I’ve written here before that Harriet Hayes, the evangelical Christian character on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” is a credible Christian character. It’s a claim I’ve defended to evangelical viewers who think she’s just an excuse for writer Aaron Sorkin to say that he’s presented a balanced view of American Christianity–so he can otherwise focus on the crazy Christians oft-mentioned in the show.
Well, last night’s episode scored a point for the Harriet-is-an-evangelical-fraud crowd. As Harriet was being grilled by a reporter, Martha, on what lines she’d cross for the sake of entertainment, we heard this exchange:
Martha: Would you have a problem doing a sketch about premarital sex?
Harriet: I don’t have a problem having premarital sex! It might be the only sex I ever have.
Premarital sex is verboten among evangelicals, so there’s definitely a problem with this characterization of Harriet. It’s not that evangelicals never have premarital sex; it’s that they wouldn’t be so flippant about it. Harriet does acknowledge that she’s hit taboo territory (“I just gave you your pull quote,” she admits to Martha), but her tone does not seem equal to what evangelicals generally believe about sex before marriage.
I’m tempted here to evaulate the rest of the conversation between Harriet and Martha, which was largely about Harriet’s faith and which was largely true to the form of evangelical culture and belief. But I’d rather leave it alone–after all, I’m mostly hoping that Sorkin creates a credible character, not a credible type. Five episodes in, it’s too early to tell for sure whether Harriet will be credible as either.
In any event, the key moment in last night’s episode came not during the Harriet-Martha exchange, but during the Harriet-Matt exchange, which took place on the balcony outside Matt’s office as Sting performed “Fields of Gold” on the stage below. It was tender and affecting, and I realized that this love story really is the show’s singular stroke of genius (five episodes in): In 2006, no lovers could be more star-crossed than those living on opposite sides of our cultural divide.
“Studio 60” might be a “Romeo and Juliet” for an America divided into Red and Blue states. Especially in Sorkinland, where political affiliations are one’s deepest and most significant commitments, it’s remarkable to imagine a romantic bridge across America’s political-cultural gulf.
Reading the story this way reminds us that Red-Blue America has become the stuff of myth. Like all myths, Red-Blue America is more useful as an explanation of ideology than of reality: It gets the broad strokes right but can’t acccount for details. And like all myths, Red-Blue America is tough to overcome, which is why we need fiction to do it for us.
So I’ll be cheering for Harriet and Matt. And hoping they don’t come to a Shakespearean demise.