Any fan of any decade of "Saturday Night Live" should immediately be able to imagine a thousand possibilities for a show like this. A thousand possible story lines drugs, addiction, rock and roll, lip-syncing, ad-libs, difficult divas, competition for stage time, backstage brawls, plagiarism, sabotage, romance, flings, sex, network politics, censorship, rising stars, fading stars, unexpected disease and tragic death.
Creator Aaron Sorkin treats the world of entertainment just as seriously as he did the world of politics in "The West Wing." He's brought in the same level of acting, the same level of writing, the same level of direction and cinematography and the same level of for lack of a better word gravitas
and brought it all to bear in a younger, grittier, hipper setting.
Within the first few minutes of the pilot, you can tell what an impressive job they've done in recreating an SNL-type aura. The stage, the lights, the announcer's voice, the moving set pieces, the audience bleachers, the show's logo, the token black cast member everything is captured perfectly.
Better yet, "Studio 60" isn't afraid to attack its inspiration. You see, "Studio 60", just like the real "SNL," currently sucks. It's been in decline since losing its top writer and director four years ago and now merely limps along, making predictable George W. Bush jokes and relying on its own fame to keep it on the air. The Lorne Michaels-type producer, played masterfully by Judd Hirsch, makes an occasional attempt to get something controversial on the air, but is repeatedly shot down by the network censor.
On this particular night, however, he loses it and launches into a fiery tirade on live television about the loss of quality and integrity at the networks and in America in general. This gets him fired and puts the future of the show in jeopardy. Enter the excellent Amanda Peet as the new head of programming, Jordan, on her first day at the job. You can see a confident playfulness in her eyes as she goes toe-to-toe with the network president (played by Steven Weber from "Wings" as a ruthless, unemotional yet intelligent shark) but also slight vulnerability such as when she can't find her new office. She's extremely appealing a fast-talking, idea-slinging new sheriff in a corporate creative town full of pathetic yes-men and tired unoriginality. Like Martin Sheen as the president on "The West Wing," you can't wait to see what she'll manage to accomplish with her fresh perspective.
Her first bold plan is to counteract the negative publicity currently circulating around "Studio 60" by wooing back the show's original writer and director, Matt and Danny played respectively by Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford. They've grown famous and successful since leaving "Studio 60," but aren't without leftover issues. Matt's just broken up with his girlfriend, who happens to be one of the top three stars of "Studio 60," while Danny is still fighting a cocaine addiction and hiding it from his partner.
So, how does Perry handle the transition from situation comedy to serious drama? Fine. It does help that this serious drama happens to be about a comedy show and Perry happens to be playing a funny writer. But he's not just playing Chandler either. There's more weight to this role. His character's obviously carrying a lot of baggage around, stuff that is hinted at in the pilot but not revealed
yet he has to set that aside temporarily to watch over his best friend, who might actually be more troubled than he is. Perry still does the nervous wise-cracking thing he did on "Friends," but here it comes across as more authentic of who his character is a neurotic Hollywood writer but, at the same time, only one dimension of a very three-dimensional person.
Already, I'm dying to see the next episode. What will Matt and Danny, built up as such incredible talents in the pilot, do to energize the lagging show? How will Matt get along with his ex-girlfriend when they have to work together practically 24/7? Will Danny relapse to cocaine under the pressures of directing a live broadcast every week? How will the network react when Matt and Danny, with Jordan's permission, air the controversial sketch that got Judd Hirsch fired? On the very first spot of their very first show? Plus, why did Matt and Danny get fired in the first place? And who really fired them the network president or their hero, the Judd Hirsch producer? What are the stories of the other cast members, such as D.L. Hughley and the D.J. Qualls look-alike? Which one's going to be the diva? Which one's going to leave the show to be a movie star? Which one will die from a drug overdose? Not to mention the potential for guest star "hosts." Guest stars playing themselves not for cheap laughs, but in honest-to-goodness dramatic situations. The pilot has Felicity Huffman worrying about what dress to wear for her monologue
and fretting about the crappy nature of the monologue itself. The possibilities are endless here as well.
My only concern with "Studio 60" is whether or not it can be funny. It's definitely smart, witty and fascinating, but if it's going to be about a comedy show, it'd better have some actual comedy in it. The only sketches shown in the pilot are intentionally bad (the show's supposed to suck, remember?), but I do hope we'll get to see glimpses of classic SNL brilliance via this fictionalized homage to it.
After watching the pilot, though, I'm pretty confident "Studio 60" can do whatever the hell it pleases. It seems very sure of itself and I can't wait to see what it has in store for a full season.