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October 8, 2015

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The Harriet Dinner (Part One)

by Jay Black, posted Jan 30th 2007 1:46AM
Ahh, so much wasted potential. I wonder if this is how my father feels when he looks at my baby pictures...(S01E13) They got stuck on a roof?



They got stuck on a freaking roof!?

Just let that sink in a second. Aaron Sorkin, boy genius, reviler of all things "lowest common denominator", actually had his two love interests... get... stuck... on... a roof.

Excuse me while I go find something to jam in my eye. Repeatedly.

Maybe I'm harping on the whole getting stuck on a roof bit a little too much, but here's the thing: you can't set yourself up as a paragon of good, cliché-free TV and then fall back on a plot device that's so old it makes Family Guy's "My Black Son" parody seem fresh by comparison. And calling attention to it (as Danny does) doesn't make it any better. It just means that Sorkin knew he was being clichéd and thought that he could undo any potential damage by being post-modern and ironic.

Believe me, I used to be a high school teacher, it sucks when kids try to be ironic and post-modern in their poetry and it sucks when supposed TV geniuses try to do it on their television shows.

(The only time it doesn't suck is when television bloggers do it. Like I'm doing now. Okay, maybe it sucks then too...)

The sad thing about Danny and Jordan being stuck on the roof together is that I think that the time they spent up there was the best between them since the show returned from Christmas break. I thought it was great that Danny admitted his creepiness and that Jordan was only rebuffing him because she thought his love was more pity about her situation than actual emotion. I wanted to see more of that particular conversation. I was just disappointed about how Sorkin got us to there.

(What were the rejected ideas for this scene? Danny tries a magic trick and handcuffs himself to Jordan except that he forgets how the trick works and the two of them are stuck together all night? They get stuck in an elevator? She gets kidnapped by a giant ape and he has to rescue her?)

(And -- sorry another sidenote here -- are you kidding me that the cellphones don't work on the roof? They work inside the building, don't they? What kind of service do they have that it actually gets worse OUTSIDE!? Just... horrible.)

Okay, that's out of my system. Let's get to the other cliched and stupid plot line: Tom and Lucy.

Why didn't he just tell her that he had to go on the date because his boss told him to? Why? Why couldn't he just say to Lucy, "Listen, I really like you and I'd love to go out with you Thursday, but stupid Mr. Rudolph wants me to go entertain some fan for the night because it means a lot to the business. I'll totally be thinking about you the whole time and I'm so, so sorry. Here is some chocolate and also flowers because I know people with estrogen like those sorts of things."

Ladies... wouldn't that have worked? I'm being serious here, because I can't see how any woman in the real world could possibly get upset at that. Or, more to the point, even if she did get slightly angry, how the level of her anger would necessitate Tom Jeter coming up with a ridiculous lie to cover it up.

It just feels like the obstacles here are artificial. Aaron Sorkin is a better writer than this. I can't believe that at the new year, I was complementing him for not making us jump through the normal sitcom sexual-tension hoops. Maybe Mr. Sorkin needs a refresher course on how to make sexual tension be excruciating without ever seeming forced.

The scene where Lucy catches Tom in his lie (along with the ready-to-bust-out-of-her-dress-and-yes-I-feel-like-a-dirty-old-man-for-noticing Kim) felt like a moment we've seen approximately nine million times before. If I wasn't so busy shouting at the screen about how stupid Jordan and Danny getting stuck on the roof was, I would have had time to yell at the TV about how stupid that scene was. What's next for Tom? He accidentally makes two dates for the prom and has to try to juggle both of them?

All that being said, has Lucy Davis ever been as completely radiant and beautiful as she was in the scene where she kissed Tom? I mean, she was super-cute on The Office and all, but maybe American cosmetics are better or something because she was definitely teeth-gnashing, coyote-howling hot tonight (and yes, I realize I'm being creepy).

Speaking of creepy, I think they finally found a way to make Harriet appealing: put her in a cheerleader uniform. I might be hurting any chance of ever running for political office for saying this, but I'm 100% in favor of all women having at least one of each of the following outfits in their closet: cheerleader outfit, catholic school girl uniform, and Princess Leia slave-girl bikini. (If you haven't guessed, my wife secretly hates me.)

By the way, Masi Oka showed why he's been such a hit on Heroes (and just signed a mega-deal in Hollywood) -- he's a bundle of charisma. In just a few brief seconds filming the promo with Harriet, he was incredibly engaging. I'm actually disappointed that I won't be getting to see an actual sketch show hosted by him this Friday. Maybe someone should wake Lorne Michaels up from his slumber and get this guy on SNL stat.

I could rail at length about Harriet and Matt's on-again-off-again-oh-who-cares relationship, but I think I've harped on cliché enough this post. I still think a charity auction is silly. I think it's sillier still that a professional skateboarder (or was it snowboarder? I missed it) was the other bidder. I think there's no 15 year old on the planet with a crush on Harriet. This subplot was the least of my problems, though, so one paragraph is all it gets.

One quick question: it was a good Star Wars shout-out with the kid, but I didn't understand the 5858 reference. I'm something of a Star Wars nerd (if by "something" you mean "completely and unabashedly") and I've never heard any special meaning with 5858. I tried a google search, but I've come up with nothing. A little help from the commentators please...

The only subplot of the week that I found unreservedly entertaining was also a nod to sitcoms past, but it worked for me: Cal losing a snake and spending two days trying to find it. I guess I should be just as angry about this as I am about our love stories, but I'm just a sucker for a coyote/ferret/viper story. And, really, anything with Timothy Busfield at this point is very welcomed by this reviewer. In fact, there's a part of me that wishes that I lived in an alternate universe where Aaron Sorkin decided to make not Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but, rather, The Matt and Danny and Cal Show (with special guest star Lucy Davis). Basically, every episode is two hours and has Matt and Danny and Cal doing walk and talks in different locations and every fifteen minutes or so, Lucy Davis comes out in a different outfit -- cheerleader/schoolgirl/Princess Leia.

I'm not sure what was in the note that Darius received from Simon, but I'm not sure I care very much either. I think there was a time in which I trusted Sorkin to make whatever was in the note interesting and special, but after the last two episodes I'm not so sure any more. I guess we'll see...

I just reread this review and I know I'm coming down awful hard on this episode. I think I'm disappointed because I've spent most of September through December defending this show to anyone who would listen and the first two episodes of the new year have made me feel a lot like Hilary Clinton must feel like for having supported the war. Unfortunately, I can't flip-flop my decision on Meet the Press so all I can do is write a bad review and hope that the next episode is better. And believe me, kiddos, I want the show to be better. I've loved this show from day one and with this cast and this writer, I know that the chills I felt in the first episode are right around the corner.

One final thing -- and I know this review is thirty thousand words already, but I just need to say this -- a special shout-out to my friends at SUNY Oneonta. I was doing a gig there tonight and had to get off stage at ten to watch Studio 60 for this review. Not only did the school turn it on in the student center, a whole bunch of the kids sat and watched it with me. It was a lot of fun and a nice change of pace from how I usually watch a TV show. It reminded me of my college days, with the exception that there were people around me and I wasn't crying. The kids, incidentally, weren't too happy with the episode either.

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First of all, it's hard to take a critic seriously when they constantly exemplify how utterly biased and stupid they are. "Who cares about Matt and Harriet, but I'll take more Lucy Davis because she's cute and has an accent." While I enjoy Ms. Davis as much as the next guy, I'd like to see more of her in respect to her character, not dressed up like Princess freakin' Leia in someone's private adolescent fantasy.

Next, two characters get stuck on a roof when nobody's in the building and cell phones don't work. I don't know about anybody else, but my cell phone doesn't work quite often. Furthermore, how else do you think Sorkin could've plausibly gotten Danny and Jordan together when she didn't want anything to do with him??? Seems alright to me...it also gave Brad Whitford the opportunity to show why he's such a joy to watch onscreen.

Tom lies to Lucy because he takes Matt's advice: "she's not going to hear anything past 'another woman'" Gee, that sounds pretty reasonable, especially after watching Part Two of The Harriet Dinner last nite. But, to answer Joe's comment about how Tom should've acted like his character and not lied...do people sometimes act out of character??? YES! That's what makes good drama, they're called flaws.

Personally, I think the Darius-Simon relationship is one of the most interesting on the show. Television comedy, let alone SNL-like sketch comedy, is very much still a white man's world. To show Darius struggling with his black identity is fascinating, real, and an exemplary stretch for Mr. Sorkin, who's an east-coast Jew who graduated from Syracuse. No one has offered a good reason why this relationship doesn't work, especially with D.L. Hughley still acting quite impressively.

Finally, to juxtapose Studio 60 with The West Wing, who most people seem to agree was one of the greatest television dramas ever, TWW was always more about the relationships between those who worked inside the White House than the actual policies being made. Sorkin seemed to be able to write sexual tension pretty well with Josh and Donna, so I don't think that's his problem. With the character histories on Studio 60, things had to move farther along. It's different, but it's no slight to Sorkin's abilities as a writer.

Furthermore, let's see how many cliches/improbable set-ups we can find in The West Wing...Josh, Donna, and Toby miss the bus in the middle of...Indiana, was it?...the President foots it up Capitol Hill (because that happens all the time)...and how many standoffs/toxic accidents/etc. happened in the Midwest or bombings/invasions happened always in Middle Eastern countries??? You should know from the start that Sorkin doesn't go for realism per se but a heightened sense of reality, an alternate Sorkin universe where he can set human forces against each other and watch them play out with dialogue that you'd be proud to have with your friends.

The hyper-criticism of this show is one of the things that could kill it. Instead of scaring off potential viewers with your inane and adolescent bitching about a writer and a show who you obviously want to see go down in flames, why don't you offer some intelligent comments about the show that may actually be well thought-out and grounded in dramatic convention rather than a fanboy's kneejerk reaction.

I love this show, it's the best thing on television. Tell all your friends to watch it and tell their friends about it.

February 07 2007 at 1:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When Bob was writing reviews, they were often little more than extended plot summaries with some pithy comments about the depth of Sorkins characters/plots. Despite all the blind love, however, you still got a feeling that Bob had watched the show, probably more than once, had a firm grasp of the events and their import within the shows overall plot.

Jay, apparently can't even take the time to watch closely enough to hear all the lines. The "5858" line was explained in a single line in the plot. And the words "I'm not sure . . ." appearing multiple times in a review do not indicate that the plot point being discussed was difficult to discern or of illimport, it means that the reviewer was not paying attention.

I don't read reviews to hear about Show'N'Tell. I want to hear intellectually stimulating commentary about a show, that even at its most cliched can still be described as the smartest show on its day. Hell, #13 gave way more insightful commentary than the actual reviewer, and #13 doesn't get paid for this!

And to those that described this as a great review, especially relative to the previous reviewer, know that just because you agree with what someone says doesn't mean that it was well written. Yes, the show sucked and "gigs" can be fun, but it's okay to expect more from a review than just that.

To the reviewer, try harder. Watch the show a few times. Take notes, and try to be objective. If all you can do while watching the show is rave about how stupid or silly or hot you think something/one is, then you're probably not going to be able to provide the sort of constructive critique that readers should be expecting. And while you're at it, pull out all the creepiness all together, as you stated, just self-referencing your faults don't excuse them.

February 02 2007 at 1:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

last night's show was absolutely the last for me. how can a show with such promise and a great cast end up so lame? i keep feeling i'm watching ER set in a TV studio. after cliched cheating plots, getting stranded on a roof, cell phones that don't work, and a lost snake, i expect a bomb to go off next episode during the dress rehearsal. i stopped watching West Wing after the episode when folks somehow missed the campaign bus in the midwest. i stopped watch 60 when Amanda Peet couldn't make the awards dinner. too much ridiculous-ness.

January 31 2007 at 7:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Somehow I had a lotta laughin with this episode, here's the reason:

1: Stuck on the roof, classic! the first thought I had was they gonna sit down, cuddle on the couch they had up there (did you notice all the chair they had on a fricking roof, where no cellphone service doesnt work!!)

2: the snakes! I hate snake! Why would a professional snake handler let a snake escape by such a silly air vent!

3: Lucy Davis is hot! that scence where she kissed Tom is priceless!

January 31 2007 at 1:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I REALLY want to like this show. I'm trying really hard!!

This week, I DVR'd 60 and watched Dirt live. When I started watching 60 I ended up deleting it about half way through. So sad. I just don't care about any of these characters.

January 31 2007 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Thomas

Show was awful. Seeing part 1 of 3 on the guide made my wife and I decide that it was the end of watching this show. i detailed a number of problems over on firejeffzucker but in the end its the fact that I don't think anyone in the country would fall in love with either of the two female leads. Ugh. And I'm not talking looks, they're just annoying and stupid which makes them unattractive.

January 31 2007 at 8:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This has been the show I love to hate, but I was just bored by last night's episode. Instead of being Sorkin's usual "brilliantly bad," it was just hacky bad.

Plus, why do we need the words "to be continued" at the end of this very special episode when every single episode seems to run together? I also find it very annoying that Sorkin's characters tediously remind us of every single plot point week-after-tedious-week, as if we are idiots.

And am I the only one who thinks that Danny and Matt are truly, deeply, madly in love with each other? Forget the other, fake couplings. Danny and Matt are the show's romantic core.

January 30 2007 at 6:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As soon as they walked out on the roof I knew they were going to get locked out and I knew Tom was going to get caught. However the fact that I was predicting every plot twist made me laugh. Maybe if you didnt overanalize the show you would find it more enjoyable.

The good points were the snake/ferrit/coyote story, the cell phone gets more features yet the signals are getting worse comment, and Kim's dress (similar age as her so dont call me an old creep).

January 30 2007 at 4:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
C. Hernandez

I'll agree with you on most of this, but I laughed like crazy during the scenes with Jack and Tom.

January 30 2007 at 2:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey! I'm pretty sure the snowboarder kid with awful hair said that 5858 is the address of George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch up in Northern California. :) Hope that helps and that I'm not the 50th person to post that. I'm at work and don't have time to read all the comments...

January 30 2007 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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