Monday, October 09, 2006

studio 60... yeah, it's monkey nuts time

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip lost me at the beginning of the first episode when the Judd Hirsch character (Wes Mendell) loses a showdown with a network geek over a sketch entitled "Crazy Christians." The stewing Mendell breaks into the show and delivers a "stinging" off-the-cuff monologue tearing TV a new one.

What crap. Hirsch/Mendell is a grizzled veteran, the producer of a long-running, successful TV show. The idea that this guy would make a principled stand for something as abstract as "art" is laughable. He might behave badly because he resented being put in his place by a flunkie twenty-five years his junior, but for "art?" Hey, when was the last time Lorne Michaels looked like he was concerned about anything other than his next dinner reservation at a five-star restaurant. Studio 60 pretends to take us backstage, but it really takes us to FantasyLand.

Next, the impromptu diatribe is supposed to be a national contretemps. Riiiiiiiiiggggggggggghhhhhhhhhttt. Sure, it would play round-the-clock on YouTube, but aside from providing great material for Letterman and Conan, there would be zero impact. Also, does anyone believe that "Crazy Christians" was really that funny? Probably more like that lame "Hillbilly Clinic" sketch that they can't seem to get enough of at SNL.

Third, Amanda Peet plays a network president who apparently has no other responsibilities other than mother-henning this show. Maybe if she was the exec producer, but the network prez?

Fourth, Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford look too much alike. It's creepy. Stop it.

Fifth, stop the "smoldering love affair" between Harriet (Sarah Paulson) and Matt (Perry). This story line is an anchor. It stops the show colder than Horatio Sanz "cracking up" during every single sketch in which he appears on SNL. Paulson and Perry have the same intense chemistry visible between Mr. T and George Peppard on The A Team. While we're at it, why is it important that Harriet be a Christian? It's not even a facet of her character; it's more like a tic or a temporary tattoo. As a Christian, I'm more offended by this tepid biscuit that supposed to make the show seem "balanced", "nuanced", "complex", or whatever it's supposed to do than I would be by the actual airing of "Crazy Christians". The character is supposedly based on Kristin Chenoweth, but Chenoweth works on Broadway. That's a completely different environment than TV and if you don't believe me, watch Chenoweth, who is a legitimately galvanizing stage performer, on TV. She's terrible. I don't buy Harriet as a great talent, as a committed Christian, or as a human being who has any kind of conflict between her faith and her profession. Paulson is a fine actress, but she is so miscast that I don't believe she can overcome these obstacles.

I will continue to watch. Why? Because in spite of all this, when Sorkin gets his little dialogue windmill going, it is always entertaining. Not smart, not complex, not many of the adjectives people use to describe his writing, but entertaining. Unlike The West Wing, Studio 60 does not linger. The West Wing often felt as if you were watching something important. Sports Night, Sorkin's first show (it had faults, but it also had the brilliant episode "Draft Day") was sleek and attractive compared to the drivel around it. Studio 60 sort of sits in the middle; self-important, a show ostensibly about comedy that doesn't even attempt to capture the whirlwind rush produced by making people laugh.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

a change in emphasis

Since the fall TV schedule is now well and truly under way, I was planning a post about the new season. You know, what shows I like and dislike, which "critical favorites" actually suck monkey nuts, that sort of thing. Not today. No, not today.

Rep. Mark Foley pretty much put paid to the idea. Actually, Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) put paid to it. The incipient predatory sex scandal is such a succinct summation of the last six years that it's almost hermetic in its perfection.

Homosexuality plays a part in this affair. Even people who try to be fair about the place of gay people in society may experience a physical discomfort with the actual notion of gay sex. That's not homophobic; it's human nature to be uncomfortable with something that is foreign to us. Still, it seems to me that many anti-gay sentiments are almost comical in their shrillness. I go to church with a guy who constantly gets worked up about what "the queers" are doing to the country. His long tirades about how disgusted he is at the thought of "them doin' it" worry me. See, I don't think about gay people doin' it. I don't think about the straight people I know doin' it, because if I did conjure a mental picture of some of the couples I know engaged in sweaty sexual congress, I would be forced to heat a barbecue fork until it glowed cherry-red and then gouge out my own eyes. Hey, I don't even want to picture what I look like doin' it. I just wanna do it.

I worked for years at a bookstore. One of the assistant managers was gay. We closed the store many nights. At no time did I think he was peeking over the counter to check me out as I restocked the magazines. That's not the way it works. I may have many beliefs about homosexuality, but I'm pretty sure that the average gay man does not try to recruit straights. It occurs to me that many of the most extreme partisans on either side of the issue end up agreeing. Another gay employee at the bookstore held the firm belief that everyone is gay and that heteros just haven't discovered it yet. Right-wing culture bloviators have waxed eloquent at length that if we don't fight tooth and nail for heterosexuality, we will all turn gay because, I guess, the gay is irresistible. See, more unites us than divides us.

Finally, the Foley scandal isn't even really about homosexuality. It's about hypocrisy, predation and hubris. Foley isn't a hypocrite because he's gay; he and his fellow Republicans are hypocrites because they made their bones demonizing gay Americans. It's about predation not because F0ley is gay, but because he used his position of power to make sexual advances to those over whom he exercised that power. It's about hubris because these fat bastards thought they could get away with it.

Update: They might get away with it. The mighty evangelical "values" team seems to have suddenly discovered the right to privacy and the idea of personal, rather than collective morality.