On Thursday the 28th of June 2007, Aaron Sorkin’s season long, nationally televised therapy session finally came to an end. You might know it better as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Some people can write about themselves with a sense of humor. They can portray their loves and hates as something more than caricatures. They are able to allow portraiture to turn into characterization i.e. set their own feelings about the real life models aside and allow the characters in the story at hand enough room to develop into ‘actual’ people. Sorkin, an immensely talented writer who created stand out series like The West Wing, is apparently not one of them. Or maybe he just needed some catharsis and decided he might as well get paid for it.
This was Studio 60‘s premise: The fictional Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a show much like Saturday Night Live except it’s located in L.A. and airs on Friday nights. Created and run by a legendary producer named Wes Mendel, S60 hits a snag when the aging Mendel, frustrated by the increasing erosion of his creative control, grabs a mike and goes on a Network-style rant on air. Crisis! Mendel is immediately fired but the show is still struggling to reach its former glory. This is when talented producer-director Daniel Tripp and supremely talented writer Matthew Albie (both Mendel protégées) are forced by circumstances (cocaine and loyalty) to return to the TV show that they’d left in a huff more than five years ago. Drama ensues.
Or rather, this is where drama should have ensued. What we got instead was an hour long fictionalized glimpse into the Inner World of Aaron Sorkin (Albie as played by Matthew Perry) and best friend and collaborator Thomas Schlamme (Tripp as played by Bradley Whitford).
For those of you not in the know, here’s the basic skinny: Sorkin, recovering drug addict and successful playwright/screenplay writer (A Few Good Men, The American President, etc) co-created and co-produced The West Wing. Despite frequent allegations of liberal bias (leading some to dub the series The Left Wing), Sorkin, a lifelong Democrat, is one of the most lauded and awarded writers of our generation.
After four phenomenally successful and eventful seasons on the TWW, he and Schlamme resigned from the show because of differences with the production company. This left producer John Wells (ER, Third Watch) in charge of the remaining three seasons, which couldn’t reach the heights achieved by the first four even though they were still recognized for their quality.
TWW is also where Sorkin, divorced with one daughter, began dating Kristin Chenoweth, who has often professed her Christian faith in public and once went on Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club to promote her album although she apparently later regretted it as she says her views do not match the extreme kind espoused by people such as Robertson and Jerry Falwell. She and Sorkin broke up after he left the show and she began dating Wells.
Sorkin didn’t return to television until last year when NBC (the network which aired TWW) snapped up rights to Studio 60. It was one of the shows that was supposed to drag the struggling network out of the doldrums it was then experiencing.
Now here’s how this translates to the world of the show: Matt Albie is an award-winning, recovering drug addict and lifelong Democrat who felt compelled to resign his position as head writer and executive producer of Studio 60 five years ago because he felt his creative freedom was being compromised. He was dating the openly Christian Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson), star of Studio 60, who once went on The 700 Club to promote an album although she later regretted it because her views don’t match those of Robertson. Hayes also began dating Albie’s writing rival, the somewhat under-talented Luke Scott. Five years later, he returns to work on the show when it is experiencing a ratings slide and internal chaos.
I like Aaron Sorkin. At least, I like his work. I was a huge, huge fan of TWW and will be to my dying day, bias or no bias. I like his work even if he thinks all bloggers are cat-owning, pajama clad losers with short sight, no personal hygiene and no friends. I like his work even if the characterization of Hayes was the rottenest thing to do to an ex.
Studio 60, though? I don’t like so much.
It’s not just that the show was about people who did comedy sketches every week for a living and yet Studio 60 couldn’t deliver a chuckle if you held a gun to its head. It’s not that Paulson is a fine actress and I’m sad I feel like throwing things at the TV every time she shows up on screen (“Let me teach you how to pray” – WTF?!).
It’s not that Sorkin writes about the Midwest like it’s on another planet (apparently they’ve never heard the names Abbott and Costello in the wilds of Ohio) or that he manages to make every second character into an asshole. Not even the awesomeness that is DL Hughley, for example, could make me like the jerk-ness that is Simon Stiles, the character he plays on Studio 60.
It’s not his portrayal of women – although I wanted to crack a head or two when Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) who was introduced to us as a tough, smartass businesswoman who can more than hold her own in the cutthroat world of TV, turned into an insecure mass of nerves the moment some skinny blonde got hired. Granted she was pregnant and had hit a rough patch at the office when said blonde was hired but come on! The woman McDeere was supposed to be would have scalped skinny blonde bloody and still make time for lunch, fetus or no fetus.
It’s not even his well-established practice of building up the most interesting romantic relationships ever and then either ignoring them or, perhaps worse, delving into them and making the viewer hate it. Like, loathe it. He did it all the time to Rob Lowe’s Sam Seaborn in TWW. I won’t even touch the whole Josh-Donna thing.
No, the thing that really turned me off (although all the above definitely contributed) was watching Sorkin write episodes week after week about how wonderful Albie is.
Albie is brilliant. Albie is patriotic. Albie knows his pop culture. Albie is smart. Albie is funny. Albie is sexy. Albie dates Pussycat Dolls – er, well, to continue… Albie is not a bigot. Albie is loyal. Albie is well educated. Albie is self aware. Albie is so darn wonderful, he’s like a drug you can never kick. Just ask Harriet Hayes.
Even if Sorkin is writing Albie as the guy he’d like to be or something but that’s… words fail me. Disturbing? Creepy? Holy Mother of God, what was he thinking?!
Still, I’m going to take three positive things away from me:
- Steven Weber as Jack Rudolph – my new crush! Give him a show NBC. I’ll watch.
- I want to adopt Nate Corddry.
- Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry should always work together.