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Monday, September 18, 2006

DMc is thrilled that Aaron Sorkin is making a series about how television could be great instead of stupid.

To repeat and enlarge on my comments there: sure, but it's self-congratulatory where it should be challenging. It's hard to write a smart TV show. It's not that hard to write a show about characters who write smart TV, if you don't actually show any of the TV that they write. We never saw Matt's supposedly brilliant "Crazy Christians" sketch (dumb title), only the dumb "Peripheral Vision Man" one. The only proof we have that Matt is a good writer is: we see him accepting an award for his writing. That's cheating.

Denis is far, far wittier off the cuff than Matt Albie, scripted.

What part of the Studio 60 pilot SURPRISES you? What part is audacious? What pushes the envelope? What makes it more than a fired showrunner's fantasy of being handed his show back?

I'm hoping that the show, once it gets past its pilot, does push the envelope. Or at least, pulls us in more. I want to see Jordan behave like a wily and tough and dangerous network exec, instead of a smarmy, well-meaning, wussy one. I want to see Matt and Dan show us what brilliant writing and directing looks like when it happens, rather than just hearing that they are brilliant. I want the episodes to break the mold, because that's what Sorkin is promising the show-within-the-show will do.

Firefly breaks the mold. Breaks the conventions. Turns four act structure on its head. Let's see if Sorkin can top the Joss.

Labels:

9 Comments:

Alex, you're framing incredibly subjective viewpoints as if they were objective truth. And they're not.

You find Peet's Jordan smarmy and wussy. Okay. I see the fact that she's pretty much threatened by her boss four or five times and never cries foul. She's the only one to speak out at the big meeting. She's the one with the idea that's proactive and not reactive, and she's supremely unconcerned by her superior's patronizing. What she is, is charming. We hear that everyone in Hollywood is in love with her. I see a wily executive who uses feminity to cajole, not bludgeon, people into doing what she wants. Yeah, you can be a hardass bigger balls than the men woman in a position of power like that, or you can go another way. I think the portrayal is original, not derivative.

And by the way, Amanda Peet is actually four years OLDER than Jamie Tarses was when she took over.

A lot of your other points are just picking nits. So what if we didn't see the sketches? That's not germane to the pilot, since they haven't taken over yet. The title and opening vamp alone for peripheral vision man tells you how deadly and unfunny it is. And the show's not going to be about Matt Albie's brlliant screenplay writing, so it's hardly necessary to see that, either.

When you read about the show, once they take over, bits and pieces of sketches are clearly going to be part of it. So what we're left with, really, is that you think it was self congratulatory. Okay.

You think that showing Matt winning a writer's guild award is cheating. I look at the fact that they managed to tell a fast moving story while still introducing one more cast member than they did in West Wing's pilot (and that includes Moira Kelly, who they stranded for the rest of the season.)

There was nothing particularly audacious (your word) or even very surprising, about The West Wing's pilot -- if you'd seen Sports Night. The show, at the time, was shorthanded as Sports Night in the Halls of Power.

So Studio 60 is right in that vein. So what? That's what Sorkin does. Either you buy the ticket and take the ride or you don't. Some people love David E. Kelley, I never have. That's subjective taste for you. 'Tis all well and good to say Joss changed things with Firefly, but Firefly also got cancelled after a few weeks. If you're looking for objective metrics, that's the one that really matters.

Only time wil tell how Studio 60 plays out. And it's not like audacious is always the answer either. Everyone loved those first 8 episodes of Twin Peaks. It was only after them that we realized David Lynch had no damn idea where he was going.

By Blogger DMc, at 2:45 PM  

Some times I do not want to be surprised. I just want to have an evening with someone who can tell a really good story, no bells, no whistles, just good acting and good writing.
Take a breath and let the show breathe. Every script ever written is flawed. You are holding Sorkin and company to a standard that is unattainable. From “Sports Night” to “The West Wing” to this, I feel okay. After the fourth or fifth show go nuts. Thank God they let “Buffy” go a whole season.

By Blogger DJ, at 10:54 PM  

For me what's not being said much in this debate is that Studio 60 (so far) delivers *exactly* what many of us loved about both Sports Night and West Wing... we're going behind the scenes in a political world with clever people who love, love, love what they do and do their jobs better than anyone.

For that to happen, I don't need to see the sketches. At least, not consistently. I didn't need to see many actual sports segments in Sports Night, either-- only when they were story related. Only when it was important for my *characters*.

I think Sorkin is all about creating magical worlds-- bringing you in and making you feel that it's possible to work towards something meaningful. I don't think he's always going for audacious. If he does, here, fantastic! But if he doesn't, it's possible that only those who work in television will be disappointed.

And, for the record, Sorkin fought the Sports Night laugh track and won in the second season! So let's not be blaming the Sork for that atrocity when he fought the good fight.

Love the blogs, Alex & dmc. You guys just keep a talkin'.

By Blogger Jennica, at 2:55 AM  

I realize this is slightly off topic, but I would really appreciate more words around how Firefly turns four act structure on its head. Seriously, I have a clear (if vague) sense that Firefly did something really unique, but as a writer, I'd be really interested in hearing how it did so structurally, as opposed to "merely" creating an innovative setting and placing some fantastic characters in it. It had never occurred to me that it broke four-act convention - how do you think it did that?

By Blogger Scotto, at 3:31 AM  

One thing about the pilot really bugged me: Ed Asner (the Network head) introduces Amanda Peet's character by listing her resume at the dinner table. I thought it was a cheap shortcut that a million other movies and tv shows make. Wouldn't it be more interesting if it came up in the dialogue/confrontations she had with other characters?

By Blogger Montyburnz, at 2:38 PM  

C'mon. That's a RIDICULOUS nitpick.

Here are the things we learned in "passing" conversation in that pilot:

-who the big three are
-that there are writers called Ricky and Ron who are hacks on the show
-that Harriet's a Christian who went on the 700 club
-that Matt and Danny were fired/quit four years ago after "the wind started blowing another way."

And a hundred other things. That kind of address at the table is EXACTLY what happens at those dinner parties. It IS stiff...it IS formal, and THAT IS WHAT HAPPENS.

If you've ever been at any even slightly corporate function, you've heard the reading of the resume. It's one thing to debate things being talked about that 'wouldn't be said that way in real life' -- it's quite another to criticize a show for portraying a stilted, formal situation EXACTLY the way that it would be portrayed in Real life.

Also, the formalism of that intro, and the staid nature of the CEO, contrasts the beat a moment later when all the phones go off at once -- introducing spontanaeity/chaos into a non-spontaneous situation.

By Blogger DMc, at 3:35 PM  

Alex,

I think you are being much too tough on the pilot. Yes, the tone is the exact same as in ‘West Wing’ and ‘Sports Night’ (but for me that’s a good thing), there were moments of pure cheese (congratulating Tom Busfield), cheating (listing the various “brilliant” resumes and awards shows), theft (the “Network” rant) and motivation (I do not think the reasons Matt and Danny accepted to return to the show were clear or strong. They just decided to come back just because).

BUT, the chemistry between Matt and Danny is amazing, as is the dialogue. The stakes are high: No, the show is not set in the White House, but the stakes are established as being important in the world in which the show is set, and for me it works. The show is also shot like it is set in the White House, and I agree with Denis that Sorkin is probably making an argument here about how important an influence culture has become in our lives. It is much too early to tell if any envelope is being pushed here, but I do suspect that Sorkin is going to make this show increasingly subversive and that he is going to find a way to bite the hands that feed him without making it obvious. If ‘Studio 60’ becomes the network TV equivalent of ‘Network’ without the overt bitterness, then I would submit that Sorkin will have achieved a shit-load.

As for not actually showing what brilliant writing or directing is on a sketch comedy show, two things: 1. Jordan told Matt and Danny to open next week’s show with the “Crazy Christians” sketch and 2 – no pilot can deliver every element of the series, so give it a chance, I know I will.

By Blogger Patrick, at 3:37 PM  

Alex,

I think you are being much too tough on the pilot. Yes, the tone is the exact same as in ‘West Wing’ and ‘Sports Night’ (but for me that’s a good thing), there were moments of pure cheese (congratulating Tom Busfield), cheating (listing the various “brilliant” resumes and awards shows), theft (the “Network” rant) and motivation (I do not think the reasons Matt and Danny accepted to return to the show were clear or strong. They just decided to come back just because).

BUT, the chemistry between Matt and Danny is amazing, as is the dialogue. The stakes are high: No, the show is not set in the White House, but the stakes are established as being important in the world in which the show is set, and for me it works. The show is also shot like it is set in the White House, and I agree with Denis that Sorkin is probably making an argument here about how important an influence culture has become in our lives. It is much too early to tell if any envelope is being pushed here, but I do suspect that Sorkin is going to make this show increasingly subversive and that he is going to find a way to bite the hands that feed him without making it obvious. If ‘Studio 60’ becomes the network TV equivalent of ‘Network’ without the overt bitterness, then I would submit that Sorkin will have achieved a shit-load.

As for not actually showing what brilliant writing or directing is on a sketch comedy show, two things: 1. Jordan told Matt and Danny to open next week’s show with the “Crazy Christians” sketch and 2 – no pilot can deliver every element of the series, so give it a chance, I know I will.

By Blogger Patrick, at 3:40 PM  

Alex,

I completely AGREE with you. I went in not believing the hype but hoping the pilto would still impress me. Instead what I found was an hour of set-ups and exposition-y conversations meant to set the stage for the rest of the series.

I HATED how we were meant to believe, like and trust Jordan because of Asner's list of her accomplishments. They could have SHOWN us why she deserved the job as she saved the show-within-a-show. Instead, she gets Matt & Danny via information she was conveniently given by an ex.

It was boring and predictable and not dramatic at all, except for the teaser with Hirsch's rant (not original, but, as delivered, entertaining) and Busfield's character keeping him on air.

By Blogger Banana Martin, at 3:53 PM  

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