Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Studio 60 and Other Thoughts

I missed the premiere last week, so yesterday was my first viewing of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and...is anyone (other than Chris C.; sorry to single you out, brutha) won over by this yet? I know it's still early in the game to be making pronouncements, but, I dunno, man. It didn't feel like last night's episode contained enough material to fill the full hour, and there was a fair bit of self-seriousness and there was too much music telling you how you should be feeling beat by beat and there were too many "ripped from the headlines"-style references to blogs and popular music and there was a real disingenuous air around all that religious stuff, making an interesting topic feel spooned in simply for the sake of being timely. Whitford and Perry are great, to be sure, but I just hope that Sorkin gives them some better stuff to chew on soon that doesn't feel so up-its-ass with its own Sorkin-ness. I want him to re-earn my love all over again, from square one, not rest on his laurels and steal all his best lines and emotional entanglements from his previous shows. Maybe this is all unwarranted prejudice on my end. Maybe I'm too attached to my Sports Night DVDs. Maybe after having worked on Josh Karp's wonderful book about the heyday of the National Lampoon, I'm a little too close to behind-the-scenes comedy culture, and maybe that's taken away a little bit of the mystery I always kind of need to become really engaged with a non-fantasy-based show like, well, Sports Night. I don't know a whit about sports and maybe the fact that so much of the dialogue cascaded over my ears without ever resolving into meaningful sense kept me under its spell in a way that it never would have if the show were, say, about publishing. It is something to be pondered. (And, OK, OK, to be patient with.)

On a similar note, I freely admit I'm a big old sucker for romantic comedies and other light films built around good-looking people in urban settings saying witty and sometimes biting things to each other, but one of my least favorite tropes of the genre has to be the scene where Someone Makes an Inappropriate Comment or Gesture in Front of a Very Large Group of People. Why do writers and directors insist on perpetuating this odious crutch? It's just a really lazy way to get the characters to a place where it's clear how desperate they are in regard to the status of their relationship with the object of their affection. Public humiliation is often part and parcel of the genre, and these large group scenes can probably be linked up with the traditional happily-ever-after wedding ritual (the private being validated/normalized by its performance in public, etc, etc), but they always burst the bubble of almost-magical realism for me. I can imagine myself into these characters' lives and their clothes and their apartments and their witty repartee--and that's really all I want out of those two hours spent on the couch or in the theater--but I can never imagine myself into a situation where I would be moved to cause a scene in order to catch the attention of someone I rather fancy. All of this is apropros of having gone out to see Trust the Man this weekend. I wasn't expecting much out of it other than some charming exchanges between the lead characters and some winning New York scenery, but, gah, even with J.R. Jones's warning, I definitely wasn't expecting the whole thing to devolve into such a mess of slapstick and trite monologues about love. Also, boo to James LeGros for doing an insultingly broad and tonally out-of-place version of the spazzed-out jazzbo caricature that was way more interesting and on-point in those Sex and the City episodes when Carrie was having sex with Craig Bierko.

My weekend of moviegoing redeemed itself, however, with Half Nelson, which really is quite good. Ryan Gosling is definitely deserving of all the praise his performance has been receiving, but let's not neglect to mention both Shareeka Epps and the fantastic Anthony Mackie. Recommended.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I haven't yet seen *Studio 60* (although I did hear a favorable review from your roomie). But just to give our favorite little crack-smokin' TV genius a break, he does tend to take a while getting his sea legs. For comparison, check out the first episodes of *The West Wing* where tension revolves around the burning question "who is POTUS????" [It's an acronymn.] And, there are many oddly placed scenes in coffee shops and peoples' apartments--which makes for some weird pretzel logic regarding Sorkin and *Friends*. After the first few, it begins to sound more WestWinglike, but most of the season still has this bouncy tone that doesn't work well when he wants to get serious. Maybe *Studio 60* will fare as well. Or, maybe the psychadelics have finally done their work, and what fills a minute for us fills an hour for him.