Many Studio 60 fans have complained about my write-ups of the show, suggesting that I’ve been gloating over its failure. Hardly. Go back and re-read my TV Watches, and I think you’ll find I was rooting for it to succeed, praised it whenever it did something well, and expressed bitter disappointment when it didn’t. I felt the show hit rock bottom when it returned from hiatus two weeks ago; I was so discouraged that I didn’t even write up last week’s "Breaking News" episode. (I did watch it, hoping that the show could pull itself out of its tailspin, but it offered more of the same: pointless nattering over blown lines of sketch dialogue, Matt’s Dr. House-like ability to gobble pills without any apparent effect on his behavior, and the criminal waste of blink-and-you’ll-miss-her guest star Jenna Fischer.) So I was happily surprised that this week’s ep, "K&R," was actually really strong, worthy of the goodwill Aaron Sorkin has been squandering all season.
What made the difference? For once, the dramatic stakes were high, higher than who’s going to the wrap party with whom, or whether "snow blower" is a funnier phrase than "snow machine." This time, there was real-life peril, both for Tom Jeter (Nate Corddry, pictured), whose brother and two other airmen had been captured by terrorists in Afghanistan, and for Jordan, whose pregnancy suddenly turned problematic, necessitating an emergency C-section. I felt the Tom subplot was the better handled of the two. His anguish was palpable as he waited for news that never came, and he was painfully aware that his own celebrity status would turn his brother’s captivity into a media circus and make his chances for a safe rescue all the more remote. The Jordan subplot was full of elements we’ve seen before (the rookie doctor, Danny’s bedside marriage proposal), but I finally felt emotionally invested in these characters and what befalls them.
I could have done without the flashbacks to Matt and Harriet’seight-years-running faith-vs.-reason debate. (Note to Sorkin: Neitherof them will change the mind of anyone who’s still watching, and thisendless argument makes their lingering attraction to each other all themore baffling.) But the flashbacks to the week spent preparing thefirst post-9/11 show were not only relevant (after all, why is Tom’sbrother still stuck fighting in Afghanistan six years later?) but alsoa reminder of a moment where TV comedy really did matter, as a forcefor rallying America’s morale. Again, high stakes, compelling drama.
I still find Matt’s new love interest Mary Tate irksome, and notjust because she’s played by Kari Matchett, who also played theperfidious Lisa Miller this season on 24. The "Mensa lady"’ssmugness and high self-regard are not cute, and her cockamamie schemeto send a professional rescue team (think Russell Crowe and DavidCaruso in Proof of Life) to ransom Tom’s brother seems likelyto result only in the airman’s death and the disbursement of millionsof dollars to the terrorists. But at least the show has gotten me tocare about these showbiz royals by giving them big problems drawn fromreal life. I’ll be watching next week to see how it all turns out, andto see if the series can come to a worthwhile conclusion over the nextfew weeks. Will you?