Last night I watched the full pilot episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", the new television show from Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, the geniuses who brought us the first few seasons of "West Wing", without doubt one of the smartest, best cast television shows in recent history (until, that is, Sorkin and Schlamme departed the series, after which it was still better than most TV, but nowhere near as brilliant as the first few seasons).
Where "West Wing" took us behind the scenes of The White House and was mostly a serious political drama, "Studio 60" takes us behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show similar to Saturday Night Live. In the opening scenes of the pilot episode, the Exec Producer of the show (which is also called "Studio 60 on Sunset Strip"), has a major argument with one of the execs of the network ("NBS") over a sketch which makes fun of Christians (called "Crazy Christians"). The network execs have demanded he must pull the sketch from the show. Moments later, the Exec Producer thrusts himself onto camera and rants about the lack of integrity and intelligence in television (you just KNOW I’m going to love this show, right?). This rant goes on for 53 seconds before the vision is pulled by the control-room director (played brilliantly by Timothy Busfield, "Danny Concannon" from West Wing) who is under enormous pressure from the afore-mentioned network exec.
Recently-promoted president of Studio 60’s fictional network NBS, Jordan McDeere (played by the very sexy Amanda Peet), on her first day on the job (even though her contract actually doesn’t start for another 72 hours), convinces her boss that they need to move fast to improve the perception of integrity of the network and the show by hiring two former employees, Danny Tripp (played by Bradley Whitford, "Josh" from "West Wing") and Matt Albie (played by Matthew Perry, "Chandler" from "Friends"), to take over the show. Danny and Matt had been resigned from the show, where they were lead director and writer respectively, four years previously when they felt they were being managed out. They have since become famous writing and directing films but are about to fall on harder times as Danny has just failed a medical exam due to cocaine found in his system and he needs 18 months of clean tests before he can get completion insurance to direct their new feature film. And so, somewhat reluctantly, they accept the job of taking over the ailing show. Throw in the fact that Matt has recently split up rather acrimoniously with one of the lead actresses on the show, Harriett Hayes (played by Sarah Paulson who was "Miss Esringhausen" in "Deadwood"), who is a committed Christian. They split up because she appeared on Pat Robertson’s "700 Club" to promote her new CD and Matt was completely offended that she would associate with such company. By the way… the sketch that the network execs wanted pulled, "Crazy Christians"? Matt wrote it, four years earlier. And Jordan, the new president of the network, wants him to open next week’s show with it.
There’s the plot of the pilot.
I loved it. It’s played much more for laughs than "West Wing", but it has the same fast, hyper-intelligent dialogue and the same cast of brilliant-yet-flawed characters. Throughout the pilot, not only do we learn that Danny has recently tested positive for cocaine (and had been clean for 11 years previously), reminding us of Sorkin’s own arrest in 2001 for possession of crack cocaine, but Matt spends the entire first episode spaced out on pain-killers. Jordan is obviously a smart, successful woman who is more than comfortable using her ample sex appeal to get what she wants if she needs to. Add to that the fact that the show looks like it is going to launch a frontal assault on the pathetic state of television in the 21st century (towards the end of the pilot, when asked by a network exec if he can talk to reporters without embarrassing the network, Matt replies "you could put a camera on two people masturbating and it would easily be the least embarrassing thing on the network", to which Jordan quips to her boss "I’ve already got a mutual masturbation series in production"), and I think Sorkin and Schlamme are onto another winner.
Of course… it’ll be 2008 before any of the TV networks in this country bother to air it and then, is West Wing is any guide, they will consider it too smart for their mainstream audience and run it at 11pm at night… so thank god for bittorrent is all I can say.
Which reminds me…
Here’s the link for the torrent of a 6 minute promo for the show.
And here’s the link to the full pilot.