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.