All Along The Watchtower

films . videos . television

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

First look: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

When your network is in fourth place in a lot of crucial demographics, you have to do whatever it takes to build a buzz for your new fall slate. NBC is taking full advantage of the word of mouth advertising this summer by offering fans previews of some of their more anticipated shows this fall.

Earlier this week, Netflix users could rent a special DVD that contained two of the fall drama pilots.

One of those pilots is the highly anticipated Aaron Sorkin project Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

The show itself is a thinly veiled look at the inner workings of an SNL-like show. Interestingly enough, this is one of two shows on NBC that will poke fun at or look at the inner workings of a live, sketch comedy series. The other is 30 Rock, featuring former SNL player Tina Fey. (It is, alas, not yet available for preview, though give the Internet a few weeks and I bet screeners find their way on-line).

Now, let me preface this by saying that while I admire Aaron Sorkin as a writer, I never quite jumped on The West Wing band wagon. I jumped on and off a few times over the years, but never really saw what everyone else thought was so special about the show.

Sports Night, that was a whole other matter. I loved that show--something I re-discovered on the magic of DVD this summer.

In a lot of ways, Studio 6o reminds me a lot of Sports Night and it's not just becuase both take place on a fictional television series. In both cases, the shows revolve around a television show fighting for respect and ratings. With Sports Night, the show was trying to come out of the shadow of its big rivals while with Studio 60, its a show that is past its prime, trying to recapture the glory days and be relevant again.

All the typical Sorkin trademarks are here--witty dialogue, long speeches and conversations that take place while characters are moving. There's overlapping dialogue that almost demands repeat viewing and the words the characters say here are exactly what we mere mortals wish we could say-that is if we had a team of writers following us around to give us bits of dialogue.

The pilot episode sets a lot of things in motion that I hope and assume will play out over the course of the series. After current producer, Wes (Judd Hirsch), has a melt-down on the air (he's upset they cut a sketch), a new hot shot network exec, Jordan, (Amanda Peet) tries to get back the writing duo that put Studio 60 on the map--Matt (Bradley Whitford) and Danny (Matthew Perry). The creative duo left the show several years before and are working on a movie career that is stalling out for reasons I won't reveal so as to not give too much away. The cast of the show is introduced and Danny has a romantic connection to one of them--they recently broke up and try as everyone might, no one can pin Danny down to the real reason the two broke-up. There's also a network exec, Jack (Stephen Weber), who is lurking in the wings, not impressed by Jordan and waiting for her to make her first mistake--he thinks bringing back the duo of Matt and Danny will be her downfall.

The pilot sets a lot of things in motion that I assume will pay off over the course of the series. The biggest frustration about seeing this pilot so soon is that I now have to wait a few weeks to see the next installment. And that's a good sign--the fact that I want to go back to the Studio 60 universe shows that the pilot has done its job and got me hooked on the show. I'm not sure it will make it into the must see list, but I'm willing to give it a few episodes to grow and develop.

I will admit as I went into this, I had a few biases--the biggest being that I couldn't past the fact that Matthew Perry was Chandler from the popular sitcom Friends. Every movie or other project I've seen Perry in, he basically plays a different variation of Chandler, so I feared he wouldn't have the chops to carry off the drama that is required. After seeing the pilot, those fears are allayed. Perry is a revelation as Danny, showing he's far more than Chandler Bing. He's got the chops and he shows them here. Within five minutes of Perry's first appearance on screen, I'd completely forgot about Chandler and was, instead, seeing his new character come to life.

Not that the rest of the cast is any slouches either. They're all good and as I said, the show has potential.

That said, the similiarities between this and Sports Night are abundent. I hope Sorkin has a plan to distinguish this show. A lot of the themes could be the same but it will take time to see if Studio 60 can come out of the huge shadow cast by the success of West Wing and the greatness that was Sports Night.

So far, it's off to a good start. I recommend the pilot. If you're a NetFlix user who can't wait, put it in your queue and enjoy. If not, it's definitely worth giving a try when it premieres on NBC in late September.


At 6:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perry plays "Matt", Whitford is "Danny"


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