'Studio 60': I hate it! Wait, I love it!

94121__sarah_l_1Awright, awright, AWRIGHT! UNCLE! Do you hear me, Aaron Sorkin? I give. I give! You win. I’m enjoying your probably doomed show. I hear your rat-a-tat dialogue in my sleep. I find myself weirdly addicted to your sleek, reductive dialogues on the American character. I can’t tear myself away from your warped, funhouse-mirror version of the so-called “culture wars.”

I don’t quite believe the lie yet, but dadgum! I’m starting to like it. Take last night’s episode, where John Goodman plays some kind of Christian sheikh (i.e. a small-town judge from Nevada — “Evangelistan” in the Sorkin cosmos) who spanks the boys from L.A. with some gruff tribal wisdom. He lets them take him for a rube and a racist, then quickly buttonholes them for their presumptions. You know the stock movie scene where the white ignoramus mistakes a black man for a parking attendant, then gets a “surprisingly articulate” talking-to? This is that scene, writ large.

And the matter at hand? Beyond the militant gays attacking Harriet (Sarah Paulson, pictured) for her quasi-homophobic comments and the mysterious Chinese commu-capitalists serenely surveying their future subsidiary and the (genuinely) prim commentary on the (faux) prim denunciation of net prez Jordan’s “sordid sex history”? (Multiple theses, psych, soc, and poli sci, could be written on each storyline.)  At the bottom of everything, it’s Tom in Jesus costume. It all comes down to a skit where Jesus is the head of Standards and Practices, a premise Danny rightly dismisses as an “inside joke.” Yes, Sorkin practically announces his own irrelevance. He’s too smart not to see the paradox at the heart of his show, but too triumphal to admit that it’s fatal. Oh, and since when do Christians (Goodman’s judge, in this case) react with Danish-cartoon ire at depictions of Jesus? That’s a new one for me.

So why do I enjoy this thing so much? Because it really is limningthe culture wars, albeit in photo-negative reverse. And because I’vefound I enjoy watching an intelligent writer in conversation withhimself. I’ve called Studio 60 a lie. That’s not quite thecase. It’s crushingly, cruelly true, as a portrait of the white liberalin the extreme. The guilt, the self-loathing, the weak, ever-retrenchingmeliorism, and the nostalgia for witch-hunts past: HUAC! Kennedy riding to the rescue! Those were the days!

I know that well-meaning white liberal. I am thatwell-meaning white liberal. And watching one melt down on screen,watching him apologize for his own mythmaking in real time — wellfrankly, that’s fascinating.

One of my editors once said Sorkin’s problem is he thinks he can winan argument with himself. Well, he can’t. But I’m going to enjoywatching him try for as long as I’m allowed.

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  • junior

    My thoughts about “Studio 60″ (or “SSOTSST”) are this: I have absolutely no problem with a show creator and writer doing what they want with their characters. If Aaron Sorkin wants to set the show in sketch comedy and have the skits not be funny, it’s his perrogative. If he wants to lament on his own problems with the country/agendas through the characters, by all means, go ahead.
    The only problem I have is that “Studio 60″ is not entertaining AT ALL! These characters are odious, all of them, thus I could care less about them being interviewed by The Lahti or arrested or anything! They have taken my precious Sarah Paulson (of the “Down With Love” and her own failed NBC comedy) and made me not like to see her onscreen. They have made Rob Corddry’s little brother boring. I just can’t stand it!
    Sorry for that. I’m starting to think NBC will keep it on because of the contro it creates but I hope that one day, I can turn it on and not feel assaulted by the characters I’m watching…

  • ABW

    About the culture-war battlefront, I loved the line last night where Matthew Perry’s secular liberal said to Sarah Paulson’s born-again comedienne (I think I got this right): “You hate us because you think we think you’re stupid. And we hate you because you’re stupid.”
    I wish people would stop picking away at this supremely entertaining show by demanding absolute realism and detailed authenticity, and would instead approach Studio 60 for what I think it really is: a throwback to classic Frank Capra or Preston Sturges material.

  • dave

    i’m right there with you scott! via studio 60!

  • Miles

    I stopped caring. I stopped watching.
    The only show i’m tuning to NBC for is Heroes, after that, just to avoid commercials for this show…
    I stopped tuning in.

  • Sven

    People, Studio 60 is not meant to be a comedy (as opposed to 30 Rock and SNL), but a drama. So back off on attacking Sorkin. Are the show within a show sketches funny? No, I still think that’s a subtle snub at SNL, which has not been funny since the first two or three years of its inception.

  • Patti

    For the last several weeks I have been at Pop Watch defending Studio 60, but sadly that must now end. I have deleted it’s Season Pass from TIVO. I wanted to like it, I did like it- the Matthew Perry/Bradley Whitford part mostly- but they lost me last night. I might tune in if I happen to be flipping channels at 10 on Monday, but I am not going to follow it nor get involved with it anymore. RIP Studio 60

  • Nick

    Studio 60 has taken a premise that could have simply been funny (ie 30 rock), and transformed it into one of the most cutting shows on television. Does this appeal to the everyday viewer? The viewer who has watched CSI and felt smart because it’s about science, or numbers because it’s about math, or any of the procedural shows that gives them the plot on a platter?——- No, they do not understand the way the dialogue weaves slickly through the core of the show, exposing the characters inner flaws, and impossible dreams. The humor is in the dialogue, but also in the situation, a show trying to expose the mcdonaldized underbelly of network tv. The average american viewer wants big macs and french fries, they don’t want to wait for filet mignon. Is Studio 60 filet mignon?—– No, but it’s striving to be, and that is what makes it so important. If it fails, than those viewers who want to savor their characters, relish in their plots, and salivate over the humor drawn from pitter patter machine gun dialogue are doomed. Will Studio 60 fail? Yes. Because are culture is the same one that has given up on books, poetry, and theater. It just isn’t greasy enough.

  • paige

    please cancel studio 60!

  • shana

    Did anyone else feel like it was too early for this kind of episode? I think I have to care about the charcters a bit more before I go with this kind of thing, especially a two parter. Also, it reminded me of when Toby and Bradley Whitford were stuck in Indiana on the West Wing. Is Aaron Sorking recycling West Wing storylines and adapting them to the Hollywood scenario? I felt that whe he had Jordan doing a press conference in the first episode or whatever as well. I’m hanging in there, just because I’m nalready supine on the couch for heroes, why get up when I can watch another show? We’ll see, I doubt it’ll last. Let’s just watch Sportsnight again, its the best really.

  • mike

    I was hoping for intelligent sketch quasi-comedy. It’s not gonna happen. But, what we do have is the most intelligent hour on television, not called The Daily Show/Colbert Report. I do like the characters and every once in a while, I like to think about what I’m watching. If NBC is smart(?), they will let this show hang around. Another night of Deal or No Deal can wait.

  • ProudTexasWoman

    (See “What series are you breaking up with this fall?”
    http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/5970068)
    Dear Studio 60,
    I tried to love you. I wanted to love you. But deep down, it’s just because I was so in love with your older brother for seven years, and when he left me, I thought we could keep it all in the family. But you’re trying too hard to be like him, and you don’t have it in you.
    I could excuse your superficiality — after all, you’re up front about it and make all those cute self-deprecating jokes. The thing is, self-deprecating only is cute and romantic when the other person knows you’re better than your jokes make you seem. So far, you’re exactly what you pretend not to think you are.
    You even copy his ideas and try to live his life. That little problem you had with the judge in Nevada? He did it better when he bailed out the Supreme Court Justice-to-be and told me about it in flashbacks while addressing a student crowd. When you tell his stories, you look like a wannabe who can only draw in disposable cartoon strips what he painted in vivid detail. I’m supposed to believe your friend Jack got to be a network president while being stupid enough as to joke about buying the judge a boat with his American Express? Your buddy Harriet isn’t anywhere near as good a defender of the faith as our gal Ainsley was of her politics, nor even as good as the Kristin C. Christian that Harriet would like to become one day.
    Even your attempts at fast, witty dialogue just remind me how much better at this your brother was. I’d rather just gather all my home movies of him and watch them between my dates with “The Nine” and “Heroes” — at least hanging out with them I hear intelligent stories about believably diverse people. (It’s sad, isn’t it, that stories about people with magic superpowers are more believable than yours?) I’m even experimenting with “Ugly Betty” these days… so we’ll see you around.
    P.S. Do stay sober, honey, because it’ll still give you a much better chance of finding the right one for you next time around.

  • Alice

    This show would be great is Aaron Sorkin wasn’t involved. He wrecks it with his preachy lessons he wants to cram down our throats about the ignorant Americans he so greatly fears. Aaron, take a bus ride across the country like Oprah. Fill your own gas tank, eat in a diner off the beaten path, go into a Wal-Mart and talk to some people…it’s not that scary.

  • mike

    I am was born and raised just down the road from that Wal-mart. Be afraid, Aaron.
    Be very, very afraid. Wal-mart sells the “greasy” Nick was talking about.

  • Tyler D

    I’m amazed at the fact that Studio 60′s supporters are still riding the entire “it’s a drama, not a comedy” line of argument, even when no one has mentioned anything about it’s comedic skills.
    I really enjoy this show when it’s about the power struggles between the creative staff and the network execs, or within each circle, but it’s excruciating to sit through the culture war stuff, just because Sorkin doesn’t seem to realize how short-sighted his viewpoint remains. I’m also slightly disturbed by the fact that last night’s episode was credited to Mark McKinney, because now I have to accept the fact that the Kids in the Hall alum is also partly to blame for this torture.
    Then there was Tom not wanting to admit the apparently gallant reason why he was speeding through Nevada. I assume this will be explained in the next episode, but I also dread that it will have something to do with his brother fighting in Afghanistan. If this is Sorkin attempting to work through his own Hollywood-liberal neurosis and incorporating biographical elements into his story, are we to believe that he also had some noble reason for getting caught possessing drugs while speeding? I really hope not.
    Did someone just link Preston Sturges to Sorkin? I’m sorry, but Sturges had the rare ability to infuse his verbose, witty, brisk dialogue with something that Sorkin fundamentally lacks – subtlety. Sturges was able to overtly comment on political and cultural discord, but he made certain that it was done in service of his story and not as his own microphone. He smuggled his commentary into his comedy because he understood his message would be better served when delivered through entertainment. Meanwhile, Sorkin is just making political and cultural comments his primary focus. Sturges also understood the folly and pretension of making grand political/cultural statements within his creative outlets, and knew how his art was perceived primarily as entertainment. Sorkin would never be capable of making something as humble as Sullivan’s Travels. If we consider Sorkin to be a contemporary Sturges, then does that make Michael Bay our version of John Ford? If so, we’re doomed.

  • step

    Hey, NBC. Just switch Studio 60 and Friday Night Lights. Please?…. Please?

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