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TV Review: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

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What do you get when you cross the late 1990s television series Sports Night with Saturday Night Live? You get Aaron Sorkin's newest creation, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

If you watched Sports Night and enjoyed it, then you'll probably like Studio 60. And if you didn't like Sorkin's earlier sitcom creation, you probably won't like Studio 60 either. The only differences between the two are their length (Sports Night was only half an hour), and the type of television show-within-a-show their plots are based around.

While Sports Night was centered on a sports newscast similar to ESPN's Sports Center, Studio 60 centers around an SNL-style sketch comedy show on a network called NBS, which is no doubt an homage to the network paying for Studio 60.

The differences end there. Everything else in Studio 60 is quite familiar from Sports Night, from the camera angles to the plot devices. Also present in Studio 60 is much of the subtle and overt hostility to religion and conservatism that supposedly made Sports Night unpopular with the management at ABC and Disney and led to its demise after only two seasons.

Will Studio 60 suffer the same fate? It is yet to be seen whether the spirit of the times has sufficiently changed, whether Studio 60's new network (where another of Sorkin's creations, The West Wing, did well) will be more tolerant, or whether audiences will prove more receptive to this type of show. Unfortunately, the feeling of being lectured on current political topics often detracts from the show's ever-present humor, which is not always in-your-face like a standard sitcom.

You will see some familiar actors trying to break free of typecasting. Most notable is Matthew Perry, taking his first major role since Chandler on Friends. Some of his special personality quirks are still present. However, he does well growing into his part as Matt Albie, a writer for the show, which requires more subtle humor and character development than did the role of Chandler.

Another notable face is Amanda Peet, who plays Jordan McDeere, a network executive at NBS. Sometimes it's hard to take Peet seriously, especially in some of her interactions with other characters. Her immature style doesn't suit the role of a serious executive trying to bring more quality programming to her network.

Sarah Paulson is doing the best job, portraying a complicated character. She plays one of the actresses, Harriet Hayes, who is openly religious, or at least as openly religious a show like this allows. While this dynamic creates some interesting plot points, especially in Hayes' relationship with Matthew Perry's character, it sometimes feels forced. Despite the balanced portrayals of different ends of the political spectrum, audiences will, again, feel like they're being lectured on the latest controversial news.

Overall, the show does a good job striking a balance between drama and comedy. If you're looking for a show that will make you laugh from beginning to end, then Studio 60 is not it. But if you're interested in watching good characters develop over time, seeing some controversial political jabs, and enjoying some subtle, complex humor, Studio 60 is worth the effort.

The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the show will build enough of an audience to survive in a harsh television environment where reality TV rules and controversial politics is still not greeted warmly.

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  • You so nailed this show, Nick!

    You know, I sit and watch in amazement over the more subtle aspects of each story. This past week, the elderly writer and the current staff – that was some of the tenderest storytelling I’ve seen in recent times. It handled, deftly, the humanity amid the insanity and egos of various characters, and it blended in beautifully with the other “relationship” stories in play.

    Sigh. When you really watch and absorb these episodes, they are stark reminders of what reality TV doesn’t even come close to offering.

  • Natalie

    I agree with Joan and Nick 100%

    This show is not about comedy so much as it is a drama with a dark comedic flare, and a great deal of political satire thrown in. I love it! Where else on television have we ever been offered to watch something that says it honors those with brains. It lets thinking people know that they are not alone.
    With shows like “Earl” on NBC, I think they can stand to keep room open for something a Bit more on the thought provoking side. ;0)

    This show has got a feel and style all it’s own.*
    I will continue to watch and support this show with all I’ve got, and encourage others to do the same. It’s about time they put a show out there with some punch and meat to it. Go Studio!

  • Thanks Joan!

    I also thought that the elderly writer that used a side plot was really good… especially how they wrapped it up in the end. It’s actually a similar story telling method to a story on Sports Night had involving a homeless man who makes it into the studio and ends up watching a climb up Mt. Everest.

  • Bliffle

    I finally watched this show and thought it was dumb. Too manipulative and trite.

  • Oh, the ever amazing Sports Night. How I adored that show! Nick, if anyone asks you what I want for Christmas (under $100), tell them to get me Sports Night on DVD. And NewsRadio. And and and…never mind. I’m not greedy. I’m not. Really. Not much. Hardly ever. Sometimes. When I can get away with it.

  • Who’s my favorite Blogcritic? Nick!

    Thanks for the awesome early Christmas present!!!