Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

As you could probably tell from the gushing in my review of The Social Network, I am a big Aaron Sorkin fan. About 3 months ago I found myself looking for something to watch while browsing on Netflix. I came across Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I absolutely loved this show when it was on the air, and have actually had the DVD’s in my house for a couple of years. Why I decided to watch everything on Netflix I don’t know, but it was well worth my time.

This is the first TV review that I have written for the blog it will be a little different from my typical movie reviews, as I plan on getting much more in depth with 22 hours to discuss as opposed to just two. As per my rules, I will not be spoiling the show, while I may discuss a couple of storylines but nothing that gives away any of the central plot.

The Writing:
In my humble opinion this is the most well written show that I have ever watched on television. A pretty bold statement I realize, but nothing has ever caught my attention, and had me so invested so quickly.

The biting sarcasm that Sorkin has trademarked shines at its brightest. The quick wit that he is able to bring out of his characters is second to none. It is the perfect style for a “dramaedy” on network television.

The Directing:
This is not something that I usually hit on, because quite frankly I am usually not intelligent enough to notice these things. Thomas Schalmme, and Aaron Sorkin do a lot of the directing in this show. Having the two co-creators of any series will make you take note of some of the smaller items on a show. The different angles and shots that are used are fantastic. They did a really good job of capturing the beautiful set that they worked on (the set incidentally was so big and so nice that it ended up being one of the reasons the show was cancelled as it was too expensive to keep on the Warner Brothers lot).

Speaking of the set, is there anyone in America that wouldn’t want Matt Albie’s office? A fully stocked bar, a fridge full of water and Red Bull, overlooking the stage with balcony seating. Not too shabby.

After I plowed through the show on Netflix, I popped in my DVD set to watch some of the extras. There is a small behind the scenes feature on the pilot episode featuring a brief cameo by Schalmme. He mentions that some of the shots that they use (and he makes a special point to reference a specific shot in the pilot episode), took nearly 3 hours to light, and shoot. The scene itself is maybe 5-8 seconds long. (Off topic, but how did they not realize that budget decisions like this wouldn’t allow the show to continue for multiple seasons?)

The attention to detail by Schalmme, Sorkin, and all the other directors are something that is very clear to viewers of the show. There are also numerous scenes that feature the trademarked Aaron Sorkin “walk and talk”.

The Acting:
Matthew Perry plays the role of Matt Albie, the head writer and co-executive producer of the weekly sketch comedy show. This is one of the few times that you are able to see the star of a 10-year sitcom do another show, and not once think about him as Chandler Bing. For actors in Hollywood this might be one of the toughest things to do – trust me, I’ve been to Hollywood… once.

Danny Tripp is the other co-executive producer with Albie, and is played by Bradley Whitford. Prior to Studio 60 I was not real familiar with Whitford’s work (I had yet to watch The West Wing), but he seems to play the role perfectly. He has the appearance of a leader and seems to have a presence about him when he enters a room on the show that is convictive of being the boss.

The producer of the show within the show is Cal Shanley. Timothy Busfield turns in his Minnesota Twins jersey for a headset and the most powerful finger snap in Hollywood. His character is probably my favorite on the show. His timing in delivering his jokes is perfect. Shanley seems like the glue that holds the show together each week, and I think the same can be said about Busfield.

Amanda Peet plays the female lead, and President of the National Broadcasting System, Jordan McDeere. Considering the only other role that comes to mind when I think of her is from Saving Silverman, I’d say she changed the way I thought of her acting skills. Peet played the role of the no nonsense boss pretty well, although when her character tried to be “cute” her skills as an actress shined through, which is not necessarily a good thing.

***Quick Spoiler***
Just a few weeks into the filming of the show, Peet announced that she was pregnant to her then newly wed husband, David Benoiff. Aaron Sorkin and his team decided to write her pregnancy into the show, which in the opinion of many, helped lead to the demise of the short-lived sitcom.
***Spoiler End***

The remainder of the ensemble cast plays their supporting roles in a way that is just that, supporting. While they may play a large part of the storyline of specific episodes (or 3-part episodes), the job done by the actors is not worth getting their own paragraphs. Sorry D.L. Hughley.

The producers of the show did an unbelievable job of working in extra characters, the same way that Gregg Popovich seems to have someone on his bench always capable of scoring 35 against the Jazz. In a fast paced show like Studio 60 these roles cannot be overstated. Characters like Suzanne (Matt’s assistant), Ricky and Ron (heads of the writers room), Lucy and Darius (staff writers), helped the show move along in ways that the ensemble cast could never have done.

Sorkin and his crew were so good that they even managed to get an Emmy win for John Goodman. That is saying something.
While poor budget decisions and a set that was too large to hold on one soundstage helped lead to the demise of the short lived show, the acting, writing and directing were in a word, brilliant. The show has been off the air for over 4 years now, and yet a lot of the topics discussed remain relevant today, making Studio 60 a great watch either via Netflix or through the DVD box set.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Created by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, and Amanda Peet
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Would Gene Pick it?: YES!

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