Monday, February 26, 2007

Academy Awards LXXIV: The Wrap Up

The 79th Academy Awards was a pleasant evening of safe comedy, tasteful gowns and almost no surprises. There were no shocking upsets; no shameful Academy shut outs; no war protesters streaking in the background. No winners used their 47 seconds to petition for the release of Leonard Peltier, or for anything more scandalous than an end to global warming. No starlet forgot her slip or committed unfortunate hair.

That said, even the world’s most boring Super Bowl gets an hour post game show, so welcome to the Academy Awards LXXIV Post Game Wrap Up.

First, a note to red carpet coverage producers: The only thing we are interested in on the red carpet is seeing the gowns. That is all. These are the only acceptable red carpet questions: “How are you feeling tonight?” “Who are you wearing?” Here are questions that are not acceptable: “Have you ever met Brad Pitt?” “What’s Brad Pitt like?” "If you ever meet Brad Pitt, can you give him this script for me?" “Since there’s no chance that you’re going to win, why have you bothered coming this evening?”…or its corollary “Everyone thinks you’re going to win. What do you plan to say when you do?” And the most annoying unacceptable question, (Ryan Seacrest, I’m talking to you) “When are you two getting married?”

E! distinguished itself early with some spectacularly bad red carpet coverage. While Ryan Seacrest babbled about his small red carpet work space and the hostess chicks with the interchangeable heads congratulated each other their outfits, actual movie actors drifted by unnoticed in the background. When they actually managed to get a star in a gown to stop to talk to them, the cameras would suddenly cut away to show George Takei wandering the red carpet aimlessly in a kimono.

ABC offered E! some stiff challenge in the stupid department, particularly when the two hosts on the red carpet could not get anyone to stop to speak to them. It was really pathetic watching these two self important poseurs in tuxes yelling “Mr O’Toole!” “Nicole!” “Mr. Takei!” to an unflagging train of stardom passing by. Occasionally they would cut away to their fashion “experts”, a plastic man and woman being catty in a sky box, and a strange looking automaton of a man, theoretically from Vogue, who would lunge at people with his microphone and robot questions to them in a loud monotone.

A nadir was reached when the “style expert” in the sky box sniffed that Jodi Foster simply was not looking sexy enough to pull off the gown she was wearing. (Jodi looked conservatively stylish as usual). It sounded shallow and catty when he said it, but the true depth of his callowness was revealed later in the evening when Foster appeared to present the “In Memoriam” segment, in part to pay tribute to her best friend who had died two weeks earlier. Yeah, sorry the classy actress in mourning failed to bring her sexy back, you twit.

Next year ABC would do well to make whatever trade is necessary to get Tim Gun to do their red carpet coverage. Lost…Ugly Betty…whatever sacrifices it takes to get Uncle Tim on the red carpet.

Most of my Oscar disappointments occurred when the nominees were announced. You can see my take on who oughta been there instead here, but it meant that for the most part, there were no glorious high or crushing low moments to be had during the ceremony itself.

The only one that really surprised me was the Best Foreign Language Award to The Lives of Others over Pan’s Labyrinth. With all the hoopla over the Mexican cinema renaissance and the new “Three Amigos”, Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron, I was shocked and disappointed that none of them walked away with a major prize. Any mystery over The Lives of Others’ victory was instantly banished during the director’s acceptance speech, however. In accent-less English Von Donnersmarck cheerfully thanked Arnold Schwarzenegger for all his wonderful advice.

Wow, so no politics involved in the Academy’s decision there. Let’s see, should we vote for the cheeky Mexican or Arnie’s buddy? Arnie’s buddy or the cheeky Mexican? Gosh and golly. Let me ponder that over a few rounds of golf at the club.

The ceremony itself opened with a nice moment when Ellen DeGeneres asked all the nominees to stand.  Will Smith gave Kate Winslet a big hug. Helen Mirren crossed the aisle to shake Martin Scorscese’s hand. Mark Wahlberg stood there applauding himself with a smug look on his face. Hell, why shouldn’t he be smug? He clearly used some incriminating evidence against the entire Hollywood acting community to get himself nominated. Then he managed to score the Academy’s cat bird seat, right behind Martin Scorcese, so he managed to get himself in approximately 74% of the evening’s audience shots.

(I’ve always thought Wahlberg was a great artist. Here’s some of my favorite early work.  Why yes, Mark, I do feel it baby.  Thanks for asking!)

From the pleasant opening introduction, it was all downhill from there. There was a sort of but not really funny song from Will Farrell and Jack Black. There were some ill conceived tumblers making movie logo shapes which went from sort of clever to really tedious as the evening wore on. (At least it wasn’t interpretive dance from Cirque du Soleil). There were some film clip montages which, again, went from clever to tedious as the program marched towards hour four.

Sherry Lansing won the Academy’s Humanitarian prize. Apparently at least one of the scientific causes she supports involves cryogenic freezing of the face. I can’t remember any of her speech as I was too distracted comparing the difference between her Jessica Tandy arms and her forehead tight enough to bounce a quarter. It was a little scary when Ennio Morricone began his lengthy Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech in Italian, until it became clear that he was using his five minutes to give a grand and gracious Fuck You to the Academy for ignoring his work for forty years.

Ellen’s hosting was as safe and bland as an American cheese sandwich on white bread with the crust removed. Her edgiest joke was “If it weren’t for blacks, Jews and gays there would be no Hollywood,” and even that was delivered with enough solemnity one questioned if it were, in fact, intended to be funny. WOW! Way to speak truth to power Ellen! Can you imagine Johnny Carson being given four hours of podium duty without dropping a single solitary President joke, or an Iran joke, or a global warming joke? When the real Al Gore is funnier than the jokes, you’re doing something wrong.

Of course, we all wanted to see Marty win. Any doubt over that outcome was erased when Francis Ford Copolla, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas came out to present the Best Director award. Jack Nicholson looking on from the sidelines completed this intimidating Gang of Four, making it clear that, should a name other than Scorcese’s appear in the envelope, it might be best for that person to head for the exit rather than the stage. There was naught to worry. Marty got his prize, gave a fabulous speech (including the great direction to his seven year old “Stay up for ten more minutes, then jump on the bed and make a lot of noise,” a fabulous response to everyone who has ever used their Oscar Moment to tell their kids to go to bed.) and drifted off the stage in a haze of joy and glory.

It would be nice to say that final moment made it all worth while, but who are we kidding?

In summation, Hollywood, Academy, Oscar telecast producers, please note the following: Pre-show producers: Tim Gun needs to host the Red Carpet.

Starlets: there’s too much pretty and safe going on out there. Next year I want to see forgotten slips, unfortunate necklines and at least one profoundly bad hairstyle. Isn’t it about time someone re-discovered the Princess Leia side buns?

Academy: sometimes you give the impression of being bunch of old farts that occasionally do the right thing by accident. I just thought you should know, in case your friends won’t tell you.

Wahlberg: somewhere I think I just heard a timer pass 12 minutes.

Ellen: love your daytime show. Hope you keep that up.

Producers: seriously, no more tumblers, acrobats, shadow puppets, choirs or anything that is not directly involved in propelling the evening forward. A lack of Celine Dion would not harm anything either.  Also, consider a host who is not afraid of making people laugh. Perhaps if you book now, Stephen Colbert might be available.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Certain as Death and Taxes

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it's getting harder for me to feign interest in the Academy Awards every year. The Oscars feel increasingly irrelevant to me. Every awards show and its cousin are being televised and new ones are invented every year. Sundance has played out and buzz about the movies we will theoretically be lauding this time next year has already started.

Particularly aggravating is the studio practice of releasing Oscar fodder in two theaters on December 31 so that they will qualify. When half the films on reviewers' "best of" lists and on the Academy nominee roster are titles the Average American has had no opportunity to see, the Average American can be forgiven for losing interest in the outcome.

I used to get righteously indignant when films I loved were neglected by the Academy, but vote Democrat long enough and you learn to separate the concepts of "winning" and "quality". Besides, this is the organization that awarded Kramer vs Kramer over Apocalypse Now; and, starting a 20-year-old tradition which may finally play itself out this year, Ordinary People over Raging Bull. It's enough to make you nervous when something you do like wins.

Now that I've gotten that all off my chest, I confess I am not immune from the urge to handicap the race. An Academy Award win accurately reflects greatness about as accurately as a Presidential win reflects competence. However, there is something interesting about what the nominees and eventual winners say about culture and the politics of artistry. Kramer vs Kramer is so vastly inferior a film to Apocalypse Now it might as well be a different art form. But a look at that win tells you an awful lot about where America's head was at in 1979; a year in which, interestingly enough, my own parents divorced, and people were still crossing the street to avoid talking to Vietnam vets.

The Academy has covered all its bases in the nominees for Best Actor this year. You have the powerful role in a small indie film nominee — Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson. You have the amazing actor channeling a significant historical figure nominee — Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. You have the popular actor in the triumphing over extreme adversity whilst tugging upon the heartstrings like a jazz bass nominee — Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness. You have the Leonardo DiCaprio in a Leonardo DiCaprio role nominee — Leonardo Dicaprio in The Departed, or wait, no, it's for Blood Diamond. In that case, it's the Leonardo DiCaprio in a funny accent role, otherwise known as the Meryl Streep nomination. Finally, you have the nomination for the old guy who's probably going to die soon so they better hurry up and do something so history doesn't remember them as the people who never gave a real award to legend (otherwise known as the Henry Fonda Award) — Peter O'Toole in Venus.

Who Should Win: Either Ryan Gosling or Forest Whitaker would not be embarrassing choices. Whitaker has the edge for finding something human in one of history's most fearsome Evil Doers, a feat which makes his character that much more terrifying. Actually giving the award to Peter O'Toole, as opposed to just nominating him for it, would only emphasize how ludicrous it is that he's never received anything but an honorary Oscar. Not only is Blood Diamond not Leonardo DiCaprio's best role, it's not even his best role this year. And why did he get nominated instead of Djimon Hounsou? As for Will Smith, I don't even know what to say. If the story had been about a single mom instead of a single dad, it would have been right at home on Lifetime. On the other hand, it's the kind of story that Hollywood loves, the pull 'em up by your bootstraps triumph over adversity as God is my witness I will never go hungry again tale.

Who Else Should Have Been Nominated: Clive Owen in Children of Men, a film and a performance that were criminally overlooked in my opinion. Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction. Matt Damon in either The Good Shepherd or The Departed. Christian Bale in The Prestige. Edward Norton in The Illusionist.

Who Will Win: I can't guess. For all its pretense, Hollywood is an oddly conservative place. I could see Whitaker and Smith somehow splitting the affirmative action voting bloc. This would be a grave disservice to Whitaker, but it might create an opening for either a Gosling dark horse win or an O'Toole AARP win. Most people aren't even sure what DiCaprio has been nominated for. This isn't his first time to the dance and it's clearly not going to be his last. I think his chances are pretty low.

It's an interesting group of women in the Best Actress category this year, not quite as simple to categorize as the male nominees. Except for Penelope Cruz, every one of them has been nominated for Academy Awards previously. Cruz has struggled to find her niche in American films, and most of her performances in them have been underwhelming. I always had a sense of some greater talent struggling to burst forth from her, which is why it's gratifying to see her nominated for Volver. That the film is in her native language and was directed by Pedro Almodóvar is clearly not a coincidence.

Who Should Win: Meryl Streep's nomination for The Devil Wears Prada is pretty much a lark, much as the role itself was. Otherwise, any of the nominees would be acceptable. It would be nice if Cruz won if only to encourage her to do more roles like Volver, but I don't think that win is likely. I'm not sure enough people saw Little Children to give Winslet much of a shot. Judi Dench has been nominated for playing a bitch on wheels, which is awesome for her, but a bit of a stretch for the Academy who like their Judi Dench to be charming and non-threatening.

Who Else Should Have Been Nominated: I have to tell you, I can't think of any really great female roles this year that got passed over. There were other fine performances, like Natalie Portman's in V for Vendetta or Gretchen Mol's in The Notorious Bettie Page, but was anyone unjustly overlooked? Meh. Not really.

Who Will Win: I'm trying very hard not to fall into knee jerk Helen Mirren resentment caused by Oscar buzz overload, especially since I loved The Queen and I loved Helen Mirren in it. She's won almost every single award possible this year, including an Emmy which she got for playing the other Queen Liz. The prize is hers for the taking, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Now here's the Djimon Hounsou nomination, in the Best Supporting Actor category. I shouldn't get started on the political vicissitudes which nominate a main character for Supporting Actor and a supporting character for Best Actor. I'll just say straight up that I would NEVER imply that it was because of either the race or the box office clout of the respective nominees. The most puzzling nomination in this category is Mark Wahlberg for The Departed. It's not that Wahlberg wasn't fine in The Departed, but was he better than Alec Baldwin or Martin Sheen in The Departed? Was he better than Jack Nicholson? It's a puzzlement. Clearly Wahlberg's publicist needs a raise.

Who Should Win: I admit, I'm rooting for Eddie Murphy. His nomination is such a welcome surprise for those of us who have watched the comic genius who gave us Raw descend into wretched family friendly fart humor. He takes a stock "cautionary tale" role and infuses it with heart, soul, and pathos.

Who Else Should Have Been Nominated: I'd say many performances were more memorable than Wahlberg in The Departed. Michael Caine for either Children of Men or The Prestige, but particularly for Children of Men. Paul Giamatti or Rufus Sewell in The Illusionist. Ben Affleck in Hollywoodland. Alec Baldwin for anything he was in. And of course the trippiest, most mind-blowing best supporting actor role of the year was Robert Downey Jr as a character called "James Barris", but otherwise known as "himself before rehab", in A Scanner Darkly. I'm hoping one of these days the Academy will give Downey Jr an award just for still being here. They missed an opportunity with this one.

Who Will Win: It's possible that Alan Arkin will get the nod for Little Miss Sunshine, but I'm betting on Eddie. There's no certainty that he will ever pull off this kind of powerhouse dramatic role again (can you say Norbit?) so I can't see the Academy passing up the opportunity to give him this pat on the back.

In a complete reversal from the Best Actress category, every nominee for Best Supporting Actress is a newcomer except Cate Blanchett. There's Abigail Breslin, the winsome cutie patootie from Little Miss Sunshine, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi, both from Babel, and, of course Jennifer Hudson from Dreamgirls. Hudson may be the only thing the show American Idol will ever have to be proud of. Hudson should win, Hudson will win and except possibly Princess Diana as herself in The Queen, I can't think of any obvious performances the Academy may have missed in this category.

Like Democrats before an election day, cineaestes throughout the world are lighting candles and muttering to themselves about this year's Best Director category. This will be the year Scorsese wins, they chant. It will! It will! It's hard to imagine that he wouldn't win this year. Clint Eastwood got his (mulitple) awards already, and no one has seen Letters From Iwo Jima anyway. (Note to studios... I told you to stop dumping these pictures in theaters at the last minute every year. It aggravates people.)

Arguments could be made that Paul Greengrass deserves it more for United 93 but, again, how many people actually gutted it out and watched the movie? My work stocking library shelves has taught me that right, wrong, or in denial, the American people are not watching or reading 9/11 stories. (Out of curiosity, I checked our catalog. Right now, 12 people are waiting to see United 93. 240 are waiting for Little Miss Sunshine.) You can ponder whether or not "it's time" for them to do so, but they ain't. Not to diminish a great accomplishment, but that is what Paul Greengrass is fighting, and I can't see him overcoming it. What people love about The Queen is Helen Mirren. Most would be surprised to learn that some dude named Stephen Frears had anything to do with it.

The problem, of course, is that The Departed, as fine as it is, is no Goodfellas. Do you remember what film/director won instead of Goodfellas? The Academy is so often on record as having preferred cinematic piffle over greatness but nowhere is that shame more deserved than in the awarding of Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas. The Academy can finally make up for their deficiencies in honoring Scorsese this year without too much guilt. The Departed was one of the best films of the year. The Academy may never fully erase the shame of honoring Kevin Costner instead of Martin Scorsese that year, but sucking it up and giving Marty the award this year is a start.

Best Picture is a crapshoot. Traditionally the film that received the Best Director award always won the Best Picture award, but in recent years the Academy has begun splitting the two. Give Spielberg the best director prize and Shakespeare in Love the best picture and everyone goes home happy. I'm surprised, like everyone, that Dreamgirls was not nominated for Best Picture. If it had been, I would pick it as the most likely winner. It's the feel good choice. Little Miss Sunshine is another one of those feel good flicks, like Shakespeare in Love, that could edge out The Departed. Neither Babel nor Letters From Iwo Jima feel like they're picking up that Oscar buzz momentum, the way Crash did last year, but they're both powerful message films, and Hollywood does love those. Hollywood's Helen Mirren love, and their lingering affection for Princess Di could push The Queen ahead. Ultimately, it all depends on the Academy's mood.

Other Films That Should Have Been Nominated: Have I mentioned Children of Men enough? It's on every critic's "best" list. It has some insanely high Metacritic rating like 98. I believe that Alfonso Curaron is the next Spielberg. He does everything well. If he'd been nominated, he's the only director that could reasonably give Marty a run for his money this year. Either of the magician films, The Illusionist or The Prestige, could also have fit nicely here, as well as Stranger Than Fiction.

For someone who claims disinterest in the Academy Awards, clearly I have too many opinions about the outcome. I'm not a sports fan, but I think it's similar to people's facination with the Super Bowl. It's not really a contest between the best two teams in the country, and winning is no predictor of quality or future success, but damned if we don't all show up every year.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Normally the court marshal of Lt. Ehren Watada is not the sort of thing I'd reflect upon in a venue like "Populucious". But if popular culture is, as Wikipedia defines it, the daily interactions, needs and desires and cultural 'moments' that make up the everyday lives of the mainstream, Ehren Watada’s story is undoubtedly a cultural moment which speaks volumes about where we are as a country, and has created some interesting ‘daily interactions’ for Americans, or at least for me.

In some respects, Watada’s story is nothing new. With every war there come people in opposition, and soldiers who decline to fight.  As Americans, our hazy collective memory is filled with residue from Vietnam: draft dodgers, conscientious objectors, running to Canada and amnesty. But just as Ford’s pardon of Nixon didn’t salve the anger over Watergate in our national conscience, Ford’s amnesty for draft dodgers didn’t erase the anger on either side of the Vietnam issue.

Vietnam remains an unhealed scar on the American body. There is an enduring image of a culture unable to separate disapproval of the war from the soldiers sent to fight it. The image of a draft dodger being praised while a veteran is jeered is a boogieman in the American memory. Even if it never happened, we still smart somehow at the embarrassment. Just the shame of the whole darn thing. We lost. We treated returning vets poorly.

Our unofficial "Heroes of the World" prize, earned in the trenches of World War II became tarnished with napalm and images of death. Society divided itself into those that felt the patriotic response was to question our government and military, and those that felt that questioning was the very antithesis of patriotism, a division which only seems to have increased over time.  Although the war had been over nearly 30 years, in 2004 a decorated and honored Vietnam vet was hounded and pilloried into losing a Presidential race, not because he refused to serve, but because at the end of his service, he publicly criticized the war.  It is no wonder Americans flounder with conflicted feelings about Iraq. We still haven’t resolved our issues over Vietnam.

I had two experiences relating to the Watada trail within 24 hours of each other which have led me to this rumination about our country’s struggle over what it means to be a patriot. It happens that just this week, I’ve been serving on jury duty. Despite assurances from many that I’d spend a week watching bad movies and doing crossword puzzles, on my first day I was assigned to a preliminary jury pool, passed the voir dire stage and was empanelled on a jury.

Waiting in the jury room to be called for opening arguments, the group made small talk and brief introductions. One woman said that she has five children, four of whom are serving in Iraq. The fifth one is still in high school. If she weren’t serving on jury duty, she said, she’d be down at that trail of that…that….traitor. A few, though not remotely all, other voices chimed in…terrible…awful…treason…coward.

I knew I had problems with what they were saying, but I had no idea how to articulate it. The best I could come up with, in my mind, was something about how lucky were all are to live in a society where we can speak our opinions without fear of death. Unfortunately, my eloquent sentiments were also mixed with some decidedly uncharitable thoughts. I mean, there’s no draft Mrs. Ryan. Under present circumstances, to have one child in the military may be considered a source of pride, but four seems like carelessness.

The next day I saw a local midday news report on the trial and the growing circus around it. There were interviews with Sean Penn, who came to town to show his support. Tacoma isn’t really used to celebrity visitation, and this was undoubtedly more exciting then the time Carrot Top was spotted working out at the local Y. Regardless of how one leans politically you do learn things when you spend 10 years living next to an Army base which is probably why, when I saw Mr. Penn, all I could think was, well shit. That’s not going to help Watada’s case one bit.

I quickly forgot Mr. Penn when the reporter switched to interviewing the other side: the people who were there to protest Watada, not the war. One of them said with great glee that he was looking forward to the end of the week when “that weasel” would be “put away for life”.

I couldn’t get that word out of my head. Weasel. It’s such an ugly word, and it was delivered with such relish. I understand someone saying “I don’t approve of what he’s doing.” I get the argument that when you enlist in the military, you are forfeiting the right to debate orders or politics. You are no longer a political animal but a tool. I might not agree, but I get it.

But calling someone a “weasel”, or even a traitor, isn’t an attempt at political discussion. To be honest, neither is standing there waving a sign that the Iraq war sucks. The people who are loudly supporting Watada because all war is bad, man, are just as guilty of overlooking the true meaning of Watada’s action.

Maybe all of this would have just swirled around in my head for a while until I forgot it. But something else happened this week which suddenly clicked the whole Watada case into sharper focus for me. This week the trail date was set for the only officer charged with crimes in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. So far nine soldiers have been convicted and they all have been enlisted personnel, not commissioned officers.

I don’t think that any American, regardless of where they stand politically, believes that the actions at Abu Ghraib were the result of some high spirited high jinx of bored Privates while all the commanding officers were in meetings. Armies don’t run from the bottom up. Top down is what it’s all about. Top down is why the Watada case is getting so much attention. It’s not just that he didn’t want to go, it’s that he’s an officer who didn’t want to go.

Truth is, we know that the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib was a top down affair because our leaders, our Commander in Chief, promised us that torture would happen. From the minute we marched into Iraq, the Attorney General and Pentagon lawyers started murmuring about “enemy combatants”. The Geneva Conventions, the Gold Standard by which a country's behavior in wartime is judged, were suddenly being dismissed like a frivolous, annoying Kyoto Treaty.  But strangely now that evidence they fulfilled their promise has come to light, suddenly it seems none but the lowly are responsible.

Repeatedly in the Watada case the issue of morale has been brought up, how damaging to morale it is to have an officer refuse to carry out their commission. I’m trying to imagine what could be more damaging to morale than the knowledge that your leaders are ready to hang you out to dry for carrying out their orders. If we are going to burden certain members of our society with the responsibility for waging war, for shooting their guns and killing an enemy, the least we can promise them is that we wont jail them for doing what they were told.

Vietnam and now Iraq are wounds that have been inflicted on America by our leaders; people driven by political or personal ideologies which had little in common with what was actually best for our country or the world. Now some of them tell us that our lack of success in Iraq is not because they never set a clear goal or strategy, not because they failed to send enough troops or equipment but it is in fact our fault. We have caused the present situation because we questioned our leaders’ judgment. We asked for explanations. Mothers requested reasons for their children’s deaths. We demanded our leaders to be accountable, to take responsibility for the actions they took, and in return they have tried to guilt trip upon us. It is not their fault things have turned out this way, but ours. The saddest part is when, instead of calling them on their BS, we turn on each other, accusing each other of being weasels and war mongers.

In the long view it is our fault. Unlike the military, democracies do work from the bottom up. We elected these people. We gave them the power. Our guilt stems not from questioning our leaders, but not questioning them enough. I’d like to hope that our future history remembers Ehren Watada, and others like him, as people who questioned, who risked questioning too much, because the cost of not doing so was too high. And next time you hear of a soldier being punished for acts like Abu Ghraib, ask yourself where their commanding officer is. Where all of us might be if enough of those in charge had asked the hard questions before ordering things that cannot be undone.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Aaron Sorkin and the St Valentine's Day Massacre

Aaron Sorkin is capable of writing an intelligent, fast paced, timely, witty and compelling comedy about the behind-the-scenes machinations of a television show.  We know, because we have evidence.  Sports Night was and still is one of the best shows ever aired.  Its abrupt cancellation left a hole which even the fine West Wing was never completely able to fill. 

When Sorkin is writing well, it’s everything good that television has to offer.  Intelligent, funny, warm and really entertaining.  When he sucks, however, it’s like listening to a four year old tell a joke.  You see the punch line coming before it enters the building, but you still have to sit through its pained delivery and a ten minute explanation as to why, exactly, it’s really funny. 

I’ve actually started to write about Studio 60 multiple times, but always managed to be convinced, either by listening to Sorkin fans talk up the show or catching a new episode which didn’t suck, that I was judging it too harshly.  That I needed to give the show time to find its groove.  Never mind that most TV series get two episodes to find their grooves before they’re relegated to the cancel bin.  Appreciation of true genius requires patient investment. 

So I ignored the facile nonsensical “she’s a Christian, but she’s actually not a retard” storylines.  The stuck in fly over country two-parter in which John Goodman proved that them thar people who ain’t living in NYC or LA do SO understand fancy pants in-tie-lek-choo-all humor, they’ms just don’t like it. 

Then I saw last weeks’ episode.  I'd offer a spoiler alert here, but "spoiler" implies the discussion of an original story. 

After behaving like a deranged, threatening stalker last week Danny pulls Jordan aside to apologize and, oh my god, the wackiness…They accidentally get locked on the roof!!!!  Wouldn’t it be totally wild if their enforced confinement actually led Jordan to fall for Danny?  And after behaving like another deranged stalker, Matt wins the charity dinner date with Harriet which blows up in his face when she discovers he’s still jealous of that other guy she’s not dating.  Even though she and Matt are not dating, she dumps him, again, and this time, she’s totally serious.  Wouldn’t it be totally wild if her ultimatum caused Matt to do something completely outrageous like propose?

Then, because we have apparently not stayed too long at the romantic farce buffet, Jack requires Tom to take the Macau business partners sexpot daughter to the Catholics in Media dinner, forcing Tom to reschedule his date with the sweet Lucy.  Do you think that perhaps Tom could just explain to Lucy that Jack is requiring him to squire this young lady, a task which he would rather poke his eyes with hot pokers than do, but Jack is the president of the network and will crush Tom’s little head if he refuses?  Because women are actually reasonable people who can understand the complexities of office politics?  Gosh, that sounds risky.  Perhaps he better make up a total bullshit lie.  I sure hope Lucy doesn’t run into him at that dinner with the drunk sexpot, cuz that would be awkward. 

I suppose that one could argue that by stuffing a single episode with every single romantic cliché ever dramatized since man began drawing on cave walls, Sorkin is making a clever statement about Love in the Aughts.  They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be true that imitation is laziness.

The problem doesn’t stop with the remedial romantic follies.  Meanwhile you have Simon starting a full out war with Darius because he had the gall to decline working on his militant African Fruit of the Loom sketch.  Of course, there could have been any number of reasons why.  Maybe Darius prefers boxers over briefs.  Maybe he has a fruit allergy.  Maybe he feels so strongly about the civil rights movement he can’t bear the thought of pillorying it on a shitty comedy show.  Maybe Darius doesn’t like Simon.  Maybe he thinks the sketch is bad. 

But no.  You forget, we’re in Aaron Sorkin land, so now we must endure the lecture about being true to your race, man, and not forgetting your roots, man, and the error of not dancing with the one what brung ya.  Never mind that it was Matt that discovered and hired Darius, after Simon drug him to see a different "I Like Big Butts" African American humorist.  No, we have to get lectured by Simon on the dangers of “becoming a pool boy in Uncle Tom’s big white house.” 

Really Simon?  Are you really making us go there Simon?  A few hundred years and the discussion of race in America has not evolved further than Uncle Tom accusations?  Gosh Simon.  If you’re really going to make us go there, Simon, I wonder if you happen to recall, Simon, the name of the evil villain in Uncle Tom’s Cabin?  See Simon, I can make faux intellectual but completely irrelevant non-sequitors too.  That’s right, I said it: FAUX INTELLECTUAL IRRELEVENT NON-SEQUITORS.  Don’t bring it if you don’t plan to use it, my brother.

Just to put a cherry on this tired sundae of meaningless meaningfulness, our comic relief is provided by the escape of a sedated but poison viper into a vent.  They send a ferret in after the viper, but the ferret not only doesn’t get the viper, but he refuses to return, so, of course, the only obvious solution is to send a coyote in after the ferret.  Gosh, wouldn’t it be wacky if all the lost animals suddenly appeared somewhere really inconvenient, like the office of someone with an irrational fear of snakes.  Wonder if there’s anyone working there who meets that description?  Why don’t you check on the roof?