So, here we are with the second episode, and I’m getting nervous. I really liked the pilot episode, because I thought it managed to deal with the balance of exposition and character introduction quite well. It was no “West Wing”, but it got the job done better than most. In the second episode, however, we get a better look at how the series itself will operate, and I found it a lot less convincing.
Part of it is the setting, which I always knew would be a challenge. I personally found “West Wing” to be inspirational, even when I didn’t agree with the political views being touted by the characters. That series had a focal point in Martin Sheen, especially in the beginning, and I think that was a boon to Sorkin and the writing staff. There was this charismatic and complex figure at the center, and everyone else could operate around that steady ground.
In the case of “Studio 60”, that center doesn’t exist. It should be Matt and Danny, but that isn’t really coming out yet. They are more prominent, but there are other characters with more clout and power. It almost feels like Jordan should be more of a factor. While I think this episode gave her some necessary shading and made it clear why people are infatuated with her, Amanda Peet isn’t quite selling me on the character yet.
I think part of the problem is, once again, the setting. It’s one thing to be struggling with the State of the Union speech with hours to go, and quite another to be struggling with the “cold open” on a sketch comedy. I firmly believe that every business situation that involves politics can hold the kind of drama that Sorkin is invoking, but the kind of people who could get excited about a presidential election campaign may not be able to relate to the pressures of television production.
One other troubling aspect is the fulfillment of all this work and creative struggle in the final act. I wasn’t expecting the actual sketch to be included, because Sorkin’s usual MO is to lead up to the event without actually showing it. It might have worked better that way. Comedy is very subjective, and in this case, I didn’t find the musical all that amusing. For something that was supposed to be a triumphant opening, it seemed rather pretentious.
And maybe that’s where my nervousness sets in. “West Wing” was all about the crushing pressure of running the political show, with the stakes being about as high as they get. It was total wish-fulfillment most of the time, but all that work and stress would culminate in something meaningful (at least, in the fictionalized sense). In this case, all that work and stress is culminating in bunch of comedy skits. Even in the best days of “Saturday Night Live”, they would be lucky if half the material worked.
For all that, there were a lot of moments that worked for me. I’m getting over my initial concerns about Matthew Perry, for instance, and his reactions to the clock were priceless. I liked getting a better look at the ensemble, even if some of the dynamics are still sketchy and the “love triangle” is already annoying. Jack is wonderfully evil and self-interested. On the whole, I still like a show a lot, but my fear is that it will quickly fade as the general public loses interest.
(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://velocitytv.libsyn.com if you want to listen!)