Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The Cold Open
(S01E02) If it's possible, this second episode was even better than the first.
Where the first episode took a lot of time introducing all of the various characters (it had to, with such a large cast), this one jumps right into the action, and the episode is borderline brilliant. It's Monday morning, three days after the events of the first episode, and Jordan McDeere starts her first full day as the new president of NBS by holding a press conference to introduce Matt and Danny.
Of course, things don't go as planned...
As Jordan takes questions from the audience, most of them about Wes' on-air meltdown that she refuses to answer, Matt and Danny are backstage waiting to be introduced. They're talking about why Danny sent Matt home for the weekend, and why he sent Jeanie home with him. Danny explains that Matt was in no shape to be alone or to work (those painkillers), but Matt tells Danny that Harriet doesn't know that he and Jeanie used to date.
(Side note: people who want to write TV scripts should record this scene and study it closely. It's amazing how much information that Aaron Sorkin packs into the scene, how many storylines and characters he talks about, amazing how he sets the tone and mood of the episode, and it doesn't even remotely seem forced.)
Matt and Danny do really well at the press conference, until the last question, from a reporter for Rapture magazine. Jack asks if the Rapture is what he thinks it is, and it is. The woman asks about the "Crazy Christians" sketch that Danny wrote years ago and was cut from last week's show, whether or not it will be in the show this week. When Matt tries to say he doesn't know yet, Danny says that it will definitely be in. Oh, and this is after Danny told the crowd about his cocaine problem and Jordan guaranteed the show this week will be fantastic and will bring NBS to the top again.
They have a lot to live up to.
Matt has to come up with a "cold open," the very first sketch that opens the show. He meets with the writing staff, but none of their ideas click. He finally gets an idea from something Cal says, and with the help of Simon and Tom and Danny, he has the cold open (I won't give it away here, but it involves a symphony orchestra, white tuxes, and WS Gilbert).
To explore further what I said above, Sorkin's writing is beautiful. Sure, his characters always know the right thing to say, but I like watching smart, funny characters on television (there's already enough of the opposite on TV). And it's amazing how every scene is a little gem, yet fits into the flow and structure of the episode as a whole. You find out more about the characters (why Simon is mad at Danny, the reasons behind Matt and Harriet's break up, etc) than you do in a whole season of other shows. There's a fantastic moment where Jack (Weber) shows some humor and humanity. I won't say what the line is, but you have to know a little TV sitcom history to get it, and it made me smile.
The only part of the episode that rings false to me is the TV blogger bashing. And, no, I don't say this because I write for a TV blog. The blog in question is "Bernadette's Blog" (hmmm...is it based on any real blog? Kristin over at E Online? Television Without Pity?). Simon (Hughley) advises Tom (Cordrry) not to read the internet because Bernadette "is writing it in her pajamas" and "has a freezer full of Jenny Craig and five cats." Now, I think those are funny lines, but it seems like something someone would say about the web circa, what, 1999?
But that's a minor quibble, because this is the best new show of the year, easily. It's truly entertaining, smart, and well done in all ways. Every bit of the hype was justified. I just hope the audience sticks with it.