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.

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