Awright, 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.