Features, Film and TV, Review/Preview

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: A Retrospective

About once a year something comes around, something that is more annoying than Winter/Summer, delete as applicable if you’re a goth or emo, this something fills me with despair and to an extent upset: The “10 TV Show That Shouldn’t Have Been Cancelled” list that every “culture” website seems to wheel out like the good crockery at Christmas.

The thing with these lists is that whilst at heart they come from a good place they’re mostly just telling people what they don’t have any-more, it’s almost like the obituaries section of the Oscars, you’re reminded of some awesome talent that has taken a disliking to breathing. Whilst it’s wholly inappropriate for me, the self opinionated nerd I am, to start ragging on “rival” sites for these pieces, I also find myself drawn to the article topic myself like a moth to an inferno.

The list articles often recount of stories of old, like those of Freaks and Geeks; a series that launched Seth Rogen and James Franco into the limelight. A stalwart of these list pieces is always Firefly; a series that I came to late due to not having cable TV at university and only really finding out about the series when Serenity came out. I would love to see Firefly come back in one form or another, I personally thought the film nailed it, but there’s one series that I know will never be brought back and in my mind won’t be replicated to the same degree ever again. As the title of this piece suggests it’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Studio 60 was an NBC comedy/drama about the backstage goings on of the cast and crew of a Saturday Night Live style sketch comedy programme. The show within a show was created by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing and the, by all accounts, amazing Newsroom.

Studio 60 follows the story of Matt and Danny, two executive producers that after leaving the show for 4 years earlier are, through a series of odd coincidences, return to the set to take over things. Matt had an on off relationship with the leading female star of Studio 60 and Danny is a relapsed drug addict with potentially no career. Each character has back stories that unfold throughout the series but all in all it’s done with subtlety. The series, like all of Sorkin’s work, is political at its heart, it sometimes will smash you in the head with anti-republican agenda but on the most part it’s done for the aid of a characters.

Often you can describe a show as great because of the writing and the acting, the two go hand in hand for obvious reasons, but every so often you will see a program, like Studio 60 where the actors and the script are one in the same, every character is played by the perfect actor. I often praise Waking the Dead, a relatively procedural crime drama from the BBC, the script is a piece of perfection, the stories are not, but when the top class actors get hold of the script and act it out the programme feels real, from the nuances of an inflection of a word to the characters repeatedly talking over each other in the same way rude, or enthusiastic, people do in real life.

Studio 60 has a similar effect with it’s comedy, some of the funniest moments in the series were not huge set ups to punch lines, they were throw away quips, the kind that if people were slightly quicker and more intelligent could pull out of the air in the real world. And to me that’s what made this series special, the main cast of Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet and Stephen Weber all produce characters that are not just one sided. You don’t have to put up with “this is the funny guy” or “this is the bad guy”, everyone has real motivations and real reactions to situations.

Obviously this is a drama so a lot of stories are quite extraordinary, but at its core it feels like a true telling on what the world is like on a weekly comedy show. Episodes of particular note include “The Disaster Show” where the main Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford’s, as the main characters, are absent from the entire episode. The show within a show is being held together by Cal , the Studio 60′s director. The episode is full of true comedy but also allows some of the secondary cast to take a step forward and show of what is some amazing talent.

The final 4 episodes are all one continuous story mainly revolving around flashbacks set to the background of the Iraq War, as well as these flashbacks many of the characters get their own story lines that are all heartbreaking and amazing in their own right. I’m not ashamed to admit that the ending of one episode in particular got to me and really knocked me for six.

I’ve tried to write this piece without it sounding like an eulogy for a programme I like but that’s essentially what it is because Studio 60 only got one series. Many have said because the series was launched with such hype behind it that it didn’t stand a chance, personally I think having a show like this on NBC was a huge mistake, HBO or a similar “higher brow” network could have run the show for a few series. All in all however there is one thing that fans of the show should be grateful for, and that is that it made it to the end of the series, it’s one thing to be cancelled but it’s quite another for a show to be cancelled mid-season, like the aforementioned Firefly. Often I wont bother getting into a series if it’s been cancelled too early on, I’ve been stung by this many times and been greatly upset not to get a conclusion. Studio 60 however was able to see out season one and wrap up the vast majority of story lines. One or two story lines are dropped mid-season like a story about an FCC complaint about swearing on a network news broadcast, something that I would have hoped would have been continued if a second series got made, as it is however we are left with 22 episodes that are perfectly acceptable as a stand alone piece of work, and one that has made me desperately want to watch everything Aaron Sorkin has laid his god like hands on.

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Ruaidhri

Big-Boss of PixelBedlam.co.uk
Ruaidhri has been writing for a number of sites over the past few years, spewing his vitriol and love in equal measures on all topics from Video Games to Film and Board Games to Geek Culture. He started PixelBedlam in September of 2012. Follow him on Twitter!

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