Monday, February 12, 2007

Studio 60: Good, Bad or Indifferent?

I had originally intended to post this entry last week, but got sidetracked by a murder trial. (If I had a nickel for every time I used that excuse...)

When the pilot for "Studio 60" (NBC, 10 p.m.) came out, I lavished it with praise, and I still stand by that review. The question is, has the show built upon that early promise?

Reviews, like the ratings, have been mixed. I still find "Studio 60" to be generally enjoyable and most of the characters have been pretty well done.

But the show has also been wildly uneven, with characters finding themselves in pretty preposterous situations (trapped on a rooftop, trapped in Utah) that seem to be more lazy writing than genuinely good ideas.

I suppose I am in the minority on some of this, but the relationships on the show haven't really worked either. I don't like the Matt-Harriet stuff and find it rather grating. I do enjoy the Danny-Jordan blossoming romance (except when trapped upon rooftops) but many viewers were turned off by it, feeling that Danny crossed the line into stalker territory. I don't believe that myself - I think the writers were trying to show the lengths Danny was willing to go to in order to woo Jordan - but I can see how viewers might take it the wrong way.

Some of the complaints over the show I find to be a little odd. Some viewers complain about the lack of comedy sketches each week (or that we see only portions of them), even though the show is all about the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on at a weekly TV series, not the series itself.

Others have criticized co-creator Aaron Sorkin for being to preachy and political with the show. Hello, it's an Aaron Sorkin show, people. When is his series and movies not preachy and political?

The problems with "Studio 60" (which does show flashes of brilliance) are plentiful. The two most interesting characters are the network executives, Jack and Jordan, and they both spend way too much time with this one particular show on the network. In reality, Jack and Jordan might bump into Matt and Danny once a year, and they'd never spend so much time rubbing elbows with the cast.

I find the character of Harriet to be rather shrill and irritating, and we keep getting told of Matt's writing genius, though rarely we are shown it. (Not to mention the fact that they are trying to produce a weekly variety show with just four writers, two of whom have yet to contribute a sketch).

Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and D.L. Hughley have all been underused in comparison to their relative talents, as has Amanda Peet, whose Jordan McDeere character showed so much promise in the pilot. We only see brief bursts of the potential all of these characters have as played by these talented actors.

Only Tom (Nate Corddry) has really fulfilled his potential as a character, though the current storyline of his breaking a date with Lucy to chaperone the daughter of a Chinese industrialist fell into the worst kind of sitcom plotline. Jack (Steven Weber) has been the character that has improved the most (and has become my favorite), but it almost seems like he should be in a different show. Also, the recent addition of Mark McKinney as one of the fictional show's writers was a positive addition.

The ratings have been a disappointment for the most part (especially with the smash hit "Heroes" preceding it), and the critics have indulged in their own schadenfreude at the prospect of a Sorkin show failing so early on. NBC will pull "Studio 60" next month temporarily in favor of "The Black Donnellys," a crime drama from two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis, arguably the top screenwriter in Hollywood currently.

Hopefully, the time off will allow the writers of "Studio 60" to get their sea legs back. There is still time to right the ship.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: Tonight, we get a double helping of "24" (Fox, 8 p.m.) You know what that means - Tuesday's blog will have double the amount of "24" Bizarro facts in it! In tonight's episode, Jack will no doubt have to shoot and maim a lot of people to rescue Morris from terrorists before he is forced to arm the remaining nukes.

"Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.) continues with last week's fallout of revealing who Claire's real father is, and another superpowered person is revealed tonight. So far, the additions of Christopher Eccleston and Jessalyn Gilsig have been positive ones, so I'm just going to continue enjoy the ride.

CBS has a lineup of new episodes of its comedies, beginning with "How I Met Your Mother" at 8 p.m. in what is easily TV's most improved show from Season 1 to Season 2.

And, just so as not to draw criticism, "What About Brian" (ABC, 10 p.m.) is new tonight, and preceded by two reality shows that don't really deserve mention.


Zodin2008 said...

I disagree about "How I Met your Mother" being the 'most improved' from season 1 to 2. The show had already hit some creative peaks during season 1 and season 2 has continued that brilliance.

Among the other shows that premiered last season that I continue to watch, "Bones" over on Fox, "My Name is Earl" on NBC and "Supernatural" on The CW, I think "Bones" by far is the most improved. It was really good towards the end of season 2 but has really hit its stride. On the other hand, I am still enjoying "Supernatural" a lot but not as much as season 1, and "Earl" is funny at times, but I am close to the point of doing what I did with "Everybody Hates Chris" and cutting it. What's interesting is that "30 Rock" has surpassed "Earl" as the 3rd best comedy on Thursdays.

re: "Studio 60"

I kind of feel as you do that this is a wildly uneven show and thoug not nearly as bad as the critics are saying, a show that I still find entertaining.

I have also turned on the character of Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) who's become incredibly grating. Also, they may have grown Tom's (Nate Corrdry) part, but his character still does asinine things. The whole thing with the party and lying to Lucy was a predictable disaster (and more lazy writing by Schlamme and Sorkin) and just frustrating.

Count me in as one of those people who felt Danny (Brad Whitford) was stalking Jordan (Amanda Peet). It seemed so out of character for him plus, only in Sorkin's warped mind does that come off romantic.

Simon (DL Hughley) is another character I hate for the way he's treating the lone African American writer. It's downright disgusting and again, Sorkin's political/world views seem to be justifying Simon's actions which most sane people would find offensive, unprofessional and rude.

We will continue to watch the show but I think I am starting to come around that the show is more of a 'train wreck' and if there was actually anything worthwhile (and "What About Brian" and "CSI: Miami" are certainly not) at 10 PM, then I would be done with "Studio 60".

I agree about Jack Rudolph (Steven Weber) being the best character at this point which frankly is sad considering what a deep cast this is.

Phillip Ramati said...

Well, I disagree with you, too. "HIMYM" was pretty uneven its first season, with the whole Ted-and-Robin will-they-or-won't-they dynamic. It's really hit its stride this season.

I think Supernatural has stayed pretty even, probably the most of any of the shows. I've discussed Bones at length here before, and I think Earl has also shown a lot of improvement its 2nd season. The "Cops" and "Rashomon" parodies it did this season were terrific, and it's hit a lot of high points.

thawtful1 said...

I agree that Danny's efforts on S60 were not stalking but certainly overzealous. I think last week's episode did a good job putting that issue to bed.

Watch tonight's episode - if you liked the pilot, you'll find yourself appreciating where the show is going this evening. Yes, it builds on everything that's happened between the pilot and now. But I think the promises made by Sorkin in the pilot are finally coming to fruition.

And if I wanted to watch comedy sketches, I'd watch Saturday Night Live (oh wait, I've tried that - their sketches aren't half as good as the ones Sorkin DID have on before critics started tearing him down).

Honestly, the show is improving drastically each week. If more critics would be as fair minded as you are, and not play the game of "it's hip to hate Studio 60", I think the show would do well. Tonight's episode is a terrific leap forward and it would be criminal for people to not watch it.

Phillip Ramati said...

Thanks for the kind words, thawtful.

I'm jealous you've gotten to see the episode already!

I should re-iterate that I'm still a huge Sorkin fan and I do believe that given half a chance, Studio 60 can still live up to the promise it continues to show. There have been good moments all season and flashes of brilliance (the New Orleans Christmas episode leaps to mind).

I still look forward to it coming on each week, which is still a good sign for the show.

Edge said...

1st thing- I had to resign up AGAIN for my user login. Is this how it works, I have to resign up each week? Just asking on that one.

2nd thing- I did like Studio 60, I watched like the first 5-6 episodes (recorded on DVR). But found myself not having time to watch it, I'm already commited to several shows that I have a hard enough time keeping up with. This just added another. It was good, but not so good that I keep it on my DVR list. I just had to give up on it.

3rd thing- I know you wonder why so my people watch shows like AI and other reality type stuff. Well I'll tell you why. You don't have to be invested in it. You can watch one show, then two or three weeks later you can pick it up with out missing out on two much (besides maybe who got kicked out). With our lives as busy as they are, it takes everything I have to watch every week my fav shows like 24, Lost, FNL, ect... Even comedy's you have to keep up with now like Ugly Betty. So sometimes it's nice to just turn on the tube, tune into a channel, and pick up what's going on without alot of effert.

Just my two cents...

Zodin2008 said...

While I certainly think its fair to critique several aspects of "Studio 60", I am being far kinder and like it a lot more then most critics. I agree with Phillip that it's good that he doesn't just lock arms with the Alan Sepinwall's, Matt Roush's, and Ellen Gray's in bashing "60".

Phillip, I couldn't disagree with you more about shows going from the freshman to sophomre seasons. You are stating an opinion and it's not just fact that "Mother" has seen big improvement from season 1 to 2 but "Bones" has stayed even. I couldn't disagree stronger other then if you were spending an entire column again bashing "24".

I didn't like the characters at all of Hodgins and Zack in season 1 but the show's writing and actor chemistry has really gotten me to care about those characters. I have also seen growth even in the Booth and Bones' characters. The only character I liked from minute #1 was Angela.

As for "Mother", I liked just about every aspect of season 1 and didn't mind the Ross/Rachel aspects of the Ted/Robin stroyline. I know they weren't mining new territory, but the performances and chemistry of the cast won me over.

I think one thing "Bones" and "Mother" have in common and what makes both such tremendously entertaining shows, is the chemistry of the actors. Neither show may ever win or be nominated for an Emmy, but they both are such great ensembles of winning actors you easily root for.

Ironically, the WORST "Mother" episode I have ever seen was early here in season 2, around early October. The episode where Barney kept stealing women from then single Marshall even though he was supposed to be his friend. It pissed me off and everyone I talked to said Barney was unlikeable jerk, ratehr then the humorous 'cad' we all normally like. And that was a season 2 episode.

As for "Earl", they have had a couple of highlight episodes with the Rashoman and "Cops" style episodes, but overall, the show has been wildly uneven and has gotten away from the format I loved in season 1 where each episode, Earl was crossing off his list. Part of the problem is that Joy has become such a breakout star, they have put more & more focus on her character and she's better in a smaller, but meatier role.

And speaking of two shows I am at my wit's end with, "Monk" and "The Simpsons". Neither show is even a 1/100th as good as it used to be but neither is going anywhere anytime soon.

Actually, I just had an epiphany....the show that in reality, has MOST improved between season 1 and season 2 is in fact "Monk" neighbor, "Psych". Yes, "Psych" still only has a limiting appeal and story arc potential, but I have found myself enjoying the actors and witty repartee far more now then I did in it's premier season.

Zodin2008 said...

On the Reality TV thing, I keep hearing people tell me, "we don't have to think and can miss some...".

That right there is exactly mine and many people's (including Phillip and apparently Aaron Sorkin) problems with Reality shows...they are generally mindless.

Save for "The Amazing Race" (which I don't watch but enough critics are complimentary that I won't bash it) and some of the Reality stuff on Bravo, that seem to contain some value and critical acclaim (like a "Project Runway", a show my wife loves), most Reality shows are mindless junk.

Maybe it's the way I grew up on TV and have always been into writing (though not at the level of Phillip), but TV should capture your imagination and surprise you. When TV is at its best say like Forest Whitaker on "The Shield" or most episodes of "Battelstar Galactica" or a surprise twist on a "Veronica Mars", or a painfully funny moment on "The Office", there's such a payoff for me personally. I get so much pleasure and I can wake up and laugh on a Friday morning thinking about some genius comedic moment on "The Office" the night before. Very satisfying and alot more value then someone could possible get from a lip synching contest.

Phillip Ramati said...

Edge, I believe this should be the last time this happens. They made me switch from Old Blogger to New Blogger, which is why you might have had the problem. Let me know how it works out.

You bring up a good point as how serialized shows like Studio 60, 24, Lost, Heroes, even the Office, can be tough to track. If you miss one episode, it's very difficult to catch up.

With AI, you are correct, you could miss an episode here or there, though I'd argue that it would be harder with a reality show like Survivor or Amazing Race.

I'd agree also that it's tough to keep up with all of the options offered on TV and that today's dramas are very challenging, but I think that's a great thing.

Phillip Ramati said...


My main argument with Bones is how they've brought in Sorayan, essentially a pointless character since she is very similar to Brennan. Actually, she hurts the show in a sense (the character, not the actress) because she puts a wedge in between the Brennan-Booth chemistry and duplicates the role Brennan has in the show. I liked all of the other characters already, so there was no improvement in that sense.

If people want to watch the reality shows, more power to them. Not my cup of tea, certainly, but it's foolish to deny there's not an audience there. And AI, for all its faults, has launched a number of musical careers for both its winners and runners up. Whether or not you are a fan of their music, a lot of singers have done quite well because of the show, which is its raison d'etre.