According to several sources, the ratings seem to have stabilized, though at a much lower level than anticipated by NBC. The implication is that the previous episode stopped the bleeding. Ratings are usually more indicative of reaction to the previous episode, not the one that aired, so there’s even more reason to be hopeful. This was easily the best episode of the series since the pilot, and quite possibly, the best of the series so far.
One thing that is abundantly clear is the comfort level. This script screamed comfort with the characters and the premise. This, I believe, is what they should have been doing all along. There’s a lot more of the casual comedy that Sorkin is famous for, and any pacing issues seem to have been resolved. This episode has a lot to say about Matt and his neurotic personality, and the episode is all the better for it.
This is the first episode where Matt Perry worked for me. Previously, I don’t think his personality was shining through quite enough, but now I have a strong sense of his motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. He’s a professional with a gift, but he has a lot of confidence issues. He also seems to deal with those confidence issues with the mental equivalent of flailing. The result is a joy to behold.
If Matt is the neurotic one, then Danny is the quiet train wreck waiting to happen. He has the right kind of business sense, and he’s great in a crisis. But he also has some serious issues, especially when it comes to drugs and addiction. I’m waiting for the episode that will focus on his character exploration, because I suspect it will be very effective.
To use a common enough analogy to “West Wing”, Danny is coming across as a Leo figure, while Matt is definitely a Josh figure. The generational issues aren’t there, but the personalities are meshing and evolving in a similar way. This foundation is beginning to form the center around which the other characters can orbit. As I mentioned before, “West Wing” came forward with a powerful presence at the center from the very beginning: Martin Sheen’s portrayal of President Bartlet. It’s taking a little longer for Matt and Danny to serve the same function, but it’s definitely starting to happen.
The other major characters are also started to gel. They’re acting more like individuals and characters and less like mouthpieces, and that helps tremendously. The focus in this episode is on relationships and interactions, gaining and losing respect, and grace under pressure. There’s no time for speeches about politics or religion when the integrity of the entire production is at stake! The benefit is that the audience isn’t divided by the content. They can relate to people juggling relationship issues with work.
Similarly, this episode addresses the other major drawback of the previous episodes. This time around, the crisis at the heart of the episode makes a great deal of sense and the audience has little trouble recognizing why everyone is running around trying to make it all work. There’s a clearly defined deadline and a challenge to be met, and anyone can relate to that. What better way to demonstrate how talented this crew is then to show them meeting this challenge?
(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!)