Studio 60: In the cold, clear light of day
In the cold, clear, light of day, I still don't believe that Sarah Paulson could have made the bear roaring joke work.
But I don't believe her character could make any joke work.
Welcome, Wolcott readers. This is my morning after wrap-up. The Studio 60 live-blogging happened in the post immediately below. Make sure to check out the comments.
I liked this episode much better than last week's. But I liked it for the same reasons I liked the little I liked last week---Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry, Steven Weber, and Timothy Busfield. Focusing on them made the show enjoyable for me. I just hated it whenever they had to talk to the other characters.
Sarah Paulson's a serious liability. It's not all her fault. Aaron Sorkin has given her only a personals ad to play, "Good Christian girl with high standards but a bit of a naughty streak, likes to have fun but no smokers, drinkers, or drug abusers, please. Can sing a little. Looking for serious relationship with tall, handsome Jewish man in need of reforming."
Harriet's not even a full-fledged type. She comes close to being the Schoolmarm type, but that's not a good direction for Sorkin to go with any character because it tempts him to get in touch with his own school teacher side, and that's not a temptation he's good at resisting.
For Sorkin, all of life is a "lesson."
He's a bit of a prig, really.
The other problem with Harriet/Paulson is that there's nothing about Paulson that suggests she has the comedic and musical talents that Harriet supposedly possses in spades. Our belief in her star quality is going to be based on what the other characters tell us about her.
So she presents Sorkin with another kind of temptation he has trouble resisting---the temptation to tell us everything.
Jaquandor's dealt with this one.
Sorkin likes to write. That's good. He thinks that smart people watch television to admire the writing, though, and that's not good.
I'm sure he admires Martin Sheen no end, but I suspect that deep inside he thinks that President Jed Bartlett was all his doing and Sheen was good at not getting in the way of the words that made the character.
He doesn't write for his actors, which may be why all his characters sound alike.
Deadwood creator David Milch learned something else from Shakespeare besides how to sell blank verse and how to structure a scene. He learned to give his actors characters that suited their strengths and allowed them to use their idiosyncratic bodies and voices.
Sorkin's thinking seems to go: Sarah Paulson is a good actress; I give her good lines; therefore, Harriet will be a good character.
I hate to keep picking on Paulson, but she's also a problem because Harriet's real purpose in the show is to be the love interest.
I don't believe that she's carrying a torch for Matthew Perry's character. I don't believe she's the least bit jealous that he's sleeping with her pal, the sexy chick, whose real name and character name I will look up as soon as I'm done with this post so that I don't have to keep calling her the sexy chick.
Except that calling her the sexy chick is unfortunately accurate. She is the sexy chick. Amanda Peet is the spunky chick and Sarah Paulson is the good girl and the bitchy woman who follows Steven Weber's character around and snipes at Amanda Peet is the bitchy woman.
So far, Sorkin's given them only attitudes to play.
Paulson, though, doesn't give off any body heat. She doesn't seem heartbroken, jealous, or even perversely titilated by the fact that her ex-boyfriend and best friend are fooling around. What she seems is disapproving, as if what bothers her most is that they aren't serious. If he and the sexy chick were engaged, she might even be happy for them. Except that she's also peeved.
She's reacting to their affair as if it's something fun she wants to be part of, and I don't mean she's thinking threesome. She's put out in the way she'd be put out to learn that they'd gone to a movie she wanted to see without her.
Last night I got to wishing that he had cast Amanda Peet as Harriet.
Peet has a comedic face. She looks like she can be funny, and she can be funny. She has sex appeal to bottle and sell. With her in the part, Harriet's Christianity would be a problem for Harriet. As it is, it's a problem for the other characters. If Peet was playing the part, you could believe that being true to her Christian values would be a struggle for her. She would be constantly slamming down the lid on various Unchristian sides of herself, and not just on her sexual desires or an urge to party. Anger, spite, pride, ambition, vanity, and just her intelligence would be constantly sending her to the mourner's bench.
Peet could make the character a sinner determined to sin no more. Paulson just makes her a saint, bordering on angel.
And it would have been no loss to Peet if she weren't cast as Jordan, since Sorkin seems completely uncommitted to the character as what she is, the president of the network. I think Sorkin set her two rungs too high on the corporate ladder for dramatic purposes, anyway, but so far at least he's not given her any scenes in which she is doing the job she supposedly has. And the fact that the first real problem he's introduced for her is a sex scandal doesn't bode well.
As a character, Jordan seems to be nothing more than Sorkin's apology for having created a TV show about a Liberal President and his staff in which there was no woman with real power among the main characters. CJ became Chief of Staff after Sorkin left the show.
I wonder if DL Hughley's character is going to be an apology for the only black main character on West Wing being essentially a valet.
Jordan has a lot in common with CJ Craig. CJ was a smart, talented, decent-hearted innocent who had risen high because someone had decided to reward her for being smart, talented, and decen-hearted.
This was believable in CJ's case because she worked for a hero-king, Jed Bartlett.
I don't think there are any hero-kings running TV networks. What's Grant Tinker up to these days?
Unless it turns out that Steven Weber's boss, the owner of the network is Martin Sheen (or Alan Alda), it's highly unlikely that Jordan as she's written would be holding the job she holds...
Sorkin's given her power but so far he's shown no inclination to portray her using it. Instead there's a Perils of a Corporate Pauline quality developing. Every week a new metaphorical villain comes along to tie her to a metaphorical railroad track. Last week it was the Christian Right. This week, and presumably next week, it's her ex-husband the sex maniac.
And she escapes from every trap just by being so gosh darn spunky...
I didn't see The American President and never watched Sports Night regularly. In A Few Good Men and West Wing one thing that was conspicuously absent from Sorkin's work was romance.
In Jed and Abby Bartlett Sorkin helped create a portrait of a great marriage. The Bartletts had transceneded romance and---even though Jed and Abby plainly got frisky from time to time, and I defy any man or woman married to Stockard Channing not to get frisky ---sex.
The only sexual heat ever generated on The West Wing came when Mary Louise Parker and Bradley Whitford squared off, and that was all Mary Louise Parker and Bradley Whitford. So I don't know if Sorkin can do romantic comedy.It wouldn't seem to be up his alley. He's not very interested in his characters' personal lives. He wants to watch them work.
That was fine with me.
You know how I feel about mush.
On The West Wing the characters didn't have time for a personal life and they didn't want one. The work the characters did was of earth-shaking importance so it was inherently dramatic.
For the characters on Studio 60? Not so much.
There are people in showbiz, especially actors and actresses, who can't maintain the boundries between their personal lives and their work, but most people in the business are extremely dedicated and they work very hard.
Watch one of the How they made it featurettes on the next DVD you rent and you'll be in awe of how much time, effort, energy, and love the pros put into their crafts and their jobs.
But while it's fascinating to watch the model builders for the Lord of the Rings movies for 10 minutes, it's not quite so riveting to speand an hour watching Matthew Perry frown and type, actors rehearse, and suits worry about ratings.
It used to be said that with the Bartlett Administration Sorkin had created a kind of a parallel universe version of the Clinton White House, a universe where things were the way Liberals wish it had been in this one. That wasn't true, it was simply a phony hip way of parroting the Media Elite's prejudices against Bill Clinton.
The real difference between Jed Bartlett and Bill Clinton wasn't that one was a principled man who had eyes for no other woman and his wife while the other was a slick trimmer with a weakness for pizza and plump, pretty girls who brought him it late at night.
The real difference was that Sorkin stacked the deck and made sure Bartlett could outmaneuver his Right Wing opponents just by spouting the words Aaron Sorkin wrote for him.
If only Bill Clinton had hired Sorkin as his speechwriter. Ken Starr and Newt Gingrich wouldn't have stood a chance.
But with Studio 60 Sorkin has created a Looking Glass version of the original SNL cast and their writers. He's collected a crowd of super-professionals who are all work and no play, even the weasely hacks Richie and Ron.
If Sorkin thinks these people are too much the pros to let their personal lives make serious incursions into their working lives, then he'd better get out of them out of the studio quick. Their work just isn't that dramatic.
Now there's a word for a TV show that isn't dramatic.
A comedy. Which is the direction I think Studio 60 ought to go. But so far there haven't been many laughs.
And there's a word for a comedy that doesn't have many laughs.
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