'Studio 60' was actually really good last night

18277__nate_lMany 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.

addCredit(“Nate Corddry: Mitch Haaseth”)

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?

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  • step

    Last night’s episode was definitely better than the week before (the ony redeeming part of that episode was Jenna. Really.), but it still wasn’t fantastic. I will go as far to say that I was mildly entertained, and I let out more than one laugh.
    Thumbs up, Studio 60.

  • Victor

    i hope this show comes to a worthwhile conclusion too! Despite all the CRAP everyone has given this show since it first started, i’ve been following it loyally from start to it’s inevitable finish..

  • Dio_K

    The episode was actually watchable and entertaining. It didn’t suck. But the show within a show stuff is beyond awful. What would it take to get a real/working comedy writer to do this part of the script?
    Gary S. – you called it – from the high-stakes plotlines to the smug, unbearable new love interest. Great review.

  • Media Maven

    I’ll be watching. It took a long time, but I’m emotionally invested in Studio 60, too. Whatever its flaws, this show has some of the best actors around. And Aaron Sorkin can write great drama when he’s off his soapbox. Was a bit stunned afterward, thinking what a pity this show was cancelled. Especially when Grey’s Anatomy, one of my former favourites, sucked so hard this past season, without a single episode that had me as emotionally invested as last night (with the possible exception of the one where Meredith’s mother becomes lucid for a day).

  • Sean Collins-Smith

    It’s funny, I liked this episode OK, but I enjoyed The Disaster Show episode much better. At first I thought it was just me, but me and about 5 of my (18-21 year old) friends watched it at the beach 2 weeks ago and they all laughed throughout the whole thing.
    The kicker? None of them had even seen the show before, and they still enjoyed it. Maybe this Aaron Sorkin nametag comes with a bias that automatically makes people decide to like it or dislike it.
    Either way, I am disheartened that the show will not be continuing.

  • Kevo

    Lat nights episode was good – if it was an episode of the West Wing or the Unit. I doubt Lorne MIchaels has ever cotemplated calling in special ops recommended by his lawyer. I thought the “Disaster show” was great and an example of the behind the scenes of a sketch show Studio 60 had the potential to become. I also liked the “Disaster show” because it did not feature Matt Alby, Jordan, or Danny but the supporting cast (especially Timothy Busfield as Cal – I wished they could give him a spin off or something, he’s a real scene-stealer). Still, I will watch the remaining four or three episodes. I started the TV season with Studio 60 and I will end it with Studio 60.

  • Liz

    Perfidious? I had to look that one up! Otherwise, good review. I’m sticking with the show til the end.

  • Jeanette

    I’ve loved Studio 60 since the beginning and am sad, particularly after such a resounding episode last night, to see it go. What a great cast – Here’s hoping NBC could pull off a Jericho and bring it back, but with such a large cast I doubt it.

  • Ang Knee

    Last week’s episode was actually better, but this one was very good, too. I think the Matt/Harriet relationship finally feels real. (Those flashbacks should have come a long time ago.) Never felt the show was trying to change anybody’s mind — it’s interesting, very often dramatically so, to put people with opposing views together in romantic and/or collegial situations. Engaging people’s minds doesn’t have to mean trying to change them. We’re getting some quite powerful dramatic payoff in these last episodes. The story of Tom’s captured airman brother and the well-connected lawyer’s rescue scheme should please WWing fans, I’d have thought. Last week, once I spotted Jenna F in the good-byes, I kinda thought we might see her in a scene with Lucy D. Would have been too cute maybe.

  • ceej

    What is it with these career gals? All these women like to hit on the men? Is that how they got those high-powered positions?
    And I’m guessing the Airforce guys already know Mark Jeter’s fate, otherwise why would they be drinking while on-duty and in uniform?

  • In Worst Possible Taste

    I find the hostage crisis gratuitous and offensive.
    Some of us who watch this show have children/ friends/lovers oversees that we are worried about. Can we not have the worst case scenario shoved in our face and called entertainment?

  • mike

    I agree with the other posters about the West Wing storyline in the kidnapping. I also don’t like the lawyer in the harrassment suit harrassing Matt. You would think she would know better.
    The show has ventured a long way from its original premise. However, I won’t miss it’s last episodes.

  • scoates

    Was anybody else having flashbacks to the “ER” episode where Bradley Whitford’s wife dies giving birth to their son, due to complications of pre-eclampsia? I’m not sure if I found the Jordan and baby-in-peril plot disturbing on its own merits or because I was having some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder reaction to the old ER episode.

  • Jenni

    Though I thought Danny was a creepy stalker at first when he persued Jordan, I admit it, I felt the proposal was beyond perfect. Way to take a cliche and make it beautiful. And the Matt/Harriet relationship, which I find fascinating, was awesomely plumbed out in the flashbacks. I’m still rooting for those two, because if they date anyone else, they will just be carrying too much baggage! I wonder when Matt’s downer from all the pill-taking-and-ceasing will show? That WAS weird, but I loved this ep. Nate C played Tom wonderfully this week and last. Love him and this show in general. It’s no Friday Night Lights, and I’m not crying my eyes out over its demise like with Gilmore and Veronica, but I really hate to see it go….

  • anne

    What a waste of a good cast and a potentially interesting show. I had high hopes in the beginning, but the interminable weeks of Matt and Harriet killed my interest. Last night’s episode was so good, it made me sad that the series is going to end. I hope they are able to wrap things up in a fairly satisfying way–with a sense that the story is going to go on, even though we won’t be able to see it. I think the poster’s suggestion of hiring a real comedy team to script the show-within-a-show would have been a great idea and might have made the difference. I also agree that last night’s flashback montage finally made Matt’s and Harriet’s relationship make sense and was long overdue.

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