Friday, December 01, 2006

Studio 60 Antidote?

I've wanted to like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the latest Aaron Sorkin TV show. I loved the West Wing and Sports Night, both Aaron Sorkin-written shows. I'm a huge fan of Matthew Perry (from Friends fame) and Bradley Whitford (from West Wing fame). And I'm plugging away at the Studio 60 episodes, devotedly watching them, but I just can't get hooked on it. It has a moment here and there, but everything feels so uninvolved. It doesn't pull me in -- it feels somehow... disconnected.

This sentiment is nothing new -- a lot of popular press has echoed similar opinions of failed expectations. So I found myself wondering in the shower (where all good thinking happens) why Studio 60 has struggled, especially when the West Wing was such a hit.

I realized two things:

Studio 60 lacks a dramatic timing. Sorkin's shows share the same fast paced, on-your-toes dialogue but his other shows have stopped that back-and-forth at key times to make a dramatic point or let a serious event sink in with the audience. In the most recent episode ("B-12" where the cast all gets sick from flu), there are several moments where the characters were at a point where their characters could have been drawn out more seriously but it gets interrupted by classic Sorkin devices -- a witty allusion, a back-and-forth joke establishing palsiness, or the characters move and the camera moves with them. In short, the show is paced too fast. It needs to slow down and spend time with some of the heavier, more serious sides. In B-12, there's a moment where a current event in the show echoes a character's personal tragedy. The moment the show spends letting that sink in with the audience is one of the first times in the show I've felt a tug that lasted after the show.

Maybe more importantly, the subjects of those moments don't ring true enough with the audience. Which leads into the second reason...

Studio 60 deals with an environment/world in which heroes are difficult to find and make. In ER, doctors save lives. In West Wing, politicians sacrifice politically smart moves to make decisions which pave the way for thousands of people. In crime dramas, detectives protect people. And sometimes these heroes fail and that failure becomes additionally tragic because these heroes tried so hard. In Studio 60, writers and producers can... make good comedy? Be true to their muses in spite of studio pressure? It just doesn't make for as dramatic triumphs and tragedies. Even the trumphs ring hollow after a while. The skits we see in Studio 60 are high-minded and intellectual -- making them even the triumphs questionable.
The losses on the line for our characters are equally shallow. Short of Jordan McDeere's job being on the line all the time, there's little that our characters risk or lose during the shows. Sure, Matt might write a show that wasn't up to his standards, more people might discover that Danny had a drug problem, and ultimately the show might be cancelled, but we don't get the sense that they are dealing with important risks -- risks that we identify with. Maybe it's because they're dealing with risks that don't affect us directly enough.

In short, it seems like Studio 60 lacks exactly what its genre is: drama. While I certainly hope we don't arrive at "In a special episode of Studio 60", I do hope it can connect with its audiences and create us some heroes we will be addicted to.
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