(Understanding this is me being intentionally facetious) On the best kinds of television programs, I can almost imagine that the series’ writers can hear mine (and other fans’) complaints in their heads well before fan feedback would actually be available. Whenever a series starts to take a step in the wrong direction, it has two options. It can continue down the wrong path and ruin the product forever and eventually tarnish your good memories of the program (Heroes I’m looking at you), or it can take quick steps to rectify the situation and find some way in-universe to apologize to the fans for leading them astray (Lost, you may have brought Nikki and Paolo into the world, but you sure did an awesome job of finally taking them out of it). Just last disc, I had expressed some concern about Studio 60‘s decision to introduce a romance between Danny and Jordan. It wasn’t necessarily the notion of a romantic subplot that I was annoyed by (because anything had to be better than Matt and Harriet); rather, it was the manner in which the story was told, especially in the way in which it turned Danny into a creepy and obsessive stalker. Well, almost as if Aaron Sorkin had access to a TARDIS (I get to watch more Doctor Who soon!) and had traveled five years into the future to listen to my criticisms of the series because lo and behold, almost all is right in the world of Studio 60 again and I now find myself invested in the love story between Danny and Jordan. Also, for once, the Matt and Harriett stuff isn’t completely insufferable either.
Last disc ended with Matt in a bidding war with who he believed to be his rival for Harriett’s affections, Luke, over a charity auction to take Harriett on a date to a dinner where she was being given an award. Since both Matt and his rival were bidding so high, Harriett decided to take both of them to the dinner, and of course, Matt finds out he wasn’t bidding against the director of Harriett’s new movie but instead a teenage snowboarding prodigy with an affinity for Star Wars. Over the course of the dinner (it’s a two-part episode), all of the fighting and anger that Matt and Harriett have been experiencing all season reaches new heights when Harriett officially informs Matt that she no longer wants anything to do with him outside of performing the sketches he writes. While all of this is going on, Jack Rudolph has Tom Jeter take the Chinese businessman’s daughter as his date to the dinner to convince her to stay in school and to help secure the businessman’s assistance with the fight against the FCC. However, it turns out the daughter is a bit of a floozy and a drunk though Jack’s honest and respectful handling of the situation finally wins the businessman to his side. Also, Danny and Jordan manage to get stuck together on a roof. After realizing that Danny wasn’t in love with her because he pitied her but because he honestly had feelings for her, Jordan admits her feelings for Danny and the two share a passionate kiss. The next episode is a flash-back to how Matt and Harriett met and a current self-destructive streak Matt is on because he needs Harriett in his life. The last involves a lawyer visiting the studio over sexual harassment allegations before Matt and Danny took over as well as Matt’s continued pining for Harriett and Harriett realizing she’s not as over Matt as she thinks.
Seriously, Studio 60. It amazes me that you were able to bounce back from the disturbing stalker behavior Danny was exhibiting last disc to the smoldering sexual tension that was on display during the rooftop scenes of both parts of “The Harriett Dinner.” Rather than displaying an incredibly one-sided and unhealthy romance, you took the time to have two successful and incredibly intelligent individuals square off and talk about love and attraction logically and with surprising maturity and candor. Also for the first time, I was actually able to buy any sort of romantic chemistry between Amanda Peet and Bradley Whitford. Those scenes contained every last bit of the sharp dialogue and hard-hitting conversations that are part of great Aaron Sorkin productions and they just make the previous episodes look incredibly unfortunate in comparison. Similarly, while it was certainly great to see Harriett stand up for herself for once (I hate her but sometimes Matt can still be an asshole with her), it was the moments between her and Luke as they were shooting their Rolling Stones biopic that really made me realize that even Matt and Harriett’s screwed up relationship had plenty of intelligence and wit (even if it mostly involves Matt regularly telling Harriett how dumb her beliefs are [they are dumb though]). Those moments in the flashback where they first met and Matt immediately started berating her beliefs in angels was a pretty classic moment for the series.
Pretty much everybody who watched Friends (on those rare occasions it was actually funny) knows that Matthew Perry was the most talented person in the cast. While he has certainly had plenty of opportunities on the series to show off that razor sharp wit and sardonic sense of humor that made Chandler the only likeable person in Friends‘ cast, he hasn’t had as much time to carry Studio 60 dramatically (a task normally left to Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, or Stephen Weber). However, in the flashback episode (which also takes place in the present about half the time), Matthew Perry had to hoist a particularly weighty story about drug abuse as well as his own quickly deteriorating mental state, and he pulled it off with aplomb. As Matt struggles with the loss of Harriett as well as how to succeed as a writer without the muse who brought him success in the first place, Matthew Perry is forced to walk a thin line between the Matt the show normally shows and the shattered shell he’s become. Matthew Perry makes it look easy.
After a brief stumble last time at bat, Studio 60 came back to form. I’m nearing the end of this under-appreciated gem (once I finish this, I will have reviewed everything my first and only official request page post asked for), and I’m glad I took the time out of my busy TV and movie (and at this moment Skyrim which I’ve put nearly 60 hours into over the last couple weeks) schedule to re-watch this series. It has its flaws. All shows that aren’t The Wire do (and even it had Season 5). However, at the end of the day, it remains one of the most intelligent and literate programs I’ve watched for this blog (not that it will have much competition for literary television until I start watching more artsy HBO programs. Six Feet Under may be coming soon). I did have one last note though that I nearly forgot to throw in. At one point, Matt is discussing how he was accused of plagiarism. When asked if he did steal the screenplay he replied something along the lines of, “No. If they had written my screenplay, they would have written my screenplay.” Hmmm…. Why does that sound familiar? Oh right, Aaron Sorkin used almost that exact same line in The Social Network. Tsk tsk Mr. Sorkin. You apparently need new material.
Final Score: A-