAS IT BEEN.

I often got the feeling that there were threads here that Sorkin pulled out of his SN notebook, picked up, dusted off and reshaped.

Anonymous said...

Also, the last episode of SPORTS NIGHT's first season was also WHAT KIND OF DAY HAS IT BEEN.

I often got the feeling that there were threads here that Sorkin pulled out of his SN notebook, picked up, dusted off and reshaped.