01 October 2006

A Guilty Pleasure

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

The guilt is relative, of course. As a fan of the now-concluded television series The West Wing, I welcome the vibrant return of producer-writer Aaron Sorkin, and director Thomas Schlamme, with the new show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Two episodes in, this new series has much of the wit, sparkle, and rapid pacing that made The West Wing so engaging, and the adoption of actor Bradley Whitford, along with Friends’ Matthew Perry, contributes to the mixture. There is also the Saturday Night Live element – the series is about producing a similar kind of weekly comedy show – which works both as an over-arching theme (the rumors about the antics of the actual NBC show having contributed greatly to its reputation during its almost-three-decades on the air) and as a play-within-a-play conceit. The conclusion of the second Studio 60 episode gave viewers the dual pleasures of a Gilbert & Sullivan send-up and a feeling of connection to the skit’s creation.

The guilt comes in the form of a small tug at the conscience that all this talent and energy should be expended on something as un-serious as a television show about the making of a television show. Like it or not, what passionate feelings The West Wing aroused came because of its intelligence, its elegant capturing of the Baby Boomer generation’s political aspirations – the bungling youthfulness and over-achieving Rhodes scholarship combining in a world reviled by conservatives and reflecting many (though by no means all) of the lefty disappointments and successes of the Clintonian era. Sorkin left The West Wing before it concluded its run, and his creation suffered as a result, though it isn’t hard to see why investing in that show would be psychologically draining at a time when the (then new) Bush administration was working hard to bury the memory of the 42nd President under an even-larger mountain if President Bush’s own mistakes.

If one can judge by the first two episodes, Sorkin seems aware of the importance of politics to his creative mix. Studio 60 has folded in bits and pieces, from FCC-issue politics to a Network-style rant that raised critical questions about the dance that Hollywood does with its audiences, and our responsiveness to such lobotomized spoon feeding. I have the sense that the continuation of these themes will be critical to keeping viewers like me engaged. Mind you, I am not criticizing Sorkin, or anyone else involved in Studio 60. So far, it is what is supposed to be: good entertainment, great television. Maybe it’s just the time of year, when I am supposed to be thinking about my wrong-doings, and not necessarily focused on entertainment. On the other hand, if I can get both the laughter and the reflection together, so much the better. Thus far, Studio 60 is making me laugh and making me think, and that’s a combination about which I cannot complain.


Anonymous Ethan Lewis said...

Good call on Studio 60, Sascha! I too am entralled by this program's "insider" look at a business (TV production) about which the writers know even more than the world of politics on the late, lamented West Wing. I appreciate the show's willingness to deal with adult topics in a non-condescending way.

But like you, I wish that this talent could be put to use on something seemingly more relevant to the serious matters Americans should be dealing with. The West Wing was escapist (leaving the real world of Bush for a parallel universe with an intelligent President), but it could still talk about pressing matters of policy. Studio 60 is merely escapist. And I think too many of us take the chance to escape into TV and ignore the world around us.

Fortunately, we have dedicated bloggers like you, who focus our attention on more important topics.

6:43 PM  

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