Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It's Just More of the Same (yawn) in 'Studio 60'

Aaron Sorkin must really, really hate Christianity. It seems to be an obsession, or maybe just an easy cure for writer’s block.
It’s no secret on which side of the political aisle Sorkin resides. This is the guy who wrote “The American President” and created “The West Wing,” both highlighting Democratic administrations—and both quality entertainment.
But in the very first episode of the latter, way back in 1999, the plot revolved around Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) trying to get himself out of a jam for insulting the “religious right.” He spent the entire episode thinking it would be his last day in The White House before good ol’ Jed Bartlet came hobbling in on a cane to save the day and send those right-wing fanatics out on their self-righteous ears (Jed didn’t use that word, of course).
Well, it’s a new millennium, a new show, and, unfortunately, the same old Aaron.
In the second episode of his over-hyped new series, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” those Christian “nut jobs” (I can’t remember if that’s the actual derogatory name applied in the show, but it was something along those lines) are back at it again, this time protesting a sketch dubbed “Crazy Christians” set to air on Sorkin’s fictional version of “Saturday Night Live.” Whitford is even back in on the action, this time playing the show’s executive producer who looks, talks, and thinks EXACTLY like Josh Lyman (big stretch, huh, Bradley? Of course, I guess it’s better than reprising your villainous role for “Billy Madison II”). Whitford’s “new” character oh-so-gallantly refuses to cave to the radical right—again.
It’s not hard to see where the impetus for these albeit stereotypical characterizations of Christians comes from—most of the time I think Jerry Falwell does more harm than good on the public stage. But how about a little originality? If Sorkin had half the guts he thinks he does, he’d have made the protesters Muslims and dubbed the skit “The Joys of Jihad.” Instead, he took the easy way out, because Christians have been mocked and exaggerated and generalized and marginalized for so long, his petty little quips in “Studio 60” don’t even register on the controversy Richter scale anymore.
The anti-Christian content didn’t irritate me that much, really, because it’s not a surprise. No, it bothered me on an artistic level. “Studio 60,” by and large, sucks (if such a judgment can be reached after one episode, and I think it can). It’s basically “The West Wing” set in a Hollywood studio instead of The White House. I know Sorkin has various “trademark” elements to his series—the fast walking and talking, the witty banter, etc.—but “Studio 60” is a lackluster retread, right down to using the same font on its opening credits as those found on “The West Wing.”
At least in that show I could stand the self-importance and the melodrama because it typically revolved around such matters as nuclear warheads or State of the Union addresses. Sorkin’s talents don’t carry the same weight when applied to drafting next week’s lame opening skit. I realize the people behind “SNL” are under a lot of pressure, but that doesn’t mean I really care. It’s still a sketch comedy show, and “Studio 60” treats the job like it’s curing cancer.
In fact, for all of “The West Wing” aped in his new series, Sorkin seems to have left out the most fascinating part: the process. I would be interested in a show that deals exclusively with what a writers’ war room is like on deadline of a major TV show—something Sorkin knows all too well with his frequent missed deadlines. In this week’s episode, we got precious little of that and way too much who-slept-with-who soap opera crapola.
Sorkin is one of the best at what he does, that’s for sure (click on the May 2004 folder at right for my glowing column on his work for “West Wing”). Despite all these flaws, I still laughed out loud several times during the hour. Whitford and Matthew Perry (who plays the show’s lead writer) are fantastic together.
But in just that one hour (which is more like 42 minutes factoring in commercials), Sorkin took at least a half-dozen shots at Christians and conservatives in general—oh, how, like befuddled and defrocked Dan Rather, Sorkin longs for the days when “real” journalists like those at The New York Times were the only voices in media, while the Drudge Report is slammed with off-handed smarmy comments (ironically, Drudge was just named the Walter Cronkite of his era—in a new book by a Washington Post political writer, no less).
I’ve said it before and here it is again: Enough of the politics, already. It’s been done to death. You’re a liberal and you hate conservatives and Christians and George W. Bush (and don’t think those three are necessarily one and the same). We all get it. Here we are now, entertain us (and yes, I know that line is completely out of context here, but I thought it somewhat appropriate since we just passed the album’s 15th anniversary—we’re all getting old).
Thank goodness “Heroes” looks like it could be awesome.

1 comment:

Will said...

Bigotry against Christianity in Hollywood runs deep, into the most powerful factions of the decision-makers. I have a friend who's down there and I've heard stories. It's not a John Birch conspiracy, but an unfortunate reality.