Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Signing Off

It was a little over a year ago that I lamented the conclusion of The West Wing’s seven-year run, and here I am already, bidding farewell to a second Aaron Sorkin NBC-TV series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The concluding episode will air in the States tomorrow night at 10 p.m. EST/PST.

Studio 60 wasn’t a perfect series. Although it was a “dramatic comedy,” it was hobbled at the outset by being compared unfairly to Tina Fey’s NBC sitcom 30 Rock, which likewise happens to take place behind the scenes of a fictional Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show. It also suffered from being compared to the much-loved West Wing (to which Sorkin referred in a number of subtle ways), which had a much longer time to amass its audience--and its detractors, many of whom were political conservatives apoplectic at the notion of a weekly series that championed liberal values and thoughtful discussion on issues (such as stem cell research and homosexuality) that they would rather dismiss in a flurry of moralistic sound bites and slogans. Studio 60 hadn’t the same leisure to build up a following. And it made some critical errors in the time it did have, such as overextending a relationship between the show’s head writer, Matt Albie (played by former Friends star Matthew Perry), and devout Christian comedienne Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) that no viewer with half a brain thought was worth continuing. (I’ve long thought that this subplot must allude to a similar relationship from Sorkin’s own past; why else should he have committed such time and effort to its ponderous exposition?) Either The Gilmore GirlsLauren Graham (who appeared as herself in two eps) or Kari Matchett (who guested as a high-powered attorney with great legs) would have made a much better match for Albie.

Still, there were numerous reasons to like Studio 60: the quick-developing but credible love interest involving producer Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford, who also starred in West Wing) and the delightful Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), the newly hired president of Studio 60 host NBS-TV; D. L. Hughley in the role of Simon Stiles, a ladies man with a good heart; the first episode, in which the show tries to put Tripp’s cocaine-taking history behind it by staging a mirthful skit based on “The Major-General’s Song” from The Pirates of Penzance; the series’ weighing of religion as an influence on modern life and politics; its exploration of censorship issues; episode 17, the hilarious “Disaster Show,” in which everything that could go wrong does, except for the fine banter between two other West Wing alums, guest host Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield, playing Studio 60 director Cal Shanley; the New Orleans musical arrangement of “O Holy Night” for the Christmas episode; and of course Sorkin’s patience in revealing the depths and unexpected delights of his major players, for which he is quite justly renowned.

All of these factors, it seemed to me, justified renewing Studio 60 for at least a sophomore season. Especially at a time when American television is turning out fewer and fewer programs worthy of a mature viewership. But NBC didn’t agree, and tonight we’ll see how it all ends. Today also brings some good news, though: as TV Squad reports, “Warner Home Video ... will release Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip--The Complete Series on October 6.” So if you missed seeing any or all of the 22 episodes this year, you have a second chance.

READ MORE:Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: What Kind of Day Has It Been (series finale),” by Jay Black (TV Squad); “A Final Word on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” (The Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Blog).

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