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.