Aaron Sorkin, at his best, has produced some fantastic television. The West Wing, for all its flaws, had some great moments and is remarkable as one of the few pieces of drama that presented politicians as sympathetic human beings.
I’ve now watched the first six episodes Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and I like it, but whether it could have extended beyond its first season is open to question. It seems to be already running out of steam.
The fact that it tackles the subject of live TV comedy with the same reverence as the top tier of US politics is simultaneously ridiculous and sublime. The show has already demonstrated how its initial conceit allows them the opportunity to explore big themes about American culture and where it is headed. Even some of Sorkin’s worst habits, such as his apparent dictum that no problem exists in the world that is so difficult that it can’t be solved by an inspiring speech in the final act, sort of works in this context because in the context of a TV show it is the performance that counts.
The latest episode to be shown in the UK however, was almost parodic. It concerned several plot strands:
- One of the performers shows his parents around the studio, and it emerges that a) he has a communication problem with his father and b) they’re very worried that his younger brother is fighting in Afghanistan.
- Danny (aka Josh) tries to hook Matt (aka Chandler) up with some girls to get his mind off the Love of His Life who turn out to be vacuous airheads.
- The Love of Matt/Chandler’s Life spends the evening with a baseball player who is opposite to him in every way. Opposite to the extent that he comes onto someone else.
- Matt/Chandler is taken to a club by Token Black Lead to talent scout a comedian who turns out to be doing the same Angry Black Man act that Eddie Murphy ripped off Richard Pryor. Cue heartfelt monologue about living in Da Hood. But, hurrah! It turns out that there is another black comedian who is intelligent and sensitive (but not very funny). He gets recruited on the spot. This character is not in any way similar to Charlie in the West Wing. Honest – he wears glasses and everything!
- An elderly man is caught sneaking around the backlot. It turns out that he was a World War II hero and writer for Studio 60 in the 50s, but got Blacklisted during the McCarthyist purges. Cue: swelling music and lots of leaden comparisons between Then and Now.
Can you spot the plotline that isn’t a hackneyed load of dingo’s kidneys? Trick question – there isn’t one! Add to that Amanda Peet continuing to flail around completely out of her depth and the fact that Bradley Whitford (see, I do know his real name) still isn’t being used to anything like his full potential and you have the TV equivalent of popcorn – tastes vaguely sweet but completely unsubstantial pap.
All you needed to make this a totally Sorkin episode was a moody scene in which a character stared out of a window while the rain pours down to signify torment. But this being set in LA, I suppose that wouldn’t be practical.
In short, if you have to resort to this kind of by-the-numbers plotting by episode 6, it’s no wonder it didn’t survive past its initial run.