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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Watched episode two of Studio 60 last night. Did you?

I'm still hoping this show will kick in for me. Lisa enjoyed it, so there's hope. But I have some basic problems with it.

It's a dramatic show about a comedy show. It feels like it either needs to be funnier, or have higher stakes. It is hard to get too worked up about whether a sketch comedy show's showrunner can come up with a cold open or not. So higher stakes seem unlikely.

So to me it feels like it wants to be funnier. But it's not funny. It's witty. Snappy banter is not comedy. Wit comes from words and their rhythms. Comedy comes from derailment. There's only one derailment in all of "The Cold Open." (Can you guess which it is?)

I am also lacking the sense of accuracy that made The West Wing such a joy. I have trouble believing that Matt and Danny are brilliant comedy people. They don't seem nearly crazy enough. (Ken, back me up on this?) Even when Matt stops wearing that dumb suit and tie, he's ... well gosh, he never says anything outrageous enough to make anyone laugh. Is Aaron Sorkin this humorless in person?

Comedy writers make you laugh. Comedy writing is a painful process punctuated by hysterical laughter. I would say at least ninety percent of the comedy writers I know are seriously funny in person. How do you think they got to be comedy writers?

And what is the hero's goal and obstacle? He wants a cold open; he can't think of one. Mmm, that's a toughie to dramatize. Unless the whole episode was full of false starts -- where you got to see all the Bad Ideas appear, fly, and crash -- all you have is a guy staring at a clock.

And the cold open itself ... a patter song? Oh, come on. Compare it with, say, Al Gore's appearance on SNL where he was talking about the past six years of his presidency, with rampaging glaciers attacking Wisconsin. That was unexpected, and funny. The patter song was witty ... but not, actually, that funny.

In a way, I feel like the past two episodes are prime examples of What Not To Do in writing your pilot. Sorkin carries it off to a certain extent because he's a great writer and he's got a great cast and a great director. But kids, I'm not sure he's got a show yet.

I bet you Ken Levine could come up with a better cold open for that situation inside of a day.

Now why am I being so critical? Oh, because The West Wing was one of my favorite shows ever. Because it avoided all the mistakes Sorkin is making, I feel, on Studio 60. Because I really, really want to watch a good show. And this show seems so misconceived I don't see how it's going to recover.

Your thoughts?

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First of all, The West Wing is the greatest show ever, not one of them.

Second, I think your right about Studio 60 so far, although a little harsh. I don't think it's boring or a disaster yet. I enjoyed the pilot and the second episode even more so.

I do agree it needs to have some more funny and also better sketches.

If I were showrunning or writing (admittedly, Aaron Sorkin is much, much better than this humble film student is now) I would hire a Harvard Lampoon writer just to write sketches.

I can see the writers as being only moderately funny in real life, but there needs to be one really funny one. If you listen to Simpsons writers talk about what Conan O'Brian was like when he was writing for the show, he was funny for everyone there, from 9 in the morning until 2 in the morning. Perhaps they could use a character like that, just to throw in some comedy and remain true to the stories. Plus it gives all sorts of storylines when he becomes a big star or gets other offers.

By Blogger Dan Abrams, AKA the man, at 1:09 PM  

He did hire Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall) to write sketches. I love Studio 60 so far, but wasn't expecting West Wing greatness. For me it's more like Sports Night - about the great characters, great dynamics between characters, and snappy dialogue with heart and intelligence. That's more than enough for me, but I also like the behind-the-scenes peek at TV, unreal though it may be.

By Blogger Diane Kristine Wild, at 2:48 PM  

Despite my comments from the previous week valiantly defending the show, I found myself quickly growing tired of last night's epsiode - even thoguh technically it was better than the pilot. How long can Sorkin draw conflict from planning a sketch show, how long can he go with "I want to sleep with the Christian". I just didn't feel the urgency.

However, I am still going to watch it because it is Sorkin, the chemistey and dialogue is great.

By Blogger Patrick, at 3:27 PM  

So maybe my wife and I are the only ones who stopped watching the pilot it sucked so hard. Is it because we're tired of Sorkin reusing the same old stories in everything he creates? Or is it because we've grown weary of the blind adulation? I'm not sure.

All I do know is by the time she finally stopped the TiVo, I'd pretty much written off Sorkin for eternity. His admirable gifts no longer outweigh his shortcomings. The man needs an editor. The man needs to be reminded to "show not tell".

Apparently, it's enough to tell me that Jamie Tarses-Proxy is "charming" and that "every other heterosexual man in show business" wants to sleep with her. It's more than enough to tell me how funny the leads are instead of writing something, you know, funny. It's fine to rip off Chayefsky if you acknowledge it repeatedly.

Well, I don't think Sorkin's charming anymore, and unlike everyone else, I don't want to spend an hour with him anymore.

Wow. I just reread that. It is strident and harsh, but I'm frankly that tired of Sorkin.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:54 PM  

I never really went into it expecting it to be funny, not the same way Larry Sanders was anyway. But I am so desperate for shows about shows that I really like this one as is.

As far as the sketches: when was the last time you saw an SNL sketch that made you laugh? For me it was probably the last time Alec Baldwin hosted, which we know means sometime within the last few months. I find the unfunny sketches part of the realism.

I don't think it will last though. For some reason, people don't like shows about shows, even though most of them spend much of their leisure time on the couch with the remote.

By Blogger Trellick Tower, at 4:38 PM  

We all know that Soorkin's schtick is "behind the scenes."

SPORTS NIGHT - BTS at a sports news show.

WEST WING - BTS at the White House

A FEW GOOD MEN - BTS of a military court martial.

Now we have STUDIO 60, and I think you've hit one of the nails on the head when you infer "What's so special BTS of a sketch comedy show?" While I ADORE his writing and watched last night's episode twice, I think Sorkin has yet to lock onto what makes it special and relevant to we puny mortals watching our video screens.

If he does that, he has a show.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 4:57 PM  

I wonder, why make such an intense show about a comedy show? The Christian thing is overdone, who wants some whiney Bible thumper around when your doing irreverent comedy?
Did you catch the anti-semetic comment in the show. No big deal for me but still it did not tie into anything really.
I don't really know if this show has legs or not. It's interesting one moment and drags the next.

By Blogger Mike Barer, at 7:07 PM  

I never watched The West Wing because at some point it was on at the same time as Alias which I believe was the greatest show ever. But I am loving Studio 60 so far. I love that it's a drama about a comedy show. I think that's part of its magic, and yes, its more witty than funny, but I don't feel like the lack of in-your-face comedy takes away from the show.

My main problem with it is believing that Sara Paulson's character is this super-talented funny woman. The dialogue between Matt and Danny in last night's episode about just how talented Harriet is made me feel like that character was casted poorly, or else the writer's haven't done a good job developing the character.

By Blogger Deanna Shumaker, at 8:47 PM  

I've never seen an episode of The West Wing, but I'm enjoying this show so far. Maybe because I've never worked on a TV show, so I'm more interested in the behind-the-scenes feel.

Yes, I do get frustrated at the seeming lack of comedy. I have a feeling the "Crazy Christians" sketch is going to be like the Rabbit's Foot in Mission: Impossible 3. But it's still a decent show, and I haven't cancelled my Season Pass yet.

By Blogger Dante Kleinberg, at 11:18 PM  

I guess you and I are moving in different circles, Alex, because no less than 50 percent of the comedy writers I know are FUNNY ON THE PAGE, not in the room.

The other half are (or used to be) performers, so yes, they can be blindingly funny and work the room like a stand up comedian.

But the ones without this backround are by and large bright and nebbishy and inner-directed wallflowers whose humor -- a function of their misanthropy, in many cases -- comes out almost exclusively in their writing and not in their discourse.

Charlie Kaufman is a perfect example of this kind of writer. So is Neil Simon.

By Blogger Light on the Page, at 1:09 AM  

It's Sorkin, so I'll keep watching but... Studio 60 doesn't seem to be clicking yet. You watch the first few episodes of Sports Night and it's much the same. Not quite clicking. So there is hope, IMHO.

Who spotted the recycled line given to Steven Weber? "If anybody thinks of another way we can screw-up, I'll be in my office." That's in at least one West Wing, and a Sports Night as well, I think.

By Blogger DAVID BISHOP, at 11:46 AM  

And then there's the recycled Mary Tyler Moore Show line... Just because he quotes it knowingly doesn't make it any less recycled. Or the Paddy Chayevsky moment in the pilot. Or the Gilbert & Sullivan patter song...

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:04 PM  

Recycling is nothing new for Sorkin. He used to cannibalize lines and even entire backstories from Sports Night for use on West Wing. And he quoted there quite a bit, too. He once stopped a scene dead so that Bartlett and McGarry could quote The Lion in Winter at each other.

I wonder if it was somehow more excusable when he was doing it on a political show (maybe less expectation of craft?) than on an "entertainment insider" show.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:31 AM  

Jury's still out. I actually liked the pilot better than the second episode. Let's see what this week has to offer. I am buying the chemistry with Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry. Not so much Amanda Peet, who seems to be channeling an old ABC exec (Jamie Tarses if anyone remembers her), though I hear her days may be numbered since she's preggers and didn't tell them before signing on (bad Amanda). I'm still willing to give it a chance. Because it is a hell of a lot better than 30 Rock, which is a total discredit to Tina Fey and a torture to poor old Rachel Dratch.

By Blogger ME, at 1:44 AM  

She's channeling Jamie Tarses because Sorkin wrote her as Jamie Tarses.

Sorkin jumped in and confirmed that Peet's character had sprung from Jamie Tarses, "of whom I'm a big fan" because when she was ABC programming chief she put on his "Sports Night." Tarses is a paid consultant on the series, Sorkin added.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:01 AM  

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