45. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and I’m not even kidding (2006 – 2007)

It’s Got: Hubris, creepy romances, a too-little-too-late pregnancy in danger storyline.

I hate this show. I love this show. All of the characters on Studio 60 are massive jackasses. I would give an arm and a leg to work with them. Studio 60 is so far up its own ass. Thar be great treasures up Studio 60’s ass. I don’t know why I talked like a pirate at the end there.

Meet Aaron Sorkin, a brilliant writer who created a universally lauded show and then acrimoniously departed the network only to return and restore it to greatness. So who’s the main character in his new show? Well, meet Matt Albie, a brilliant writer who ran a universally lauded show and then acrimoniously departed the network only to return and restore it to whoo boy.

This is supposedly a series about working in late night sketch comedy. But Sorkin mainly uses it as an excuse to populate a world filled with thinly veiled caricatures of people in his life who have wronged him, then calls them out. And he tries to depict his show-within-a-show as a major force in American politics. Yeah. Set a show in the White House with idealized, speechifying characters, it’s compelling television. Try to do the same sort of show, but set it in the world of late night TV, it’s deeply self important. Who saw it coming?

Basically, I have issues with Aaron Sorkin the person. He’s a guy who minimizes the contributions of other writers on his staff, and has some very real casual misogyny running through a lot of his works. Amazingly, he once managed to distill self importance, sexism, and disdain for modern media into a single quote. (“Hey, Internet Girl!”)

On the other hand, Aaron Sorkin the writer has more talent than anyone working in TV I can think of, he can write an impossibly witty walk ‘n’ talk in his sleep. And now this amazingly gifted, amazingly out of touch man is writing a show about a cutting edge sketch comedy show that has captured the American zeitgeist. The result? A world in which a subpar Gilbert and Sullivan sketch is greeted with wild acclaim.

Studio 60 opens with that Aaron Sorkin staple, a character giving a diatribe about how everyone in the country sucks now. Except you, of course, you tuned into this show. The first half of the season is about how the-show-within-a-show starts to climb in the ratings and shape the national conversation. A fate NOT shared by the show-in-real-life. So it retools into a romantic comedy. You people like a romantic comedy, right? Well, not when it’s the creepiest fucking thing I’ve ever seen featuring not one but two employee/boss relationships between two couples who hate each other then fall in love through sustained campaigns of workplace harassment. Still don’t like it? Fine, here’s a five episode arc about someone’s brother becoming a P.O.W. in Afghanistan which triggers a lengthy exploration about how we as a society never really processed 9/11. It’s still set backstage at a comedy show by the way.

I snark, but Studio 60 isn’t even a guilty pleasure for me. It’s too well written, too well shot, too well acted to hate. I randomly rented it on DVD years ago, and stayed up watching like eleven episodes in a row. I bought it a couple months later, and watched it all again. That was when I heard the backlash, and looked into why the series was so hated. All the petty little vendettas and displays of egotism became obvious, and I felt weird about ever considering myself a Studio 60 fan. That was the end of that.

I watched it again. I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to watch the last few episodes, but then I accidentally saw the whole season again. I enjoyed it. I kind of hated that I enjoyed it. And here we are. I can’t promise the cycle won’t perpetuate, I can’t promise I won’t go back for more. Studio 60 is a toxic relationship in which the sex is incredible.

I can’t act like I don’t have a newfound respect for Matthew Perry as an actor. Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, and Nate Corddry, they all put in some fantastic work too. I’m less sure about D.L. Hughley and Sarah Paulson, their characters are a bit too irritating for good acting to overcome, but they seem to be all right. I think. More important, I enjoy the episodes. For all the flaws, I enjoy a series about creative people putting on a show. That massive studio is an intoxicating place to spend 42 minutes per episode.

Don’t worry, this isn’t my Sorkin pick. The West Wing is absolutely going to show up on here sooner or later. But Studio 60, I wish I could quit you. On the other hand, no I don’t.

If I Had to Sincerely Praise…: They’re melodramatic as hell, but the last five episodes of the season, I have to give it up. They’re legitimately fantastic. They give retroactive weight to everything that came before, and when you watch them all in a row, you feel like you’re experiencing the same Dark Night of the Soul with the characters.

#46 | THE LIST | #44

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