Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A Pilot with Perry

Ok, so I know what you’re thinking, we’ve been waiting a month for this, it better be damn good! I make no promises. So snapshot(2)here we go, the pilot for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Ok so, Studio 60 is a show about a failing comedy sketch show, whose executive producer finally snaps and airs some home truths live on air. Meanwhile a new network exec, Jordan, is hired to help save the failing network, beginning with its flagship comedy sketch show Studio 60.

Wes is quickly fired for his outburst and Jordan needs new talent to save the show, so she turns to Matt Albie and Danny Tripp.

The two writers used to work for the show but they “left”, now their feelings are hurt and they don’t feel like helping Jordan out, snapshot(3)except that, predictably, they end up not getting much of a choice…

That’s the basic premise but I didn’t care about any of that, I tuned in for one reason and that was… Matthew Perry. Perry is a comic genius, he was the best thing about Friends and he was a great lead in films such as Three to Tango (mmm… Neve Campbell) and Fools Rush In (mmm… Salma Hayek), his guest appearance in Scrubs was side-splittingly funny and so, needing a new Perry fix, I turned on to Studio 60.

With that in mind I found myself, for the first twenty minutes (of a 46 minute pilot) frustratedly awaiting Matt’s appearance and I can’t be the only one. Obviously this is only a problem in the pilot but still it feels like a long time and I couldn’t really feel involved in the show until Mr. Perry showed up. This is true of all Tv and Film, knowing who is in it before hand can ruin your expectations snapshot(4)for the show before you even turn it on.

So while I was waiting for Perry I missed the beautiful interplay between Amanda Peet’s character Jordan and the studio execs. This, in particular, is well done, I love the politics involved, the way that the network deals with things and the way that fresh-faced Jordan deliberately disobeys them. And as you watch her in action you can’t help thinking “If Fox had had a Jordan McDeere Firefly would still be on the air”

And that, I guess, is a fatal flaw. The truth is I doubt Jordan would survive five minutes in the world of Television Networks, a business that is ultimately controlled by which capitalist donates the most money during an ad-break. If we take The Tv Set as a fantasy example, we see that Jordan is the exact opposite of the traditional Tv Network Exec as depicted by Sigourney Weaver in that film. Instead of destroying the writers, caging their dreams and limiting their freedoms, she sets Albie and Tripp free. She snapshot(5)even ends the pilot episode by ordering them to open their first show with the sketch that got Wes fired.

And it is that fantasy world, that imaginary character of Jordan McDeere, that fascinates me, that will keep me coming back to this show week after week. I can’t wait to watch her as she walks the fine line between satisfying the network and keeping on the talent she desperately wants to work with, Albie and Tripp.

The second problem I had with Studio 60 was that it’s not funny… I will qualify this, I’m not saying it is unfunny, but it is not the rip-roaring barrel of laughs I was expecting from a show with Matthew Perry. It makes you smile now and then, during his Chandler-esk (or should we call them Perry-esk) moments but it is not a laugh out loud show. Which is odd, because at its heart Studio 60 is not about Network rules and regs and board snapshot(6)meetings, its about a comedy show and specifically two comedy writers.

I wouldn’t go as far to say that the creator Aaron Sorkin was deliberately avoiding jokes, but I think he was trying to avoid turning this intelligent idea into a farce. At one point Danny turns to Matt and says “You dont need me, you could get someone good.” Matt replies “I don’t want someone else, I want you.” Danny points out. “The joke was, I dont want someone good, I want you.” Matt offhandedly replies “I know where the joke was.” This I believe was a nod from Sorkin to let us know that he "”knows” where the jokes are and they will be a lot more subtle and a lot less clichéd than you may be used to.

Finally, I have one last pet peeve and that is the device that is used to propel the script along, the unseen sketch. At the top of the show we are told a sketch has been cut, we are told how excellent it is throughout the show until it closes with a promise of it being finally used, but we, the audience, never actually get to see it.

Naturally this is better than us seeing it because it would never live up to the hype, after all this sketch got Wes fired, but because of this you know way in advance that you will never see it and it is just a device to drive the plot. The payoff of the plotline, in fact, is not as you may expect that the sketch snapshot(7)eventually gets used, but that instead is the reveal that it was written by Matt Albie.

All that said then the show has weak plot devices that we can see coming a mile off, it’s not funny and it has mystical characters we know don't exist in Tv Network Land. If all that is true, why did I bother to write this? Why slave away making it pretty with screen shots? Why will I watch episode 2 the moment I close this browser?

Why? Because this is an intelligent show with promise. It challenges the corporate world of Television. It offers us hope in a time when our favourite shows are under attack (Chuck, Reaper, The Unit, Dollhouse), it’s attractive (Amanda Peet) and quirky (Matthew Perry) and it was cancelled by NBC and they nearly cancelled Chuck in favour of Jay Leno, so clearly it’s got to be excellent!

This has been My Very Delayed Two Cents… Come back soon!

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