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Finally got around to the two episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip I had taped and the most important thing that happened out of both shows happened on last week's episode and it was this: With one smile Kari Matchett as Mary the Lawyer blew Sarah Paulson off the screen and would have, if he'd been there to see it, blown Paulson's character, Harriet Hayes, right out of Matt Albi's life.
This isn't surprising, considering the low wattage of Paulson's performance since the first episode and the fact that Matchett is one of the sexiest actresses to ever work in television and most of her sexiness resides in her smile. It's important because the fact that Matchett was there as Mary the Lawyer, as opposed to Mary the Writer or Mary the Costume Designer or Mary the Actress or Mary the Studio Page, illustrates everything that was wrong with last week's episode, Breaking News, which itself exemplified everything that's been wrong with Studio 60 since the beginning.
The previous week's episode, The Disaster Show, was the perfect example of everything that's been good and enjoyable about the show and suggested what could have been if Sorkin hadn't written so many scenes like the ones that filled last week's episode.
Well. that confused even me. Let's try this. Simpler. Last week's episode was bad because it was about everything except putting on a comedy show and The Disaster Show was good because it was about nothing except putting on the show.
Mary the Lawyer was on the set at show time---improbably---to ask Matt some last minute follow-up questions for his impending deposition in the sexual discrimination lawsuit being brought by a woman who used to write for the show before Matt took over. That sentence right there illustrates Sorkin's problem. He's been continually throwing in all sorts of complicated subplots that have nothing to do with actually putting on a comedy show and which also are occurring mainly off-screen so that the characters have to tell us in long dry expository speeches the details of events we don't care about because they have nothing to do with putting on a comedy show.
As far as she brings any dramatic interest to the show, Mary the Lawyer doesn't need to be a lawyer, because she's only on hand to be another rival to Harriet for Matt's affections. The reason she's a lawyer though is that Sorkin's main, and too often only, interest in any character is in how that character allows him to pontificate on political and social issues he's in a mood to pontificate on.
So Mary the Lawyer is there to spark discussions about the legal issues raised by accusations of sexual discrimination in the workplace and the problems of women trying to do their jobs in a male-dominated workplace and so on. The woman suing, who of course isn't a character just a name attached to the discussions, is claiming that she did good work while on the writing staff but the men in charge refused to take her seriously because they didn't believe women could be funny. You would think then that we ought to be given a sample of her writing so that we could judge whether or not she has a case. But you'd be making the mistake then that Sorkin cares whether or not she did good work or even whether or not she has a case. That would mean he cares about comedy and comedy writing. All he cares about is the legal arguments and the process of civil litigation.
The only writer whose work he's interested in is his own.
Meanwhile, Tom's brother has been taken prisoner in Iraq, Jordan can't feel her baby kick, and Matt's assistant has confronted him about his pill popping.
Somewhere in the background the show was going on. Big deal.
SV wrote in last week's open thread,:
So last week we get a story about how, hey, every show sucks sometimes, so stay off my back! And this week we get a story about how, hey, there are more important things than ratings, so stay off my back!
Indeed, Sorkin did seem to be using the episode to scold his audience, shoving into our faces the fact that there are more important things going on in life than putting on a TV show.
Granted. But then I think we're entitled to get back in his face and demand to know why, if that's the case, he bothered to create a TV show about putting on a TV show?
Why not a show about soldiers in Iraq? Or one about lawyers fighting the good fight against discrimination? Or one about obstetricians? Or life in rehab? If the issues those shows would have addressed as a matter of course are so much more important, then why didn't he create one of them?
TV shows are about what they're about and we watch them because we're interested in their premise and it's always a sign that a show has jumped the shark when the writers lose interest in their own premise and start coming up with episodes that are excuses to escape the premise.
Studio 60 jumped the shark the first time Ed Asner said "Macao."
A lot of people are probably convinced I hate Studio 60 and think Aaron Sorkin is a talentless hack. Truth is, I don't hate the show. There have been plenty of times when I've liked it very much. I hate that it's not as good as it could easily have been and I'm mad at Sorkin for not doing the relatively easy work and making the fairly simple changes that would have made the show that good. I'm mad at him for wasting his talent and for letting his ego and his vanity get in the way.
Early in the show's run I suggested that the best thing Sorkin could do to save the show would be to fire himself. I wasn't joking. He clearly wasn't interested in the premise of Studio 60 and he even more clearly didn't have the kind of writing talent he needed to pull off the show. There's nothing wrong with that. All he needed to do was hire people who were interested and did have the right talents and let them do most of the work. Every now and then he could have let himself kick in a script or a scene.
Has Sorkin been reading your blog, Lance?
A SEXY PLOT for D. L. Hughley, just as people here had asked for.
MORE SCREEN TIME for Weber & Busfield, just as people here had asked for.
NO SCREEN TIME for Matt & Harriet together, just as people here had asked for.
COMMENTARY on how Christine Lahti looks like Allison Janney, just as people here had commented.
What john said! Especially the lots of screen time for Timothy Busfield's character, Cal the director, and some great moments for Jack Rudolph, Action Executive! I loved it when as yet one more disaster piles on top of the disasters so far Cal turns to Jack and says, "How can you be so calm?" and Jack, very calmly, almost serenely, replies, "I'm very drunk."
Steven Weber delivers that line beautifully.
Maybe Sorkin can do a spin-off about Jack.
Weber is great on Studio 60 and ridiculously under-used. The whole cast is good, even Sarah Paulson, who was unfortunately and horribly miscast and is ridiculously over-used and abused---Sorkin uses Harriet too often to beat up on the person she's modeled on, Kristen Chenoweth---and Nathan Corddry, who's both over-used and under-used. His character, Tom, is not a romantic lead or a sex symbol and too much of his screen time is devoted to pushing him at us as both. Meanwhile he's good as a comic foil to Matt and Danny and Simon but Sorkin has been too busy having him stand around looking puppyish while Lucy and the Chinese girl melt around him.
At any rate, there are only four more episodes left. So please join Ken Houghton tonight, right here on our stage, as he returns for another guest hosting gig live-blogging this week's episode. Fun starts at 9:55 PM EDT. As I mentioned we have a special musical guest, celebrating Aaron Sorkin's bizarre habit of making all his pop culture references at least 30 years out of date and as tragically un-hip as Merv Griffin's sideburns.