I am a very big fan of Aaron Sorkin. Having said that, I prefer that he uses his light touch to illuminate modern relationships in the modern workplace, and am not as fond of him when he clubs us over the head with Big Points. Thus I found Sports Night to be a better show than West Wing, because the former, while not immune to the occasional posturing of this or that character, was ultimately more about the characters than the posturing, while the latter, while certainly full (in the Sorkin era, at least) of intelligent characters in an interesting setting, had a lot more of the posturing (in part because of that setting … if the President of the United States can’t posture, who can?). (Although one of my favorite movie presidents is Jeff Bridges in that awful movie The Contender, because you could see the joy in being president, every time he ordered something to eat just because he could.)
OK, I got lost in the parentheses there. My point, if I’ve made one, is that Sports Night was Sorkin at his best (light, even funny, but with serious undertones on the level of character) while West Wing, a very good show, too often featured Sorkin at his not best (serious undertones in CAPITAL LETTERS).
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip looked to be Sorkin at his best, since it takes place, not in the political arena, but in a television studio where a late-night comedy show is produced. It’s Sports Night meets SNL, not West Wing meets, uh, West Wing.
Except so far, Sorkin seems to taking Studio 60 into serious mode from the start. There are all the Sorkin trademarks, which I welcome because he’s so good … the talking-while-walking, the clever repartee between intelligent people, the true-to-life relationships. But the background of the show is more like Sports Night than West Wing. These people aren’t saving the world, they’re making a comedy show. And when Sorkin pours on the juice, as if to say “this episode of our comedy show is of massive importance to the human community,” he’s not just falling victim to his worst tendencies, he doing so in a setting where it doesn’t make sense. At least Bradley Whitford worked for the President in West Wing … here he just works for a network television executive. The bombast isn’t as effective.
Studio 60 is a pretty good show, has the makings of a very good show, and even if it’s poor Sorkin, I’ll like it. And I know it’s early in the game. But so far, Sports Night is still the best show Aaron Sorkin has done.
Meanwhile, in a House addendum, I think I’ve come up with the focus for the piece I’m going to write for the BenBella book (at least if they OK it). I noticed it tonight more than usual. On House, we have one of the great characters in television, acted by a man at the top of his game. Yet it often seems as if the people making House don’t know what they’ve got. The show is extremely formulaic, stepping outside the formula maybe once a season … as if the creators thought “no one will watch a show with an asshole at the center, we better give them a standard doctor show to cover up the asshole-ness.” They also have a low opinion of their audience … they don’t let us figure things out for ourselves, they beat us over the head with stuff. So tonight, House had an autistic patient, and he identified with the kid, and Hugh Laurie was great as usual. But then the show would stop every 3 or 4 scenes so that other characters could say to each other “I think House sees himself in that kid.” Nowhere was this more evident than in the show’s touching moment at the end, when the autistic kid gives House his video-game machine. Laurie lets us know, without words, what the scene means, and even hard-hearted fellows like myself get a lump in the throat … and then, instead of fading out, they have to give Wilson a line that explains the touching moment, cheapens it, and makes me feel like a dope for being touched in the first place.