Hey, let’s take a moment and talk about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, that show that had such great promise, conceived and written by Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing fame, which crashed and burned, and is now running its last episodes in the dull hell of summertime network television.
I initially loved this show, and I’m watching it right up to the bitter end, because I want to see just how out there it’s going to get. What was this show about? Well, it was supposed to be a TV show about making a TV show. But then it turned into a romantic comedy. Now, in its final episodes, it’s kind of like West Wing Lite. But all that I could deal with. Sometimes it takes awhile for a show to find its legs and the direction that’s going to work. What really cheeses me off, and has cheesed me off since the beginning of the show is the characters. The poorly written, ill-conceived, nigh-unbelievable characters.
Sometime in between leaving The West Wing and starting up with this project, I think Aaron Sorkin forgot how to make up good characters. Very few (if any) of the characters on TWW ever rang hollow with me, even those that were brought in for a single episode. Almost every single one came off as developed, with a distinct (and believable) personality. Almost NO ONE on Studio 60 fits this description. Take, for instance, the prime target of my ire: Harriet Hayes.
Harriet is supposed to be a conservative Christian. In case you ever forget that, it is hammered into your skull almost every episode. Either she is quoting the Bible, or telling someone that he/she is going to hell (joking or not), or calling someone a heathen, or she’s praying, or she’s telling the story of how she was raised in the faith in the grand Southern tradition, or she’s arguing with her on-again-off-again boyfriend about how she made an appearance on The 700 Club, and so on and so on. I mean, really, there is no character there is only CHRISTIAN. Big ol’ honkin’ self-righteous Christian. Which is fine. You want a conservative Christian character, more power to you. But if you’re literally going to bash our faces in with the fact that she’s a CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN BORN-AGAIN PRINCESS SPOKESPERSON FOR THE RED STATES in every episode, there are a few things that you might want to consider:
- Very few conservative Christians would take a job working on a sketch comedy show that regularly makes fun of Christians and Republicans.
- Very few conservative Christians would take a role as Anita Pallenberg in a movie about the Rolling Stones.
- Very few conservative Christians regularly, and with great abandon, engage in premarital sex. Not just once or twice, but a lot and with multiple partners.
- Very few conservative Christians would consider posing in their underwear in a men’s magazine for publicity.
- Very few conservative Christians would consider marrying (or even engage in a long-term relationship with) someone who is happily, energetically, and boisterously all of the following: an atheist, someone who gleefully attacks religion in all its forms (going so far as to call religious people stupid, in not so many words), and who won’t shut up about how ridiculous it is to practice a faith of any kind. Literally WON’T shut up about it.
I could go on, but you get the point. Somewhere, Aaron Sorkin found himself a big book of “Characters For Dummies”, opened it up to the page that said “ultra-conservative Christian”, and found that apparently all you have to do is make sure this character prays a lot, and mentions that God is all-powerful and the source of many blessings. Any actual practicing of beliefs or the values that are professed by actual members of the faith are unnecessary, since there are none. It’s really just praying and give God mad props.
Then there is my other “favorite”, Jordan McDeere, the hot-shot female network president. Jordan started out promising: a smart, intelligent, funny, and beautiful woman who knows what she’s doing and knows how to get other people to play ball. But then she underwent a terrible spine removal operation and started being a ridiculous bitch. I mean, straight out, hands down, no holds barred, shrill, defensive, BEE-YOTCH. What’s up with that? What kind of a network president pays so much attention to a single show (even before she started dating one of the producers)? What kind of network president meets a new employee and within five minutes basically tells her that her chosen genre is shit and she’s shit for working in it and by the way you’re dumb and I’m smart. I mean, the first few episodes that featured this character made a point to say how smart she was, how respected, how much she’d done in her field thus far, how powerful she is. Within FIVE episodes this poor woman is reduced to pretty much a desperate rookie who’s trying to keep up with the big boys. That, my friends, is enough to give you whiplash.
The best characters on this show are the ones you see the least of, and that’s sad. When you watch the show, really hoping that a second-stringer will get some spotlight time because they are so funny and NORMAL, it’s a bad sign. I guess that’s why the show is going off the air for good, once these final episodes are burned off. Which is kind of sad in a way, because I was really looking forward to see how many more things Aaron Sorkin could cram in there in an attempt to get someone, anyone to watch. We got pregnancy, drug addiction, a hostage crisis, two problematic romantic entanglements, bad sketch comedy, tension with the writers, tension with the network, Hurricane Katrina, a British girl, slapstick, flashbacks galore (if you’re flashing back multiple times in your first season, that’s problematic), a whole lot about the war in Afghanistan, some stuff about September 11, and more and more and more. And again, I emphasize, this is all in ONE SEASON. How much can you fit in before it stops being a show and becomes a variety act?