Thursday, June 28, 2007

Studio 60 Finale: Thanks, Aaron

Tonight, NBC ran the final episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, possibly a very costly flop for the network. The show did not skimp on the star power; Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, D. L. Hughley, Steven Weber, Bradley Whitford (and no, not the Aerosmith fogey), and Timothy Busfield. Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, the same folks who brought you Sports Night and The West Wing, debuted this show last year in a very splashy fashion. With names like this attached to the show, what could go wrong?

Lots, apparently. Considering the conceivable production costs that a star-studded show such as this must have accrued, it would have been easier for NBC to hold their nerve and renew it for another season had the ratings followed. Sadly, in that respect, the show came up short. Despite strong ratings for its premiere, most viewers chose not to keep watching beyond the third episode or so. After a half of a season, it was put on hiatus. The replacement show was an Irish mobster drama called The Black Donnellys, and its tenure was even shorter than Studio 60’s was. The list of shows which NBC would renew for the fall of 2007 television season was ultimately released; my beloved Studio 60 was not on that list.

The fact of the matter is, I really liked this show. I will admit that of Aaron Sorkin’s three shows, it was the weakest sister. However, I’d argue that I’d rather watch five hours of Aaron Sorkin at his weakest than the strongest five minutes that Mark Burnett could ever offer up. Sorkin’s scripts are typically intelligent, dynamic, and thought-provoking. Burnett, by comparison (hell, I’m not above taking cheap shots), seems to not only insult his audience’s intelligence with his horribly moronic unreality shows like Survivor and The Apprentice; he begs them to be dumb enough to eat up more of his empty fabricated drama and contrived story arcs.

For me, there was a lot to like about Studio 60. Matthew Perry and Sarah Paulson (as Matt and Harriett) had good chemistry as an on-again/off-again, oh-hell-just-get-on-with-it-and-get-together couple. As unlikely as it seemed, Bradley Whitford and Amanda Peet (as Danny and Jordan) also shone as a couple; these elements seemed real and unforced. Sorkin’s witty dialogue kept me coming back; he does have some clever back-and-forth. Not very realistic, at times; all of his characters seem hyper-intelligent. However, this was a logical leap I was willing to take. But for as much as I liked what I saw, even I couldn’t help but notice the show’s blemishes. Critics were right when they mentioned that for a show about an SNL-styled comedy ensemble, it sure didn’t pack a hell of a lot of laughs. Too many of the storylines seemed a titch predictable or over-the-top. And even though I share Sorkin’s politics (the man sure as hell makes great liberal porn), I felt his occasional tendency towards preachiness was a little too obvious this time around.

Despite its flaws, I really liked the show. I really, really, really, really liked the show. As in, I never missed a single episode. As in, I would buy the lone season it spent on the air on DVD should it ever come out. I really want to thank NBC for deciding to run the remainder of the series over the summer, borrowing E.R.’s timeslot. Although I felt that the original last-before-hiatus episode did indeed leave things at a respectable place would it have been the final episode, I was thrilled that Sorkin and co. were able to finish up the series the way they probably hoped to. Sports Night was given a happy ending of sorts, letting you know that all was going to be all right. In the same way, the characters of Studio 60 all had happy endings, bathed in Sorkin’s trademark chirpy Capra-esque optimism. I don’t mind that; it sure beats “They all died, we all cried.”. In Studio 60’s fictional universe, the show goes on, with all of its characters re-invigorated. I like to think somewhere, these folks are still fighting their own ratings woes with aplomb. Thank you Aaron Sorkin; I enjoyed Studio 60, and look forward to your next show.


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