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"Studio 60": Ending the Ego Trip

So I've been watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip every week. The first couple episodes were slick and funny enough for me to stick around. The third episode, last week, started off incredibly frustrating -- "If all this show is going to be is characters standing up and giving monologues that are clearly just Aaron Sorkin pontificating, I give up," I told my wife -- but turned around in the second half-hour.

But I'm afraid the show may have lost me last night. Not with any one specific thing, but with a whole accumulation of things. I'm tired of the preachiness. I'm tired of the completely unrealistic situations (including going live repeatedly on the west coast feed, a network president hanging up on her boss with a wisecrack during a potentially large crisis). I'm tired of the sketch "comedy" that's not even remotely funny, and not remotely of the present day. (A sketch that hangs on a Juliette Lewis impression? State of the art... for 1996.)

But most of all, I'm tired of Aaron Sorkin letting his dirty personal laundry fly in public. I assume that if I knew enough about Sorkin's career and life, I could discover how every character in "Studio 60" is a duplicate of someone in Sorkin's life. Matthew Perry's Matt is Sorkin; Bradley Whitford's Danny is Tommy Schlamme; Sarah Paulson's Harry is Kristin Chenoweth; Amanda Peet's Jordan McDeere is Jamie Tarses.

But even the minor characters seem to be takes on people in Sorkin's past -- as well as being chances for Sorkin to settle old scores. I don't know what the past relationship is between Sorkin and the writing team of Jeff Reno and Ron Osborn -- the former Moonlighting writers were on the West Wing staff.

But it turns out that Ricky and Ron, the hack-ish writers who betrayed Matt and have been Studio 60's head writers during the show's dark years, are apparently modeled on Reno and Osborn. How did I crack Aaron Sorkin's clever code? Simple. Last night's episode revealed to us Ricky's last name: Tahoe. Jeff Reno, Rick Tahoe. Partner named Ron. Get it?

The name "Rick" is also probably a shot at writer Rick Cleveland, who became mildly famous during a dust-up about what Cleveland had contributed to a West Wing script he was credited with -- not so much, Sorkin suggested.

And of course, the character of Matt -- who refuses to let anyone in the show's "writer's room" write anything for the show, largely because he blames them for the show's decline and doesn't think what they can write can hold a candle to the gold he shits every week -- perfectly matches Sorkin's M.O., but supplies a fuzzy excuse for Sorkin's pathological behavior to reject any words that aren't his.

Is Aaron Sorkin a talented writer? Absolutely. Is he a complete egomaniac who allows his TV series to fall apart because he thinks that he's the only person talented enough to write for his shows? I'm gonna bet yes. And while I'm at it, I'm going to remove Studio 60 from my TiVo's Season Pass list.


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