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Five O’ Friday: The Untimely Demise of Studio 60

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Those new episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which are going to start airing on May 28? Enjoy ‘em if you can, because that’s the last you’ll see of NBC’s most hyped new drama of last year.Many of you might remember just how excited I was about Studio 60 in the months leading up to the 2006 television season. Hell, I was so geeked about it I created a new holiday in celebration. Aaron Sorkin has been one of my favorite writers for years, The West Wing remains one of my favorite TV series ever, and Studio 60 had a great cast lined up. NBC, behind even FOX in the network ratings, desperately needed a new hit and were prepared to give S60 a major push. No way this show could fail, right?

Yeah, well.

I gave Studio 60 a solid chance to wow me, both out of respect for the creators involved and out of sheer blind optimism. But it didn’t take long to see the magic Sorkin and company had brought to The West Wing hadn’t followed them to their new show. A few episodes managed to be really entertaining, but none hit more than a solid stand-up double as compared to the not infrequent home runs of Wing.

(Was it fair for me to so consistently compare these two series? Probably not, but I think it was also natural given the strong creative voice behind both shows. I’m wondering if many of us judged Studio 60 more harshly than we should have simply because it wasn’t The West Wing.)

(No, I’m pretty sure Studio 60 just wasn’t that good.)

I started writing my first “what’s wrong with Studio 60” post after the fourth episode had aired, though I never completed it because I figured it wouldn’t be necessary, that Sorkin would get the show on course. Silly me. Most of the problems I had with the show early on continued to be problems throughout, and even more weaknesses became clear as the show limped along. Here now, for your Five O’ Friday enjoyment, are five of the reasons I think Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip eventually didn’t quite work:

  1. Studio 60 boasted a strong cast full of likeable actors which it nearly completely wasted. Matthew Perry played Not Chandler Bing really well. Steven Weber, who normally does charming and personable with ease, proved to be equally adept at playing an insufferable asshole. Bradley Whitford (though he seemed miserable most of the time), Amanda Peet, Timothy Busfield, the adorable Lucy Davis — this show had plenty of actors I liked, and frequently didn’t give them anywhere near enough to do. Whitford in particular, who was so fantastic on The West Wing, spent much of the series looking like he was waiting for someone to bring him something interesting to say.
  2. Countering that last point about the great cast, though was the fact that Sorkin (or his designated casting flunkies) seriously miscast both of the show’s female leads. Never for a minute did I buy that Sarah Paulson’s Harriet Hayes was one of the most beloved comedic actresses in America — she wasn’t charming and she wasn’t all that funny. I also never believed Amanda Peet as a hotshot young television executive. Can I imagine that a smart, capable, talented woman shot up the corporate ladder to run a network by her mid-30s? Oh, sure I can… but the woman I’m imagining and Amanda Peet’s Jordan McDeere don’t have a whole lot in common.You know what I would have believed? Amanda Peet as one of the country’s most beloved comedic actresses. Peet is naturally charming and funny in exactly the way the stiff Paulson isn’t. I think Peet as Harriet would have worked much, much better (and probably made the Matt-Harriet relationship less grating) — and casting an actress somewhat older than the 34-year-old Peet would have made Jordan a more believable character, too. (Yes, there are plenty of actresses in their 40s and 50s who could have done determined, capable, accomplished and damn sexy — including Christine Lahti, who guested on several episodes of Studio 60 and just happens to be married to Thomas Schlamme, Sorkin’s creative partner.)
  3. I never felt like Sorkin had a firm grasp on his characters. Most of the characters felt more like placeholders than people: the black one we can use to discuss issues of race; the Christian one we can use to discuss issues of religion and explain why Midwestern conservatives are clearly so, so stupid; the druggie one we can use to explain why Sorkin’s cocaine binges really aren’t all that bad. To continue with the unfair comparisons, the character development on Studio 60 paled next to that on The West Wing or on SportsNight, Sorkin’s first series; based on that history alone, I’d expected that the character development and interaction would be one of this show’s strengths, and was quite disappointed to discover that not to be true.
  4. Sorkin just never seemed to really get what his audience wanted out of this show — honestly, I’m not sure he ever much considered his audience at all. The show felt like his way of explaining and excusing his own demons, which would have been absolutely fine had it been more consistently entertaining. When he made his course correction after the extended winter break, bringing the romance angle more to the front (and destroying most of Matt’s likability as a character in the process — yes, he “dumped” Harriet for good because, while single, she thought about sleeping with another guy) and the show became almost painful to watch.
  5. I’m not sure the setup inherently allowed for that many compelling stories to arise from it — and many of them that did he’d already done on his previous shows. The A-plot of the second episode of Studio 60 was lifted whole from a similarly-themed episode of The West Wing (both centered on the stressful anticipation of a bunch of poll results/ratings which would determine the future course of the government/show). Much of the show’s drama came from a Matt-Harriet “relationship” that was never believable between two stars without much chemistry together (Perry and Whitford had plenty of chemistry, but that coupling might have been pushing the boundaries a bit far for NBC’s taste) or from Sorkin-serving “creatives versus suits” plotlines. Neither ever really connected enough to serve as the dramatic lynchpin for the show.
  6. Bonus sixth reason: I know it’s been said to death by this point, but holy moley did those in-show skits suck major ass.

All of that said, I still liked the show and I’m quite sad to see it gone. I’m hoping that the experience hasn’t soured Sorkin on television for good, because when he’s at the top of his game, he’s one of the best TV writers around — if not the best. Unfortunately, Studio 60 was far from Sorkin at his best, and while that might still be better than most shows currently on the air, it wasn’t good enough. Expectations both creative and commercial were simply too large and the production buckled underneath the weight. I almost can’t believe I’m about to say this as it goes against so much of what I feel about the creative process, but: I hope Sorkin takes a few years away from TV and comes back with something a little less personal.

Written by Allen

May 18th, 2007 at 10:00 am

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Five O’ Friday: Today’s Driving-To-Work Songs

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For most of this week, I’ve been afraid my iPod had died.  Afraid and terribly depressed — the thought of an iPod-free life was quite funk-making.

Everything was working fine up until a Tuesday or so, when I noticed that the battery was dead dead dead, which struck me as very strange as I’d just charged it the night before.  But dead dead dead it was, and I spent the next two days trying to charge it with no success.  After several attempts at charging it across two different computers, I bought a new charger/sync cable last night which charged the thing right up.  (The old cable apparently still works just fine for syncing, but won’t pull in enough power to charge the battery anymore.  Strange.)

Anyway, my iPod was so happy to have a fully-charged battery again, it blessed me with a blood-pumping collection of favorites on the drive into work this morning.  It would seem charging it up has also made its built-in moodometer function properly once again, as said blood-pumping songs meshed beautifully with the gorgeous, gorgeous spring morning we’re having here in N.C.  Here, have a look:

“Rabbit Run” – Eminem.  I have an entire post brewing on this very song.  I kid you not.
“All These Things I’ve Done” – The Killers. I have not much to say about this song other than I loves it.  It’s one of those songs that goes straight from my headphones to my spinal cord.
“Behind the Wall of Sleep” – The Smithereens. She was tall and cool and pretty and she dressed as black as coal.  No wonder I love this song, as I think that lyric described most every woman I crushed on in my early-to-mid 20s.
“The Waitress Song” – Blue Sky Salesmen. Very, very few of you reading this will have ever heard this song, and those that have will understand and know why it brightened my mood this morning.
“Holiday” – Green Day. 
 This song brought on a most impressive fit of air guitar-n-drums from me this morning.  My hands still hurt from enthusiastically pounding the steering wheel in time with Tre Cool.

Written by Allen

April 20th, 2007 at 9:46 am

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Five O’Friday: Best Hair-Metal Concerts I’ve Seen

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During the late eighties and early nineties, I shelled out far too much money on watching far too many hair metal bands play live. [1] I saw concerts from most of the major players on the hair-metal scene between the time I was 15 and 22. Please note that what follows below aren’t necessarily my five favorite hair-metal bands — not even close, honestly — but the five shows that I enjoyed the most.

5. Mötley Crüe with Warrant, Mobile Civic Center, Mobile, Alabama, 1989.

I was never a huge Crüe fan — their campy faux-devil-worship early in their career really left a bad taste in my mouth — but this show was from the tour supporting their Dr. Feelgood album, by far my favorite of theirs (not coincidentally their most mainstream-pop album). And besides that, I wanted to go see a Crüe show for the sheer spectacle of it. Their concerts were supposed to be pyrotechnically-infused wonderlands of light and really, really loud sound. They didn’t disappoint, either, blowing my eardrums and burning my eyes with all of the many, many, many explosions. The show also featured the sight of Tommy Lee’s drum riser being hydraulically lifted fifty feet in the air and then floated out over the first few rows of the audience; a Speedo-clad Lee then descended a rope from the elevated riser down into the ecstatic crowd. Definitely an entertaining show.

This concert was also the first time I was conscious of a band using piped-in pre-recorded vocals to augment their sound — Warrant, then on their first major tour, sounded just a little bit too good, if you know what I’m saying.

4. Warrant, The Rock-It Club, Tampa, Florida, 1992.

The second time I saw Warrant, however, it was all them. (Yes, Warrant is on this list twice. Deal.) This show was a surprise show at the now-defunct Rock-It Club, which at the time was the rock club in Tampa. Warrant had been recording their third album, Dog Eat Dog, in Tampa (a couple of the guys actually shopped sometimes in the record store where I worked), and this show was to test out some of the new material they’d been working on. The guys sounded tight and seemed like they were really having a blast playing in front of people — I’d imagine that they didn’t get to play out much when recording — and seemed really happy with the new material. (The album absolutely tanked when it came out; between the time I saw this show and the album’s release date, grunge had made bands like Warrant culturally irrelevant.)

The best part of this show, though, had nothing to do with Warrant. Late in the show, my buddy Bill elbowed me and directed my attention to a chubby, mustachioed guy standing about twenty feet to his right.

“Dude, isn’t that Ron Jeremy?”

It damn sure was: The Hedgehog himself. Bill and I both tore our attention away from the rock onstage to go shake the man’s hand and tell him we were big fans of his work. He was very gracious about the whole thing; only later did it occur to me to wonder where his hand might have been before we shook it.

3. Def Leppard, Hampton, Virginia, 1992.

This show was the first date on the Lep’s Adrenalize tour; six friend of mine and I drove from Tampa to Virginia (about 16 hours of driving each way) just to be at the first show on the tour. Personally, I could’ve waited until they played somewhere closer, but my buddies were just tremendous Lepheads (yeah, I know) and being at that particular show was really important to them. So we made the drive, and it certainly turned out to be a great concert: this was during their years of playing in the round and they didn’t even bother with an opening act, preferring instead to come out and rock our socks off for three full hours instead.

2. Queensrÿche with Suicidal Tendencies, State Palace Theater, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1992.

Completely disregard Suicidal Tendencies. I didn’t like them even a smidge before this show, and I hated having to sit through them. They were absolutely terrible (or perhaps just absolutely Not My Thing). But as much as I hated them, that’s how much I loved Queensrÿche.

The Empire tour, in addition to supporting one my favorite metal albums ever, was the tour during which Queensrÿche (always one of the most intelligent and literate of the metal bands) performed the entirety of their landmark concept album Operation: Mindcrime start to finish. So they came out, played a bunch of songs I really liked, then played the whole Mindcrime album (complete with conceptual video footage on the giant movie screens behind the stage) and then played some more songs I really liked after. And they sounded fantastic — Geoff Tate’s piercing vocals were every bit as impressive live as on record. Just a fantastic show. Fantastic enough to blot the memory of Suicidal Tendencies from my brain.

1. Guns ‘n’ Roses with Soundgarden, Thunderdome, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1992.

Oh, man. Just… oh, man. This show (part of the Use Your Illusion tour) was not just the best metal concert I’ve seen, but the best concert, period. Even better than Neil Diamond. (Seriously.)

We missed most of Soundgarden since my friend Bill, who was the only Tampa native in our group, promised he could easily get us to the Thunderdome (as Tropicana Field was then called) — but then got so shitfacedly drunk before we even left the house that he couldn’t remember how we were supposed to get there. (Bill missed most of the GnR show because of his repeated trips to the bathroom to hurl.)

And man, what a show he missed. The only way the set list could have been better would have been for Axl Rose to call me up the morning of the show and ask which songs I wanted them to play that night. They did every song I knew they’d play; they did every song that I thought they might play; and they played every song that I loved but assumed there was no way in hell they’d do. And even though they’d had an opening act, they still played for three-and-a-half straight hours — and they rocked every one of those 210 minutes. Axl’s vocal gymnastics, Slash’s blistering guitar (the most impressive guitar performance I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Eddie Van Halen)… oh, man. Just… oh, man.

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[1] Funny how even though the term “hair metal” was so derogatory to those bands who played mainstream pop-infused metal and looked pretty while doing it, it seems now to be the accepted term for that particular slice of the late-eighties musical pie. I suppose the hair-metal bands who still tour, now playing in front of small clubs rather than packed arenas, might still consider the term derogatory, but their protestations just aren’t heard by many people anymore.

Written by Allen

December 1st, 2006 at 9:10 am

Posted in Music

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