Aaron Sorkin…the creator of the criminally-underappreciated Sports Night and the acclaimed The West Wing… is a man with an ear for clever dialogue, a knack for developing interesting characters who interact in sometimes mundane situations, and decidedly liberal political point of view. All of these things are showcased in the pilot episode of his new NBC series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
The dialogue in Studio 60…which is set behind-the-scenes of a Saturday Night Live type show… is, almost as a matter of course with Sorkin’s work (which also includes the scripts for the movies A Few Good Men and The American President), whip-smart and intricately paced and the cast is stellar.
Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford (Josh from The West Wing) are the leads (though they don’t show onscreen until almost 20 minutes into the pilot) with Perry playing a slightly ditzy writer and Whitford playing his more stable (relatively speaking) director friend. The chemistry between the two is, at first blush, quite effective and both actors are in fine form. Amanda Peet brings sparkling and impish wit to her role as the newly-hired president of the network (NBS – the National Broadcasting System) and Steven Weber (probably best known for his role in the old sitcom Wings) has the thankless task of being a priggish network executive.
The rest of the main cast…including D.L. Hughley, Sarah Paulson, and Nathan Corddry as the lead stars in the show-within-a-show and Timothy Busfield as the director of the show…are sketched out a bit in the pilot but, with such a large ensemble, it will take a while to get a handle on all of the characters.
Sorkin, as I said before, has an unabashed point of view (and, apparently, a chip on his shoulder) and his script doesn’t shy away from lambasting President Bush’s intelligence or from flat out calling Pat Robertson a bigot. Guest star Judd Hirsch, playing the executive producer of the show, is given a fiery monologue cribbed straight from Paddy Chayefsky’s “I’m mad as hell” rant from Sidney Lumet’s classic 70’s movie Network (a fact duly noted in the script) that rips on network television (including, in a cheeky “biting the hand that feeds you” riff, taking potshots at NBC offerings such as The Apprentice and Fear Factor) with special venom.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, judging by this introductory episode, has the potential to be a challenging, entertaining, wickedly subversive show…presuming it finds enough of an audience (one of those deplorable network practices is the fact that good shows are often not allowed the time it takes to find an audience) to reach that potential.
NBC released DVDs of the pilot through Netflix (which is how I saw it, of course), which is an interesting way of promoting the new show. (The DVD also included the pilot of Kidnapped, a mildy-interesting crime serial, and 5-minute previews of Heroes and Friday Night Lights.)