Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
In my last entry, I talked about a new TV show I love. In this one, I’m going to talk about a new TV show that’s starting to frustrate me. (And my next entry will have absolutely nothing to do with TV, because this is not Katie’s TV Blog.)
For a show with such low ratings, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip has gotten an extraordinary amount of media attention. With all the big names attached to it, it’s no wonder. Aaron Sorkin is back! Matthew Perry is back! Plus Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, D.L. Hughley, Sarah Paulson, and plenty of others.
I had high hopes after the first episode, which started off with a bang (the executive producer of the show-within-a-show gets canned after ranting on live TV about how much better the show used to be) and felt like a miniature movie. But since then, the show has not come close to fulfilling its potential. And that, I think, is the frustrating thing, and part of the reason it’s gotten so much press. It should be much better than it is, and because we want it to be good, people are invested in it even when it’s not living up to our expectations.
I know Aaron Sorkin isn’t reading this, because he has openly showed contempt for Internet fans. On a West Wing episode called “The U.S. Poet Laureate,” a character mocked an Internet fan board, not-so-coincidentally after Sorkin had embarrassed himself by posting on and complaining about Television Without Pity. And on the second episode of Studio 60, characters bemoaned the growing influence of bloggers on public opinion about TV. Simon says that a popular blogger “is writing…in her pajamas. She’s got a freezer full of Jenny Craig and she’s surrounded by her five cats,” and Tom says that the New York Times will pick up her quote and publish it as the “fan reaction.”
So Aaron Sorkin will not be reading this blog (which, in case you were wondering, is written by a cat-less, Jenny Craig-less, struggling, single twenty-something who may or may not be in her pajamas), and while Katie Johnston Chase at the Boston Globe has been nice enough to feature “Struggling Single Twenty-Something” in the “Sidekick” section a couple of times, I don’t think my opinions alone can be called the fan reaction. But I know there are others who share my opinions (namely, some of my friends at The Publishing Company), so after thinking about it for awhile, I’ve come up with a list of reasons why the show isn’t as good as it could be.
1. It takes itself too seriously.
Aaron Sorkin’s self-righteousness is the show’s main problem, actually. If it’s a show about running the country, you are allowed to get serious and talk about how Big and Important all these Issues are. If it’s a show about a fricking comedy show…you aren’t. Aaron Sorkin needs to get off his high horse and start showing some respect for the viewers his show so desperately needs. Wes’s outburst at the start of the pilot should have been the end of the ranting about the quality of TV these days. Instead, nearly every episode has complaints about TV in some form or another. I get that Jordan is supposed to be kind of a wish-fulfillment network president who turns down sensationalistic reality shows in favor of serious and intelligent dramas, but that doesn’t change the fact that IT’S JUST TV! TV is not going to change the world, no matter how many times Sorkin tells us it will.
2. The sketches aren’t funny
They’re just not. Cheeses of Nazareth? Thank God we didn’t actually get to see that one, because hearing about it was more than enough. Actually, we don’t see much of any of the sketches, so…how hard is it to make a tiny piece of a sketch funny? The characters will talk about how funny a sketch is. They’ll say it over and over until they hope we believe it. But we don’t. The sketches aren’t funny. I can appreciate the Gilbert and Sullivan song at the end of the second episode, but that’s honestly about it. And while I can see why they never showed the “Crazy Christians” sketch about which they spent two episodes talking—after all that, there was no way they could create anything that would live up to it—they need to show us that they’re capable of writing a sketch that funny. And that they’re capable of coming up with a better name for a sketch than “Crazy Christians.”
3. Vast oversimplification of the culture wars
Why does every episode need a religion rant? Or a red state vs. blue state rant? This show is supposed to be about entertainment, but Sorkin seems like he just wants to get in all the political jabs he missed out on after the cocaine and mushrooms forced him away from The West Wing. And while he thinks he’s trying to make it complex, he’s…not. The episode with Tom’s parents, for instance, was a triumph of clichés. His parents are these sourpuss, out-of-touch Midwesterners who have never heard of Abbott and Costello (seriously) and, to Tom’s annoyance, have no appreciation for his line of work. In one of the most unintentionally funny moments in TV history, after Tom, in frustration, tells his parents that they’re “standing in the middle of the Paris Opera House of American television,” his father explodes, “Your little brother is STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF AFGHANISTAN!” Which apparently is the antithesis of working for a popular, liberal-leaning comedy show. It’s the most broad, simplistic way of showing ideological differences, and it just doesn’t work.
Same goes for Harriet Hayes. She would be an interesting, complex character who happens to be Christian if they didn’t feel the need to mention her religion every single episode. Consequently, she’s becoming nothing more than the Christian Comedian, when I think the original point of her character was to be more than that.
Speaking of which…
4. Matt and Harriet
First of all, like I said, Harriet’s religion comes up every single episode. I know their relationship is based on Sorkin’s relationship with Kristin Chenoweth, and I can’t imagine that Chenoweth is pleased with how this has played out onscreen. It’s like Sorkin wanted a chance to win all the arguments he had with her, so he constantly has Matt trying to one-up her.
But my other issue with their relationship is that too much has happened with them too fast. At the beginning of the show, they had just broken up and had learned that they were working together. The logical course of events would be for them to fight without flirting for awhile, then settle into neutrality, then start dating other people, then gradually start to be attracted to each other again. And this should last at least a season. Instead, we go directly to the bickering, then the dating other people, then the almost-kiss, then the ultra-cheesy line, “Are you crazy about me or just crazy?” All within eight episodes. Way to guarantee that no one is interested in them anymore.
5. Amanda Peet/Jordan McDeere
I love Amanda Peet. I think she’s a great comedic actress (awesome in The Whole Nine Yards) and would be great on a TV show. That said, I think she was completely miscast as Jordan McDeere. I get that Jordan is supposed to be insecure in her new job, especially with the pressure coming down on her from all sides, but Peet has yet to convince me that there’s a reason why Jordan was hired in the first place. Yeah, her jokes fall flat, she thinks she has no friends…that’s fine. I can accept those as character quirks. But she needs to carry herself with more confidence. Even in the big “Nations vs. Search and Destroy” decision she didn’t come off as authoritative so much as stubborn. I know that her being young and a woman is part of the point, but she just is not convincing as a network president.
Also, a couple of other things about her that I find unrealistic. First, Jordan spends way too much time at Studio 60. It’s not the only show on NBS, I presume, so doesn’t she have more important things to do than trying to make new friends at the wrap party? Second, I do not get what the big deal is about her ex-husband coming out with a book about her. She’s a network president, not the President of the United States. Or a rock star. Or even one of the stars of Studio 60. The general public does not give a crap about network presidents and their personal lives, unless they killed someone or something. The president of NBC is Jeff Zucker, and he went to Harvard. That is literally the only thing I know about him (and I only know that because of an internship I once had). And I have no idea who the presidents of ABC and CBS are. Now, granted, being young and a woman, Jordan may get more media attention than the average network president in the Studio 60 world, but I still can’t imagine the general public giving a second thought to Jordan’s ex-husband’s assertions that she hates kids.
6. Everyone gets along too well
The cast members, I mean. There’s plenty of fighting going on with the writing staff, and between Matt and Harriet, and between Jordan and Jack, and in plenty of other places. But the cast members of Studio 60 seem to be just peachy with each other. Dylan was offered the news seat, and…he didn’t want it? Simon, Harriet, and Tom are referred to as “The Big 3”…and no one else vies for that title? Yeah, there was the conflict between Jeannie and Harriet early on after Matt spent time with Jeannie, but that blew over pretty fast. I don’t want it to turn into bicker-fest, but a little tension among the cast members might be nice.
Good lord. For a show that purports to respect our intelligence, these characters sure do repeat themselves a lot. Like in the last two episodes—how many times did Simon say the joint was his? And why did Harriet have to repeat her entire quote on homosexuality so many times? We got it the first time.
And also—enough with the long-winded speeches. When Jack went into his big defense of Jordan in the last episode, Steven Weber’s delivery was excellent and the speech was funny and well-written…but it didn’t have the impact it should have had. Why? Because we’re in speech and lecture overkill. And that’s what’s really unfortunate. All the preachiness is killing some of the more genuine moments.
So, why am I still watching? Why do I still cling to the belief that this show can be saved? Well, because there are still several things that do work in this show, and if Aaron Sorkin could just take a step back and view this show objectively, he’d see these and take advantage of them:
1. Matthew Perry
No matter what happens with this show, Matthew Perry is going to come away a winner. He’s successfully broken out of the Friends mold. In the past, most of his roles were just incarnations of Chandler Bing—while I loved The Whole Nine Yards (which coincidentally, Amanda Peet was also in), the movie could have been called Chandler Meets the Mob in Montreal. His performances here have been solid, despite his not always having the best material to work with. I’m glad, because I always thought he had potential as a dramatic actor, and he’s really proven himself here. In the second episode, when he yells at Harriet for making him look stupid in front of the writers, telling her that if she does that again he’ll bench her and make her the highest-paid extra in Hollywood, I just thought, Wow. Chandler Bing has left the building.
2. Nathan Corddry
I had never heard of him before the show started, and with all the big-name stars on Studio 60, it was awhile before I paid his character much attention. But now that they’ve given Tom some interesting storylines…I have to say, I am really loving him. He’s cute, he’s funny, he’s interesting, and Nathan Corddry plays him really well. He is maybe the one character on this show who’s never obnoxious or annoying, and that’s an accomplishment in itself.
3. Matt and Danny’s relationship
I don’t know why they’re hitting us over the head with Matt and Harriet when the relationship between Matt and Danny is so much more interesting. Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford have great friendship chemistry, but the show is more interested in Matt/Harriet and Danny/Jordan (like we don’t see where that’s going) moments. Also, I really want them to get into what’s behind Danny’s drug use. We’ve gotten into Harriet’s backstory already, and Tom’s and Simon’s, but we don’t know too much about what makes Matt and Danny the way they are.
4. Some smaller comic moments
While the sketches aren’t funny, there have been some great comedic moments in the scripts. I like the doomsday clock that drives Matt crazy. I liked the national anthem story about Matt and Harriet (“They were standing already!”). I liked Simon and Tom going to bat for Suzanne after she leaked information to the reporter but just making things worse. I liked the whole plagiarism debacle in the fourth episode, and I liked Harriet’s bear story (“When asked for comment, the bear said, ‘RAAAAHR!’”). Less preachiness, more moments like these, please.
5. The guest stars
This could be a win-win situation. It gives celebrities a chance for exposure (Sting plays the lute! Who knew?) and it lends itself to some nice moments in the script. I liked how they used Felicity Huffman in the pilot—very realistic, very natural. But they completely wasted Lauren Graham. Yeah, I know she has her day job on Gilmore Girls, but she has great chemistry with Matthew Perry, and in the two episodes she was in, she did nothing. That’s just criminal, and I think Sorkin needs to start taking advantage of the built-in opportunity he’s given himself.
Now for some good news about TV.
This show has finally gotten back on track. The problems with last season’s mystery were that a.) there wasn’t that much to it, b.) it had to do with a family we weren’t really emotionally invested in, and the only housewife it really involved was Bree, and c.) it was too easy to figure out (it was the other brother, duh!).
This season, I honestly have no clue where the mystery is going. Is Orson framing Mike? Or has Mike been a bad guy all along, and Orson’s a good guy? If not, why are the writers making Orson more sympathetic? What the hell is up with Orson’s mother? And is Art’s “invalid sister” the same woman Orson was visiting in the mental hospital?
Also, the supermarket hostage episode was fantastic. And not just because they finally got rid of the incredibly annoying Nora. Another problem with the show last season was that the writers had no idea what to do with Lynette. At first, she was the harried stay-at-home mom, but when that got old, they had to send her back to work. Then that got old. But now Lynette is going to have a fifth kid, and I hope they’re going to show the emotional impact the shootings had on her. Unwittingly, she did play a role in Nora’s death, and on some level I think she did want it to happen. I hope they deal with her guilt over that, and I wonder if she’s heading for a breakdown like she did in the baseball-field scene in the first season. I kind of hope so. Felicity Huffman is such a good actress, and she needs good storylines like that.
I hated Marissa, so I wasn’t too sorry when she died. (Although honestly, I still don’t see why it was necessary to kill her off. They could have just had her go to college somewhere.) But I was also curious to see how it would play out. It could either be great for the show or really horrible, but after watching three episodes, I’m happy to say that it’s the former.
First, it’s given Melinda Clarke a chance to shine. No matter how awful Julie acts, you can never hate her, and that’s to Clarke’s credit. She just has this presence that fills up the screen, and now, with Julie mourning her daughter, it’s more powerful than ever.
Summer’s way of grieving isn’t what I would have predicted, but it makes complete sense. Marissa was the friend with whom she was self-absorbed and sheltered, so now that she’s in college, Summer’s going to the opposite extreme, pushing all thoughts of Marissa out of her mind by becoming an activist for causes she doesn’t really understand or care about. Her little breakdown in the most recent episode, when she said, “I miss my friend,” wasn’t overdone, and it ended up being very poignant.
I love Seth, but he’s sometimes written as very self-centered and verbose, and they’ve toned that down so far this season. He’s been a great friend and brother to Ryan so far, and that’s a side of him we need to see more of.
So far, the show has also stayed close to the main cast. One big mistake on the writers’ parts last season was focusing too much on secondary characters like Johnny. Then when Johnny died, no one even cared. But the storylines thus far have all been about the main cast, and while they’ve introduced a few new characters (Che, the Ward twins), they haven’t gotten overwhelming screen time.
And while the friendship and romance on this show is always interesting, the heart of The O.C. is Ryan’s relationship with the Cohens. I’m always most interested in how they function as a family, and so far we’ve seen more of that. Kirsten’s had some nice moments in the first few episodes, particularly in her scenes with Taylor (who is awesome, and who is now a cast member). Last season, there weren’t as many moments where we saw Sandy and Kirsten really being parents, and this season they’ve shown more of that.
The O.C. will always be a cheesy soap opera, but even guilty pleasures can be intelligently written, and this season, The O.C. is taking steps toward being as smart as it was in its first season.