aaron, it's just not working out

NBC is in the process of dumping the remaining episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip onto the air and cablewaves, and I couldn't help but look. It's like a car crash.

Studio 60... may have, with its most recent episode, ascended into the grand ranks of Worst Television Shows of All Time.

Let us recall that Studio 60... is ostensibly a show about what it means to make television in this, the first decade of the 21st Century. There's a lot to be said on this topic, and it seemed like excellent fodder for Aaron Sorkin's obsession with telling the stories of elite professionals at the top of their game. Unfortunately what this show became was a staggeringly clumsy monument to Aaron Sorkin's ego.

I have already covered, in previous posts, the descent of the show into inane soap opera built around characters we're given no reason to understand, empathize with or care about. This is largely due to Sorkin's cathartic fictionalization of his stormy relationship with Kristen Chenoweth (in the guise of Matt Albie and Harriet Hayes) while, one assumes, fantasizing about finding true love and fulfillment via the ludicrous schmaltz of the Danny Tripp + Jordan McDeere fiasco. This left turn into outrageous soap opera has been exceeded as a source of terribleness, however, by what I can only call the "oh, the Humanity!" factor.

Studio 60... has, in its desperate flailing, resorted to elevating every single major character on the show to the highest possible level of cosmic drama. Let's take a look at the various plot points on display in this past week's episode.

  • Tom Jeter (Nate Corrdry) has had his soldier brother kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Media has gone and effed everything up by revealing the hostage's connection to celebrity. The military dispatches two no-nonsense officers to visit Tom and "assess his level of trauma". Meanwhile, it turns out that the sexual harassment case lawyer who's been throwing herself at Matt happens to have shadowy connections to the paramilitary underworld and can dangle the carrot of ransoming Tom's brother in front of everyone.

  • Matt and Harriet are forced to relive their constant fighting about faith and reason by Tom's crisis, and we're treated to a "through the years" montage featuring highlights of their battle. This montage ends, with Matt pounding his fists on the desk, rocketing to his feet, slamming his chair back and shouting "we've been having this fight for two thousand years!!!" It might possibly have been the hammiest moment of Matthew Perry's life, the poor guy. And this on the heels of being forced to channel his real-life struggle with drug addiction into the incredibly simplistic and patronizing portrayal of Matt Albie swallowing "anything" he could get in order to keep writing the show. Because, you know, he's not going to make choices about what type of drug experience he wants to have, he's simply On The (ever unnamed) Drugs. Conveniently for us, the audience, Albie's assistant is keen to the signs of addiction that are completely invisible in Perry's performance because of her hypertragic past with her suicidal mother.

  • Meanwhile. Danny and Jordan are at the hospital, where they discover that the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby's neck and an emergency caesarian section must be performed. Danny proposes marriage. Yes, Sorkin has included a pregnancy, a pregnancy in danger AND a potential marriage all in the first season. And what's worse is that he believes he can get away with this pile of horrible television cliches (as in previous episodes) by merely commenting on the fact that he is employing terrible television cliches. This is some of the laziest, most asinine writing I have seen on TV in years and Sorkin really, truly expects to get away with it.

To recap: we have staggering family tragedy, earth-shattering international incidents, The Great Debate impeding True Love, pregnancy, endangered pregnancy and a marriage proposal all in one episode. What really galls me to the core is Sorkin's apparent belief that he's earned the dramatic right to impose these monumentally huge stakes onto every character. Characters, mind you, that he has largely failed to make us care about at all.

Why can't we explore what we were promised, namely the thorny realities of making television in the modern age? Why must we instead be presented with some of the most over-the-top inanity this side of a Tom Clancy novel? Aaron Sorkin, why are you such a dick? Seriously... when did you decide to flip this series into a tribute to yourself? Your cosmic relationship woes, your supposed ability to employ classic television cliches, your reknown for tackling The Big Issues, the sweeping, unnecessary and ridiculous SCALE of it all.

Take some time off, Aaron. Maybe spend a while on the Internet, that medium you go to such lengths to minimize and deprecate and ignore. Deflate yourself, maybe take a vacation. Mull on this spectacular failure of a television series, and maybe in five to ten years you can come back and create a show about a man who was so good at his job that nobody ever understood him. That poor genius bastard.


segsig said...

Studio 60 just won the international BANFF for best continuing series! http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/awards_festivals/news/e3ib41f536f2d6c1dd9e244a534a3d94742
Want to read today's better blog:

QXZ said...

The Banff International Television Festival awarded "Best Continuing Series" to the pilot of Studio 60, not the whole series (which seems a little odd, don'tcha think?). The pilot was, yes, pretty darned good. The series itself rapidly turned into jaw-droppingly awful schlock and never recovered.

segsig said...

Sorry, I thought you were writing about something you had an iota of knowledge about; it's not a little odd at all. The way awards work is one episode is nominated, for instance for the US Emmys here is a listing of which episodes each actor has picked for themselves, http://goldderbyforums.latimes.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/1106078764/m/53610293

Also, since I didn't understand before that you don't know anything about the industry, here is some schooling:

61. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip NBC 8.5 3.6/9
61. Medium NBC 8.5 3.0/8
87. Scrubs NBC 6.4 3.2/8
95. Friday Night Lights NBC 6.1 2.3/6
101. What About Brian ABC 5.9 2.7/7
102. The Real Wedding Crashers NBC 5.8 2.7/7
102. 30 Rock NBC 5.8 2.7/7

As you can see for the season Studio 60 ranked fairly well in the ratings, much better than a lot of the shows NBC kept. NBC marketed the show horribly wrong and wouldn't backtrack, to this date they are still cutting promos as if it were a comedy.

Those ratings don't count the fact that Studio 60 for the season was the second most DVR'd show (add another million or so)! Doesn't count that every episode was a top ten download on Itunes! Doesn't count the Rewind viewers, the Amazon downloads...

QXZ said...

My oh my, look how you've educated me!

But before we get into some kind of television industry dick-waving contest over this, I should point out that my assessment of the show as "jaw-droppingly awful" had nothing to do with its ratings. Remember, I was watching the show. I was one of those people who DVRd it every week until I couldn't take it anymore. I'm not a Nielsen houshold so I don't have any impact on those ratings, but come on... as we all know a given piece of entertainment's popularity has only tangential correlation with its quality. There are a lot of highly rated television shows I think are terrible, or at best mediocre (e.g. Lost).

In summary, my rant about the insulting, craptacular schlock that went by the name of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip had nothing to do with its popularity or its ratings or the awards it may or may not be winning (awards, too, having at best occasional coincidence with quality).

If you want to argue about Studio 60, defend its constant reliance on hacky sitcom plots, its failure to create characters with more than one dimension, the dreadful unfunniness of both the show-within-a-show and the supposedly hilarious cast it had, the cringe-inducing musical choices, the cheesy montages, the superficial-at-best treatment of the "issues" it addresses... good lord, I could go on all day with everything that was wrong with the show.

But here's the thing: ultimately I'm just some schmuck on the internet who didn't like a TV show while you're a different schmuck who did like it. I seriously doubt we're going to convince each other of anything.

One thing I certainly will agree with you on, though, is that NBC's marketing of all of their shows is awful. Whoever's in charge of producing their network promos needs to be either fired or shot, because holy cow are those some bad spots. I hated Heroes, too, but even I felt bad for them because their promos made the show look even worse than it actually was.