Friday, October 20, 2006

Studio 60 Warming Up

This week's episode was the first that made me really like this show, the first to encourage me about the potential for these characters and this universe. Why? Many things, but most of all it was Sarah Paulson.

Like many I've been kind of nonplussed by her performance so far, but in last night's episode I really started to develop a strong affinity for the character - she finally gelled. Part of it was the admittedly kind of bald device of having her interviewed, and the personal details and backstory Sorkin gave us through that interview. But most of it was Paulson. The way she curled up on the couch; the weary, good-natured smile; the subtle opening up as the conversation progressed. But what really sealed the deal was that final scene with Matthew Perry's Matt.

I've read other bloggers who found the scene flat and stale, but I have to admit to being blown away by it - I totally bought the sexual, but more than sexual, romantic, tension between the two in that scene, and while, again, Sorkin gets some of the credit, I think most of it goes to the actors. They got me. Especially Paulson, who, in very small ways, managed to convey the storm of conflicting emotions running through Harriet's head in those moments - look at the way she put her hands on Matt's chest. Sure, there was the game of whether she was going to embrace him or not, but more impressive was how in the very gesture itself she managed to convey to us that Harriet herself didn't know what she was going to do either. A great piece of acting.

The other thing that finally worked for me was this whole notion of quality TV. The pitch by the British reality TV producer was impeccably written and delivered, and wholly believable. I believed that the vile show he was describing would be pitched and that it would be a hit. This one scene made the show's raison d'etre, that opening Judd Hirsch rant, make sense. The embarrassment of riches on TV these days made the rant seem ill-timed at first. "No, actually, Hirsch character (Sorkin), TV isn't a wasteland, it's a font of treasures." But this scene with Jordan and the reality TV pitcher made the whole rant coalesce - this is what Sorkin, and his characters, are trying to rise above. Bad reality TV that plays to our basest emotions - stuff like Flava Flav auditioning whores, or that Fox show where people were forced to screw each other over and make up tragedies to win a pot of cash. And bashing that kind of stuff I can get behind.

The focus on Harriet's religion also made the other bugaboo Sorkin is taking aim at more clear, too. Because as free as TV is, as adult and sophisticated as the content has gotten, honestly dealing with religion - either in the guise of an honest portrayal or an honest critique - is still a great big no-no (although baby steps were made this year--by Battlestar Galactica and Big Love in particular). If these are going to his two big themes, the two big evils of the current TV environment that he's going to attack, then this show could (could) end up being well worth the time.

Until Whenever


Chris said...

Ok watch out you are treading into Tom the Dog waters here as one of my favorite bloggers on the subject of TV (even if I refrain from reading your Lost post, because I haven't finished Season 2 yet).

Tosy And Cosh said...

A lovely compliment. I wasn't kidding either - I fell in love with Harriet a little bit in this week's episode.

And do catch up with Lost - well worth it.

Jaquandor said...

I had the opposite reaction. Complete opposite, as a matter of fact, and this episode started tilting me more strongly toward ultimately disliking Studio 60. In that last scene I still didn't feel a single bit of chemistry between those two characters, and unless Sorkin is trying to depict two people who can't let one another completely go despite the fact that they in no way belong together, then their whole relationship is souring the series. It's just not working for me. And I'm just not liking Sarah Paulson much, either.

Over and over again, Sorkin keeps telling us how funny Harriet is, and what a genius Matt is, and yet I've not seen Harriet do anything particularly funny (that sketch they showed in rehearsal was almost painful to watch), nor has Matt done anything smart.

I hate the Matt-Harriet romance, and if it doesn't end soon, it's going to kill this show.

(Oh, and I watched thirty minutes of LOST the other night, and I still found it deadly dull. Maybe we should talk about ER!!!)

Tosy and Cosh said...

ER has been good - Forest Whitaker rocks.;)

Your S60 reaction is the norm, actually - whch is why I was so surprised when I finally got around to seeing it. It never ceases to amaze me how the same piece of film (or music, or art, or theater) can elicit so opposite a reaction in different people (especially two uncommonly perceptive and intelligent people such as us)

Jaquandor said...

Forrest Whitaker's on ER now? Is he the "visiting doc with skeletons in his closet" celeb guest star, or the "patient on whom we'll be spending lots of screen time over the next episode or two" celeb guest star? ;)

Tosy and Cosh said...

The latter. Although you left out "family member of regular cast member" guest star. Seriously, though, the is a drama set in a hospital - who exactly should special guest stars be playing if not doctors and patients? Janitors? The cook in the hospital cafeteria?