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It’s True Spirituality, Live at “Studio 60″

posted by Douglas Howe

After three weeks, here’s my spin on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:” It’s about redemption. And it’s awesome.

Aaron Sorkin has long been successful in creating compelling and entertaining investigations into the humanity of characters who inhabit noble roles. “A Few Good Men,” “The American President,” and “The West Wing” all took us to the core of those whose titles we recognize but whose honest quests are new to us. He’s long been a student–and revealer–of the human qualities essential to an authentic spiritual awareness. “Studio 60″ offers more of the same.

The heroes are human, and humble. Matthew Perry’s Matt Albie is a former writer at “Studio 60,” a fictional “SNL”-like comedy show, who got fired. Bradley Whitford’s Danny Tripp is a recovering cocaine addict who can’t get bonded to produce the movie he’s been offered, so he and Matt take the reigns of “Studio 60,” from which they were fired four years earlier. Amanda Peet’s Jordan McDeere is the rookie network president whose very hiring caused the company stock to drop and whose naïve but idealistic ideas may lead to a short tenure. Steven Weber’s Jack Randolph is the network chairman charged with the success of not just the show, but the whole network.

Sarah Paulson’s Harriet Hayes, one of the actors on the show-within-the-show, speaks for evangelical Christians but is clearly not the cheesy-cleany bore that tends to be the stereotype. She’s also going through a breakup with Matt Albie and will now be working for him. Harriet is the first contemporarily saavy Christian character on a network show in a long time, made believable and human through the lame questions people ask about her faith and the fact she’s going through a break-up with all the pain that brings to anyone.

By the time we get to Episode 3, which aired last night, redemption has established itself as a main theme of the show. Jordan’s job is in jeopardy because a prior drunk-driving arrest and divorce make headlines. Matt bets $10,000 to give an actress confidence after she flat-lined in a focus group. Danny goes to blows with Matt as a means of convincing him that their firing from the show four years earlier won’t happen again. Hard-head Jack is the first to congratulate Jordan for her success. The characters often say “don’t worry about it,” but they step over each other to worry for each other.

And, in her first “sermon,” Harriet effectively pleads with Matt (her ex) to cut a funny skit that she questions for moral reasons. “It’s a funny joke, but not a good joke,” she says of the bit, which mocks a small-town high school. “The average income there is $18,000 a year, roughly what I’ll be paid to perform this show tonight. Why are we making fun of them? ‘Crazy Christians,’ ‘Science Schmience,’ ‘Bush and the Republicans’ [skits the show aired that mock conservative and Christian values] are all fair game; it’s hypocrisy and power. These guys are just trying to raise their kids.”

In last week’s episode, we saw Harriet and some of the other actors engage in a pre-show prayer, in which they invoked Jesus and asked for success. This week, we see Matt, Danny, and some others offering hugs and a huddle, which looks a lot like a pre-game prayer but leaves room for it to be, well, just a group hug. For artists, there’s nothing quite as redeeming as applause, or a good focus group, or compliments, or just one compliment from someone we trust or love. Sometimes, approbation from just anyone with breath and a pulse will do. This time, though, the show ends with all of the above: applause and laughter, hugs and high fives, and a 109% retention rate.

As in “The West Wing,” Sorkin often sends his clearest message through an episode’s closing song. In this case it’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” which gets right to the core of conditional love that is our media culture. For Matt, Danny, Jordan, and their team, they’re all loved and safe… until next week’s show.



  • http://sylvia Sylvia Meltzer

    Thought I would have trouble not seeing Chandler Bing and Josh Lymon, but I don’t see them because Matthew & Bradford are both wonderful actors. “LOVE THE SHOW”

  • http://HASH(0xfd96378) mightymountaingorilla

    Well, I like the themes of the show without being particularly fond of it. Yes, it offers a somewhat evenhanded approach to Christians–it portrays some of the downsides of the overly faithful today in America (with the rampant unacceptace of basic scientific principles) and also some of the upsides (caring about and respecting small town ppl who don’t deserve to be ridiculed on national scale). Does this make for compelling TV? Eh. I guess. It’s a well-written show, but at the same time, I’m always aware that I am watching a show. The dialogue is so…so intricately complex and fanciful that you watch the screen and think…hey look! What a funny, witty line delivered by Matthew Perry! It just feels so extravagantly done, pre-planned, and overcooked. Let’s just say that subtlety is not the bedrock of this show. I give this show a “B-” because of these reasons. It is funny and intelligent, but at the same time, the over acted, over scripted, and overstated nature of this show turns me off.

  • http://HASH(0xfd97908) Jill

    Im watching but I am also waiting…I remember Sorkin used to give Ainsley’s(token smart republican)character some pretty great lines, but she rarely had any large parts. This Christian character has real promise as a central character, but lets see if he can keep writing her in as smart when some tough issues come up like, “Who’s going to heaven?” and the problems with the Theory of Evolution. If they can be even handed with that, then I will be impressed. One of the previous writers comments on the stilted, strained dialogue, but we watched NYPD Blue for years with the same issue and we get beyond it if the story is good, lets hope it stays good.

  • http://HASH(0xfd97d20) Leslie

    Recently, I heard someone say that when it comes to religion, the press has two categories: Fundamentalist whackos New Age whackos There are so may ways of expressing one’s Christianity that are overlooked–for instance, I am a Christian who is politically liberal and far more concerned with the social gospel and contemplative gospel than I am with questions of who goes to heaven (as if anyone really knows). Hopefully, Aaron Sorkin, the master of teasing out subtle distinctions will give us a refreshing look at the many faces of Christianity

  • Kay Klerer

    Finally we have an adult show with adult dialogue. Mathew Perry has proven that he has another dimension to “Chandler Bing” and Bradley Whitford balances the “couple” perfectly. I also Love the Show. Unfortunately, rumour has it that it will not be on next season. What a pity!

  • Craigslist Oakland

    I love this show Matthew and Bradford are both wonderful actors. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this post.I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well.
    Craigslist Oakland

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