The previous episode was an example of strong, consistent storytelling, delivering on the promises made in the pilot and demonstrating why the series should survive. While this episode doesn’t quite live up to the same challenge, it offers a number of poetic and even beautiful moments, all in what seems to be a transitional episode as the long-term character elements build.
Having introduced a reporter with full access in the previous episode, the logical next step would be an episode focusing on the reporter doing her job. And in fact, a large measure of this episode is exactly that. The result is an interesting perspective. On the one hand, Martha is the perfect example of a “gateway character”. The audience gets to discover the ins and outs of the Studio 60 world through the eyes of a character with similar goals. On the other hand, Martha is still something of an insider, and so her perspective is not quite mundane enough to mesh with the perceptions of the casual viewer.
The positives outweigh the negatives, though that determination is realistically subjective. I found that Martha’s desire for a story, however self-interested at times, had the necessary effect of peeling back the layers of the story. In particular, there was a lot more about the relationship between Matt and Harriet, and it’s a deeply romantic story. A lot of outside factors could have played into it, but the writers chose to focus on specific aspects, and it worked well.
I’ve been a little annoyed with the constant use of musical montages to end the show, and I thought the lack of one in the previous episode was another strength in the storytelling. Too often, the musical montage is a cheat, a way of ending an episode without writing a final scene with proper denouement. Quite often, songs are chosen for mood, as if the emotional resolution is good enough and context is unnecessary. This episode ended with a song with relevant lyrics and dialogue that gave it context. It was, quite simply, poetic.
Another strength of the episode was the subplot involving Jordan. While the series is centered on Studio 60, Jordan’s decisions regarding the sketch comedy need to have the proper context. Her responsibility is for the entire network, and we finally get to see her in action. Her decision to scuttle a no-brainer reality show for a more literate series may be another example of Sorkin wish fulfilliment, but it clearly defines Jordan’s thought process and her commitment to elevating the medium. Touching back on Wes and his on-air diatribe was another appreciated grace note.
For all the good elements, including some gorgeous direction in the more powerful romantic scenes, there were some drawbacks. The pacing was a bit slow again, in contrast to the near-perfect pace of the previous episode. While some scenes deserved the long and generous takes, like Sting’s performance or Martha’s conversations with Harriet, others felt plodding. The comedy sketches were once again groan-worthy, even if there’s the underlying hint that Matt is struggling because of his troubles with Harriet. If that were the case, though, the response from the Studio 60 audience should be reflecting that lack.
(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!)