Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

***1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

During a live broadcast of late-night comedy sketch show Studio 60, the executive producer has an on-air meltdown and begins ranting about the current state of television. To save the flagship programme, new Network President Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) hires former writer Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and former producer Danny Trip (Bradley Whitford) as showrunners, despite the fact Chairman Jack Rudolph (Steven Webber) fired them a few years ago...

Though cancelled after only one season, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip is as close to re-living the sparkling first few years of The West Wing as you'll find. Well, to begin with anyway. Also created, ran and written - almost-entirely - by celebrated talent Aaron Sorkin, it was the smartest slice of tv we'd seen since he left the White House drama after it's fourth term. Again the brilliant back-and-forth dialogue was the main reason to watch. Again there was lots of walking and talking.

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So why the cancellation? Well it was inevitably when you think about it. A smart series full of smart people who talk smartly: broad audiences were never likely to get on board. Whilst the intelligent among us will lap up anything willing to openly mock stupid television (and there’s quite a bit of that going on here), the sad truth is that stupid television is what average viewers live by. Or, in other words, a show about a show that succeeds because it’s smart, gets cancelled for being smart. It’s ironic really.

As an insider’s look at the industry - or in this case a thinly-veiled Satruday Night Live-ish sketch show - it buzzes with authenticity. Indeed, you get the feeling that Matt and Danny’s creative partnership is taken from Sorkin’s own with directing co-producer Thomas Schlamme. But yet, whilst the behind-the-scenes antics ring true, it’s likely they’ll be appreciated more by those who work in TV as opposed to those who watch it. Plus, if you make constant digs at the corporate suits and network bigwigs (you know, the people who can take you off the air just like that) with such loathing, you’re always playing with fire.

Aside from these ironies though, there are actual problems too. Never quite living up to the energetic pilot, ratings fell and the second half sees an awkward sidestep into generic romantic territory. Whilst Sorkin’s dialogue is as quirky and quick-witted as ever, his comedy sketches don’t half fall flat (Simon Helberg’s excellent Nicholas Cage and Tom Cruise impersonations notwithstanding). And, though network politics are to be expected, the real political content that drifts in towards the end feels out of place and the constant Christian-baiting gets tiresome.

But if all this makes Studio 60 sound poor, it’s not meant to. You just expect a certain unfairly-high standard from Aaron Sorkin and perhaps we’re now even taking his writing for granted. He certainly picked the right frontmen though, pinching Bradley Whitford from The West Wing (who understands the banter rhythms better than anyone) and tailoring a role for Matthew Perry to deliver the best dramatic work of his career. Elsewhere, though it’s hard to take Amanda Peet seriously as a high-flying executive given her idealism, Steve Weber makes unlikeable bossman Jack Rudolph into someone actually very likeable.

Smarter and wittier than nearly every other show out there, cancellation was always inevitable.

Reviewed on: 18 Aug 2011
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Behind the scenes of a comedy sketch show.
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Director: Timothy Busfield, Thomas Schlamme, John Fortenberry

Writer: Aaron Sorkin, Cinque Henderson, Melissa Myers, Amy Turner, Christina Booth, Jessica Brickman, David Handelman

Starring: Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford, Steven Weber, D.L. Hughley, Sarah Paulson, Nathan Corddry, Timothy Busfield, Nate Torrence, Lucy Davis, Ayda Field, Camille Chen, Simon Helberg, Merritt Wever, Mark McKinney

Year: 2007

Runtime: 60 minutes

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