Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why Studio 60 Sucks

I love Aaron Sorkin, but Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip sucks. Five reasons why:

1. The SNL-type show-within-the-show is not funny.

Aaron Sorkin's shows (The West Wing, Sports Night) are about brilliant, passionate people who have completely dedicated themselves to their work. When Sorkin characters have a problem to overcome, they use their dedication and brilliance to work on the problem, and sometimes they emerge triumphant. Then the audience goes, "Wow, they're awesome!" It's satisfying.

On The West Wing, this formula works: Toby pulls off a political maneuver, the bill gets passed, the audience can see that something great has happened. The bill was passed against all odds! Wow, they're awesome!

On Studio 60, here's how the formula goes: the challenge the characters face is to pull off a funny show in light of some obstacle. Someone writes a sketch. All of the characters talk about how funny it is. We see the sketch. The studio audience laughs. We are all supposed to go, "Wow, they're awesome!" Except that they are not awesome, because the sketch was not funny. Not at all. It was a tired Gilbert & Sullivan parody or a dated Juliette Lewis impersonation. There is nothing to satisfy the audience.

2. The characters are not sufficiently dedicated to their work.

As I said in #1 above, the essence of a Sorkin show is dedication. On Sports Night, Sorkin managed to make us care about whether a sports show was good because we felt like the characters would do anything for the show. Here, it's not clear to me that the characters give a crap about whether the show gets cancelled, so why should I care?

3. The writing is too much about how smart Aaron Sorkin is rather than being smart itself.

Literary allusions are great if they are understood by a good portion of the audience and serve the story by providing a shorthand that helps illuminate the plot or characters. More obscure allusions are fine if they are quick references that can be appreciated by those who get them and ignored by those who don't (The Simpsons does a lot of that). Studio 60's allusions meet none of these criteria.

For example, in the last episode, we had to watch two characters spend a scene basically saying, "Hey, our subplot sort of follows the same simple plot as this Strindberg play, so let's have several minutes where we talk about the Strindberg play and how it's similar to our subplot. Strindberg Strindberg Strindberg." We get it, Mr. Sorkin. You know about plays.

4. Sorkin is under the misapprehension that simply repeating some variation on "Christians are bad" is either a joke or somehow instructive.
There are constant references to "Crazy Christians" and how they don't like science and believe in creationism. There's a Christian character on the show, and most of her interactions involve the other characters talking about how they disagree with her. There's no humor or depth. It is almost too boring and pointless to even be offensive.

5. It tells rather than shows.
There's an actress on the show who is supposedly really talented, well-liked, and funny. How do we know? Because the characters constantly announce it. We have never seen her be particularly talented, likeable, or funny.

I suspect that this show is on the fast road to cancellation.


Fishfrog said...

Is there anything more devastating than when a TV show that you look forward to turns out to be crap? As someone who loves television, I feel your pain.

warm fuzzy said...

you hit the nail on the head!

arfanser said...

I think that fact that I never got into westwing and only briefly watched sports night is helping me. I like studio 60. And while it is not as good as I had hoped, I cant compare it to westwing and be disappointed.

Leo said...

I came across this blog entry while watching the show. I enjoyed reading it significantly more than I was enjoying the show.