Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: What Kind of Day Has it Been (series finale)
What do you do? How do you really stick it to NBC?
Well, in the case of Aaron Sorkin, what you do is turn every single feel-good emotion up to about 31 out of 10, then end with the same goose-bumps inducing promise of the pilot. Sorkin, you magnificent bastard, you just hooked me all over again for a show that'll never have another episode produced!
Let's be honest up at the front: this was not a perfect episode. There was way too much convenient closure (especially with the Matt and Harriet relationship) and the "feel good" meter was so off the charts that it made Lady and the Tramp II: Scamps Adventure look like Leaving Las Vegas. But, responsibility as a reviewer aside, I really don't think that it's worth nitpicking those things. It's like whenever the oldest relative at a wedding gives a teary-eyed cliched filled speech: it's never perfectly written, but no one cares because they're too busy wiping their own tears aside and giving the speech a standing O.
That's how I feel about tonight's episode. A flawed, but fitting goodbye to a show that we will probably not see the likes of again for some time.
A couple of things about the show tonight:
1) So, Bradley Whitford's getting an Emmy, right? I'm throwing down the gauntlet right now for our commentators. Give me a performance from a male lead this year that was better than what Bradley Whitford has done with Danny Tripp.
Of all the major story lines that were running tonight (and I put the estimate conservatively at 23,000), the hospital story was the most compelling. As I've said in the past, it might be my own impending fatherhood, but I was moved by the power of Whitford's acting in those scenes.
As a side note to all doctors everywhere: only use the phrase "I need to talk to you" when something really bad is about to happen. Actually, as I think about it, that should be general advice to all humans. Every time I hear that phrase, my stomach drops and I'm expecting news of a brain tumor or that my wife has decided to leave me for a rodeo clown (and considering that she's married to a blogger, that'd be a step-up).
I think that Sorkin cheated a bit to have the act break be the doctor very seriously asking Danny to talk with him in the other room (I mean, the entire reason for it is to build false suspense), but I think it's a testament to the characters he's created that my wife spent the entire commercial break hitting me on the arm and screaming, "He can't kill Jordan! He just can't!" There was even a small dark part of me that was actually kind of hoping Jordan was dead just to see if my wife would have thrown the remote through the center of the TV set. Thankfully, though, it worked out for everybody.
2) Jack Rudolph -- the character I'm most sorry to see go. Not because I necessarily liked him more than the other characters (as it's been pointed out in the comments of late, I seem to have a mildly disturbing obsession with Timothy Busfield), but because the growth he showed in this episode felt compressed and rushed. It was still great to watch him come around on Simon's apology, but I really wish that we had a few seasons to spend with Jack to watch the interplay between his humanity and his network monomania.
3) Tom's brother. I still don't think that Captain Boyle was anything more than a slightly quirky jerk-face (seriously, of all the payoffs that happened in this episode, couldn't we have gotten some insight as to why this guy was selected as a grief counselor?), but aside from that, it was still a nice moment when Tom got the phone. Kudos to Nate Corddry for another fine performance.
4) Harriet and Matt. Wow. Okay. So... they got together. And, uh... well, I guess if I was going to nitpick (which I'm not), I'd say that of all the resolutions, this felt most rushed. Again, if I was going to nitpick, I'd also point out that it was just a few hours ago (in the show's timeline) that Matt was making kissy-faces at the super-high-I.Q. lawyer. Oh and one more thing: Matt was also, just a few hours ago, popping Flintstone Vitamin encrusted Percoset and that according to Danny he's due for a crazy depressive crash annnnnnnnnnnny second now.
But I'm not going to bring those things up because I'm not going to nitpick. Sure it was a little forced, but at least they wound up together. And besides, I really enjoyed them asking each of the cast members if they were okay with their relationship. It's one of those workplace family moments that Sorkin does so well and it worked for me, so we'll ignore all that other stuff.
5) Matt and Danny. God, their conversastion killed me at the end. "I love you too, brother." I'm a sucker for male-bonding stuff ("You can be my wingman anytime", "Apollo was like my son... I raised him... and when he died, a part of me died... but now you're the one...", "Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you," and so on and so on) so this was "dust-in-the-room" time for me.
A couple of notes about the series itself:
1) I've been thinking about this for a few weeks and I realize it's completely stupid, but hear me out on it: I think this show is Sorkin's Jackie Brown. Think about it. Both Tarantino and Sorkin are visionary writers who changed the landscape of the mediums they worked in and who both sort've shanked one on their third try. Sports Night was like Reservoir Dogs -- small, critically acclaimed, but largely cult endeavors. Then both of them hit huge with their sophomore efforts, Tarantino with Pulp Fiction and Sorkin with The West Wing. With two solid successes under their belts the buzz and hype for their third projects were off the charts. If you look at the negative criticism of Jackie Brown, you'll notice that a lot of the writers thought that Tarantino had become a parody of himself and that the crackling dialog that was so good in Pulp Fiction was rote and forced in Jackie Brown... just like the negative criticism that Sorkin has been getting with Studio 60.
One only hopes that Sorkin's fourth television outing will have Sarah Paulson back as an unnamed sketch star who systemically seeks revenge on all the stupid bloggers who wrote that her character was insufferable. Incidentally, I hope that my character gets played by Michael Madsen.
2) Speaking of Sarah Paulson, I think that we all owe her an apology. I mean, sure we hated Harriet (and by hate I mean we all wished her character would get stabbed like the host of Cheaters did a few years ago), but it was entirely unfair that some of that hate spilled out onto Sarah Paulson. She's a talented and beautiful woman who didn't deserve the bile we spewed at her week in and week out. I mean sure, the character that she played was one of the seven or eight worst written characters in the history of television, but it's not her fault that she was given so little to work with.
3) I read an article recently that used John from Cincinnati, The Sopranos finale, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip as examples of why network notes are not as bad as artistic types make them out to be. Essentially, the article said that the outrage and disappointment and befuddlement that these shows were met with prove that the network execs might be worth listening to as a way to satiate a fanbase.
And while I agree with the basic premise of the article, I can't help but admire what Milich and Chase and Sorkin have managed to do. They used their power and influence to bend one of the least malleable industries in the world to their will. Even if it was just for a brief window, they were able to use the billion-dollar apparatus of a network TV show to make their vision come to life. And though their shows are either over (Chase), critically panned and misunderstood (Milich) or burned off in the summer months when no one is watching (Sorkin), I think they proved without a doubt that a flawed masterpiece is a lot more interesting than a polished turd any day of the week.
We'll miss you Aaron, stay in touch.
In related news, According to Jim has been picked up for another season...
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