From what I’ve been reading I am apparently one of the few who enjoyed the premiere of Adam Sorkin’s “Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip” â€” and I didn’t even get to watch it on television. See, I thought I’d set up the TiVo to catch it Monday night, but for whatever reason when I pushed play, although the info showed that it had recorded that very exact program, what was being delivered to me was not that very exact program. What I was being fed was Monday night’s ESPN broadcast.
Granted, I’m no TiVo master, but I’ve been around the record-a-program block enough to know what the hell I’m doing. But I won’t even begin to attempt to comprehend the malfunction that left me gape-mouthed watching the ESPN anchors recap the Monday Night Football beatdown of Pittsburgh by Carolina that I’d already seen.
But was I ass out of luck? Hell no, thanks to NBC which is exploring entirely new ways of delivering its content to me. Some of them are how’d-they-do-that fascinating, but go a little bit too far I think. Like when I turned on the hot water faucet this morning and instead of water “Studio 60” flowed out all over the counter and floor. Or the telemarketing call after that wanting to ship me out free screener copies of the first three seasons.
“But isn’t this just the first season?” I asked.
“Yes sir” came the chipper voice on the other end. “You’d be amazed what the capabilities are. If you want, I can even send you screeners of the first two seasons of all of next seasons new shows. Unfortunately they’re all still just working titles so I can’t tell you what they’re called, but one centers around a freelance writer in Silver Lake who used to work at the L.A. Zoo.”
“Uh, no thanks.”
Then there was the “Tonight Show” usher in throwback pageboy uniform out on the corner of my block who accosted me and the dogs during their walk. She wouldn’t take my no to her hardsell offer. First she said she could have me digitally added in a walk-on part in the recently completed first-season finale and then she promised a private ice cream social with Matthew Perry. For what? All I had to do is consent to having a transmitter surgically implanted into my head so that episodes could be beamed directly to me.
“Uh, no thanks.”
“Well then howsabout the dogs?” I looked at Shadow who seemed game (she’s got a thing for Timothy Busfield) but I dragged them away with me and ran. Straight to the internest, where on the NBC website I found the pilot episode waiting to be downloaded free in several compartmentalized installments. No scalpels, no phone calls, no messy clean up. Just the first episode unfolding in mock DVD-quality fullscreen on my Mac.
And I mostly ate that sucker up. Here’s why: because I rarely watched “The West Wing.” Why not? Two reasons. One, because of the few episodes I did watch the plot never failed to take a back seat to the intriguing issue of why everyone whispered so incessantly monotonally to each other and why the White House was always so freaking dark when they did so. Did the first lady forget to pay the light bill? Again? And two, because in all that dimly lighted and incessant monotonous monotonality the characters often got stuck spewing forth these righteous diatribal historical idealistic monologues that just never ever happen in the real world.
It never failed that in the middle of whatever crisis was being managed that week, one person would start a conversation to another with “Let me tell you about the Monroe Doctrine, whch was President James Monroe’s address to Congress in 1823…”” or “You know, in 1898 when Teddy Roosevelt led his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War…”
The point I’m trying to make is that a fat bunch of the show’s mono/dialogue was so transparently written. Preachy. Filled with factoids and minutae that were unnecessary and unrealistic. People don’t talk like that. Instead it was all about Commander In Chief Sorkin taking his audience by the hand and educating us obvious morons. Not so much because he thinks we’re stupid but that he’s just so freakin’ smart.
Needless to say it turned me off “West Wing,” which may be to “Studio 60’s” benefit… though the show and I got off to an immediatley rocky start.
See, I cringed at its opening round when Judd Hirsch delivered his character’s on-air meltdown. To be so textbook “West Wing” so quick outta the gate almost had me diving across my keyboard for the escape key. But I let that go easy enough.
Not so the next time around. The hackles really rose in the wake of Hirsch’s tirade when, despite my own ability to say “Dang that’s a blatant and relatively lame ripoff of Peter Finch’s Howard “I’m mad as hell!” Beal in “Network,” Sorkin felt the imperative to cram in plenty of references to Paddy Chayefsky and that film, which is kind of like a bad comedian telling a stupid joke that falls flat and then explaining the punchline in case we didn’t get it.
We get it, Adam.
Bottom line, right off the starting blocks, “Studio 60” was shaping up to be a “West Wing West,” which is a lose/lose in my book: Either Sorkin thinks his audience is a collective idiot or he’s just a massively lame tool.
Either way I watched the next segment with my middle finger poised over the escape key when something marvelous happened. Sorkin brought me Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford. I can’t really explain it, but they just totally rocked. I was immediately intrigued by them. I totally bought into their characters’ relationship and I just flat out savored their performances whenever they were onscreen. I didn’t care that Bradley and Matthew’s characters were not-so-fictional representations of Sorkin and his longtime production partner (and the show’s exec producer) Tommy Schlammme. All I knew was that Perry and Whitford are perfectly cast and are compelling enough to bring me back next week and another TiVo attempt.
Where we’ll then see if they can keep me hanging on or if Sorkin will send me packing.