Let me get this out of the way, first and foremost: I thought this was one of the best pilots I’ve seen in a while. Sure, it felt more like a play than a true television episode, but that worked to its advantage. It got the point of the show across without resorting to a ton of exposition, and the dialogue had the inspired snap to it that only Aaron Sorkin seems to be able to pull off well.
Sorkin seems to be channeling a little of his own aggressive issues with NBC into the story, but what were we expecting? Yes, he was effectively shoved out the door on “West Wing”, under less than perfect circumstances, and the network is touting this new show as the return of a favorite son to the airwaves. There are definite parallels there, but they manage not to be overly distracting.
I went into this pilot absolutely unspoiled, because I wanted to get to know the characters as presented in the story. There are an awful lot of characters, and there’s a lot of ground still to be covered. I think it’s smart to have all of these characters buzzing around the periphery of the first episode, so when they step into the spotlight more, it’s not a jarring introduction. The pilot really focuses on a handful of characters, central to the ongoing dynamic.
From a plot perspective, it had the same issues as every pilot. How does one introduce a world, characters, conflicts, and relationships within the space of 42 minutes and still tell a compelling story? Sorkin and Schlamme do it right. The “crisis” is simple enough for the audience to grasp, letting the necessary dynamics lead the characters into their natural introductory moments. All great in terms of mechanics, and if there are shades of “West Wing” politicking, it says more about the world of television networks than the limitations of the creative staff.
From a character perspective, I’m still getting thing straight. I expect it will take a few episodes to really work out the dynamics. For instance, I still don’t have a firm grasp on Jack’s role from just the pilot, but it’s more than I’m still digesting that corporate structure as presented on the show. Jordan is indeed quite impressive, but I get the sense of an naïve optimism. Sorkin can note all her accomplishments in her introduction all he wants; it still seems like she’s begging for trouble. (Then again, backing a show or creative staff often gets a network president in trouble, so it might just be her disposition that’s throwing me off.)
The main attractions, however, are Matt and Danny. I’ll be honest; for me, Bradley Whitford is the biggest draw to the show. I loved him as Josh Lyman and I find it interesting how he takes a similar line delivery and manages to portray a completely different personality. I’m curious to see if that will continue, or if it even matters. Giving him a drug addicted past is another possible Sorkin parallel, but he loves giving his characters a history to overcome, and dealing with addiction worked wonders with Leo on “West Wing”.
Matt, however, is going to take some getting used to, but that’s a purely subjective observation. I really like how his character is completely distinct from the overwhelming shadow of Chandler Bing, but I’m not as much a Perry fan as a Whitford fan. What I found a little distracting, however, was the painkiller connection. It was bold to have Perry take on a role poking fun of someone loopy on painkillers, even for just one episode, but I found it a little distracting because of the “real world” connection. But despite that, I really like the dynamic between Matt and Danny, and that will be a lot of fun to watch.
Perhaps the only way to wrap up my thoughts on this pilot, beyond delving into every character and every nuance that struck me as noteworthy, would be to describe how I felt after watching it. I wasn’t mildly hopeful, as I’ve been after dozens of pilots where the writers are just trying to get past the exposition as quickly as possible. It also wasn’t the kind of immediate home run that opened “West Wing”. But it’s very close, and I was definitely wishing for more when the hour was over.
(As a sidenote: I also have a new podcast associated with my various reviews called “Velocity TV”. Current episodes cover “Studio 60”, so it might be something of interest. Go to http://thrillridetv.libsyn.com if you want to listen!)