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?