Ah, I’ve missed Aaron Sorkin and in that spirit, I have really looked forward to the premiere of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It’s directed by Thomas Schlamme and written by Aaron Sorkin, a master of the “at work” genre. He made the mundane aspects of work interesting, giving us Sports Night and The West Wing. That is the reservation I have about the show, it has that great Sorkin dialogue, but it also has the “been there” familiarity of the Sorkin touch.
Sorkin kept a lot of his tricks and rhythms that he picked up on The West Wing, from the winding camera-work, to the dialogue on the move, down to the W.G. Snuffy Walden original music. The show is populated by rich characters played by terrific actors, including some The West Wing alum: Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip follows the behind the scenes workplace of a once cutting edge and relevant sketch comedy show. After a live, Network-like rant from the show’s founder, Wes Mendell (Judd Hirsch) – a meta moment, as NBC is realizing the place it is in with its shows – the new president of “NBS” entertainment, Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), makes some changes. Facing down the network head, Jack Rudolph (Stephen King’s Desperation’s Steven Weber), she decides to bring back the brilliant writer/director team Jack forced out, Danny Tripp (Whitford) and Matt Albie (Friends’ Matthew Perry).
“Not everyone of whom is necessarily the grotesque stereotype you’d like them to be. Most of these people have nothing except their faith and that moves me.” –Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson)
The show has a potential for interesting dialogue between the red and blue states … that is, when it isn’t sharpening its ax to grind against the 700 Club/Pat Robertson. The show within the show features such sketches as “Crazy Christians” and “Science Shmience.” It attempts to balance the out the edge of satire toward religion by also having a fully rounded Southern Baptist character, Harriet Hayes who believes that “He who sits high in heaven laughs”.
The fact is that we are to be a joyous people, to laugh, to sing, to dance, all to express the joy within us. We are wired to worship. And while the history of the church is an often troubling one, with plenty to apologize for, Jesus instituted the church. Jesus participated in congregational worship. Put another way, Miroslav Volf, in a moment of personal reflection, communicated the paradox of a broken church. He said, “I am not a Christian because of the church, but because of the gospel. However, it was only through the broken church that I received the gospel. Because of the gospel, I participate in the church.”
“You gotta ask yourself ‘is she for real?’” –Danny Tripp
It’s hard to make smart television. We dumb down everything, from our newspapers to the text messaging culture and movies that point this out in satire, we sweep under the rug (look for Idiocracy to become the next Office Space). To fight for quality and intelligence automatically means a smaller audience and moves against the grain of our cultural mindset and this show will more than likely serve as Exhibit A. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is not without its flaws. The experience is like approaching Saturday Night Live with a The West Wing style gravitas. It is sometimes a little too self-important and self-referential. However, its characters are real, flawed, and smart spouting dialogue that is witty, intelligent, and funny. Sure the show was heavily-hyped, but the question remains, will anyone care?