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Aaron Sorkin is back at NBC, but is Studio 60 up to Sorkin's usual standards?

TV Preview: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Tonight NBC tries to get itself back in the game. The new television season is upon us, and the network could really use a hit show. NBC has gone back to the well that brought them The West Wing with Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme coming back to the network. This time though, rather than looking at Washington, they’re going to a place that makes Washington politics look positively clean by comparison: television. 

Tonight, NBC premieres Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It’s a show about a show. Really, it’s a show about a Saturday Night Live-type variety show, except rather than taking place in New York, the variety show is done in L.A. Of course, NBC has another show about a Saturday Night Live-type show too, this one by an SNL alum, Tina Fey’s 30 Rock. I don’t care what NBC says, avoiding any discussion of quality, longevity, the audience’s interest level, acting, writing, etc., etc., it just seems completely weird to run two new shows about the inner-workings of a television variety show on the same network. But, as 30 Rock does not premiere for another few weeks, that is a discussion for another time. 

As for Studio 60… it’s funny, it’s serious, and it’s really good. It’s not great, but it’s really good. The moments at the end of each act of the show are really well executed. Going into virtually every commercial break something truly compelling or outstanding occurred, something that absolutely made you want to see what would happen when the show came back (and let’s face it, staying tuned through the commercials is the whole point).

Sorkin went out and got an absolutely fantastic cast for the show, and in the pilot they live up to expectations. Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry standing there side-by-side just seem right. The two play off of each other exceedingly well and are incredibly comfortable with one another. In fact, seeing the two of them together in a show, it’s actually difficult to remember that this is their first season appearing like this on screen. They make a completely wonderful pair. 

However rosy things may look for Whitford and Perry though, their characters in Studio 60 (Danny Trip and Matt Albie, respectively) have a huge task ahead of them. They are returning to a show they left years before, except now the show is in desperate need to be saved. Amanda Peet, playing a newly hired network honcho, brings them back to the show on her first day on the job (technically before her first day, but it certainly is her first act). She is forced to make a change after the old executive producer (played superbly by Judd Hirsch in what will hopefully be a recurring role) goes on-air and bashes television, his network, and his show. 

Respected directors and producers always seem to be able to get good actors to go with them, and Aaron Sorkin has definitely gotten a great ensemble here. Among the others, the show also stars Steven Weber, D.L. Hughley, and Timothy Busfield. Each of these actors seems to be at the top of their game (as does everyone else that appears).

The show definitely has the feel of something made by Aaron Sorkin: quick, witty banter interspersed with speechifying that while being preachy doesn’t detract from the show. And even for it having a familiar Aaron Sorkin feel to it, it still seems fresh and new and different and altogether wonderful. 

I’m excited for it. I’m just so very excited. It might not be of West Wing caliber yet, but it can definitely get there and after watching the first episode not only would I not be surprised if it did, I’m pulling for it. It’s definitely going to be worth the ride, I just hope that it gets enough people onboard. 

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip premieres September 18 at 10pm on NBC.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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