So for seven years, The West Wing was my one true TV love, where I’d get excited starting Monday night because it’d be on soon, where I found myself saying to friends, “I’ve never felt this way about TV before,” where we had parties just to watch it so we didn’t waste the next two days of work talking it over.
The breakup was hard, and I’m still not over it completely, there’s still something about sweet Sam Seaborn that twists my heart every time I see him in re-runs. So it’s too soon, and I’m not on board the Matthew Perry love train, but this new show’s catching my eye, and I think it might be the key to finally getting over the one that’s left me:
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, Mondays, 10 p.m.). Okay, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about this show, Aaron Sorkin’s much ballyhooed return to network television, revolving around a behind-the-scenes look at a “Saturday Night Live”-type show. In fact, this show had so much hype built up around it earlier this year that by the time it showed up at the network upfronts in May, I can’t say that I’m surprised that the critics only received it with lukewarm malaise. But fuck the critics. This pilot isn’t a homerun and, actually, it wasn’t even as compelling as the pilot for “The Nine.” But of the three dramas discussed so far, it’s the one I have the least doubts about.
For example, I have no doubts about the cast. Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and Timothy Busfield (whom I’m really excited about) have already steadfastly proven that they can handle Sorkin material fantastically. Sarah Paulson was able to handle “Deadwood,” so I’m pretty sure she can take whatever Sorkin throws at her. And Nate Corddry and D.L. Hughley look like they’ll be solid, although they were relegated to relatively minor parts in the pilot, so one can’t say for sure. The only possible question mark here is Amanda Peet as president of the show’s parent network. I’ve always enjoyed Peet, although that’s largely been for the pure sexist reason that she’s “attainable hot.” She was good in the pilot, but I’m not sure that she necessarily sells “president of a network.” But I probably would’ve had similar concerns about some of the folks on “The West Wing” after that pilot, and they all worked out just fine, so this is a benefit of the doubt situation for me.
As for the substance of the show, it’s pretty much exactly what you would expect, feeling rather like an amalgamation of the weight of “West Wing” and the humor of “Sports Night” (in fact, the similarities to “Sports Night” are made rather vividly obvious early on, since the show’s set necessarily features a studio control room, which was where much of “Sports Night’s” action took place). The timing and pacing of the pilot felt a little off, but I hear there were similar problems with the original “West Wing” pilot, and it’s understandable, as folks are trying to get their grips on things (plus, there’s no doubt that editing plays a big part in making Sorkin’s material work).
The only real problem with the pilot, and a wrinkle which I’m not so sure will get ironed out in the final editing, is the heady seriousness of it all. Sorkin has carried over the weight and seriousness of “The West Wing” even though the substance of this show is considerably lighter. As a result, it feels a little melodramatic and downright preachy at times. I’ll take a little preach, but if the show’s not careful, it’ll implode as a result of its own weight. But “Studio 60” is rife with potential, and if Sorkin and company can find the happy medium here, it could be a real winner. And based on his prior two outings, Sorkin’s given us every reason to believe that he will get the tone and timing right. Even if this show doesn’t soar to “West Wing” heights, I expect it’ll be a worthy successor.