"Live from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, it's... a not very funny sketch show!"
Having had it vehemently recommended to me by Cappsy and Andrew (among others), I recently stuck the entire series of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on my spangly new Lovefilm list - and it took watching only two discs for me to promptly take it off my Lovefilm list, because I was sufficiently hooked to shell out eleven quid and buy the boxset from Amazon. I’m about halfway through the series now, and still enjoying it a lot, but one thing in particular does strike me as being a bit wrong with it.
The titular show-within-a-show, Studio 60 itself, just isn’t that funny.
When doing a bit of reading about the show (as you do when you get into something new), I’d come across this criticism before - but it seemed to me, initially, to be based on the bitterness of comedy writers who were irked at Sorkin coming along and doing a show about them. But, you know what - as it’s gone on, I’ve started to agree. I don’t think any of the sketches, what’s been seen of them, have made me laugh - and the “news” bits, in particular, are somewhat weak (but then, this could just be a commentary on the increasingly tired SNL itself). More importantly, the subject matter of the sketches is pretty unimaginative - we’re supposed to believe that this is devastating, controversial satire, but is it? I mean, the sketch that causes all the hoo-ha in the show’s first episode, leading to the installation of Matt and Danny as executive producers, is titled “Crazy Christians”. We never see it, but is it really likely to have been something truly biting and subversive with a title like that? And then there are the performers - maybe it’s a consequence of having been cast in a drama show first and foremost, but none of them really show any evidence of the comedic talent that the people around them in the show constantly refer to, with the possible exception of Simon Helberg (actually a comedy actor himself)’s impressionist Alex.
I’m half-tempted to suggest that Sorkin should have brought in some actual comedy writers to help him with the “show-within-a-show” segments, were it not for the fact that the “outer” show, a comedy-drama rather than a straight drama (lest we forget), is bloody funny at times, with dialogue absolutely zinging back and forth. One episode, “The West Coast Delay”, has a laugh-out-loud plot twist at the end, while the two-parter “Nevada Day” (which won John Goodman an Emmy for his guest-appearance) has the painstaking construction of a Moffat farce. So why couldn’t Sorkin translate an ability to write comedy that is obviously in there somewhere into making Matt Albie’s work believably funny?
Now, in truth, I think I was right to begin with - it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the show - because it’s all about the character drama, and I’m competely hooked on that (and more than a little bit in love with Jordan McDeere). It’s less about being a thorough and accurate examination of the workings of a comedy show than it is about the interactions between the people involved (which is a good job, really, since another criticism is that it’s a little one-note in its repeated theme of “Liberal Left Versus Christian Right”). But I just wonder if the difficulty in believing that Studio 60 is the groundbreaking, cutting-edge comedy show that Sorkin would have us believe isn’t one of the reasons why the viewing public at large never really took to the “parent” series. If anything, did the reputation that The West Wing established for its creator as a bastion of authenticity end up counting against him in this instance?