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“Studio 60″ & the Not-So-Crazy Christian

posted by kris rasmussen

Sure, we’re happy to see Matthew Perry return to television, especially alongside those enjoyable “West Wing” folks like Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield. But the biggest reason many of us will be tuning in tonight to the premiere of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”–NBC’s new behind-the-scenes look at a fictional late-night sketch show–will be the man who puts the words in their mouths: writer/producer Aaron Sorkin. And I am happy to say that tonight’s premiere of “Studio 60″ provides Sorkin aficionados with great acting, lush sets, and the joyous return of “walk and talks”–witty banter matched with long tracking shots that are typical of the storytelling style Sorkin and his directing partner Tommy Schlamme have perfected.

Tonight’s pilot episode (10.00 p.m., NBC) finds the “Saturday Night Live”-style comedy sketch show “Studio 60″ in more than a bit of trouble this particular Friday night. The fictional NBS network’s standards and practices rep is pulling the plug on the intended opening sketch, intriguingly titled “Crazy Christians.” This leads to an on-air “Network“-inspired tirade by the show’s producer, which, of course, gets him fired and leads to major national news coverage. In an effort at damage control, the new network president, Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), tracks down the famous writing/producing duo of Matt Albie and Dannie Tripp (Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford) to offer them a chance to return to “Studio 60″ after being fired from the show a few years before.

But just as Sorkin’s “Sports Night” was not simply about a sports broadcasting team, and “The West Wing” was not only about people working in the White House, “Studio 60″ is about much more than the cast of a floundering comedy show. Whether it’s references to Pat Robertson as a bigot or psycho-religious cults who thrive on boycotts, Sorkin is clearly taking some thought-provoking shots at the cultural and spiritual divide in America. But he’s doing it with the help of a Christian.

That’s right: Imagine my surprise when I found out that “Studio 60″ has, at the center of its cast, a character who is clever, funny–and just happens to be a devout Christian without being completely annoying, as so many TV Christians are. Harriet, a longtime cast member and ex-girlfriend of Matt Albie, is a thinly-veiled homage of some kind to Sorkin’ s ex-girlfriend, Kristin Chenoweth, a Christian who became a Broadway star and was also a “West Wing” regular in its last season. But that doesn’t dampen my excitement over the possibility of a primetime show portraying a Christian without resorting to stereotypes. A perfect example of this is when Harriet defends the “Crazy Christian” sketch, while the less-tolerant Albie confesses that he let Harriet’s appearance on Robertson’s “The 700 Club” become justification for ending their tumultuous relationship.

All indications point to Harriet’s faith continuing to play a significant part in future episodes of the show. And while I am not convinced that Harriet will continue to serve as an accurate mouthpiece for us moderate evangelical types, I am looking forward to the spirited–and spiritual–discussions “Studio 60″ is going to generate around watercoolers everywhere this season.



  • Paula

    Ok, I’m hooked. I loved the matter of fact way the whole failed drug test was handled – the effect that failing had on the characters’ dreams, the regret, the immediate return to sobriety, all without a lot of unnecessary emotionalism. I loved the facing down the Christian character gave the drunk rude guy. I loved the whole boycott thing, and the description of the 700 club – ‘add costume, they’re the KKK’. Yep, a keeper.>

  • http://BenjaminDane.com Benjamin Dane

    It is encouraging to know someone is writing positive Christian characters in the marketplace… we know they exist. In reality they may sometime be flawed but are often positive people who are committed to their faith. Unfortunately, we also know that Christians are usually portrayed as hypercritical or hate-mongers. It will be interesting to see where Mr. Sorkin takes the character…. I will be watching!>

  • Anonymous

    This is the same kind of thing Sorkin did on the West Wing. On that show President Bartlett was a devout Christian who struggled with the daily realities of living his faith as much as he struggled with political turmoil. Go watch the West Wing episode “The Two Cathedrals” for some of the deepest theology ever presented in any mass media.>

  • Judy Phelps

    “Jesus must have been funny to get so many people to listen to him”. So true, so funny. I love Jesus. I love Studio 60>

  • Not a Christian

    All your comments sound super. However will you all still sing the praises of the program if some well-founded criticism comes your faith’s way? Got to say that previous evidence suggests that intolerance of other views and a desire to inflict your views on the rest of us will surface again. I’d like to be proved wrong, but do have history on my side.>

  • http://childoftelevision.blogspot.com Tony Figueroa

    I have to ask those who are accusing the show as being Anti-Christen to count all the Christian characters you see on TV. Then with your other hand count how many Christian characters are presented in a positive light on TV. My hope is that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip becomes the next great water cooler show. Unlike other water cooler shows where people just talk about what the characters did, here we can shift topic of conversation to the issues discussed on the show. This show could be bigger than The West Wing, if Aaron Sorkin is kept in charge and left alone to do his job.>

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