As the end of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip‘s first season began to draw near, it was increasingly clear to Aaron Sorkin that NBC wasn’t going to renew the series for a second season. When it pushed Studio 60 from its regular slot to air the pilot of the even shorter-lived (but still intriguing from what I watched) The Black Donnelly‘s, Aaron Sorkin knew he was going to be lucky if NBC even let him air the rest of the episode’s they’d already produced. While he was able to air the entire first season, you can til from the writing of these last several episodes (I only have two left after this) of Studio 60 that Aaron Sorkin was incorporating his own frustrations with the network into his own failing program. Taking quite a number of last-minute shots at their way our nation’s networks are ran, Aaron Sorkin’s political voice has only grown louder as the show is in its death spiral. Though rather than going out in a blaze of self-righteous fire, Sorkin decided to really up the dramatic content of the series by introducing two unexpected but very satisfying stories as well as a three episode story arc that I’ve only been able to watch two of (because the third is on the final disc) that contains what is easily the series’ strongest storytelling to date. The show may have finally realized its over, but these last episodes are the show better than it has ever been.

The disc begins with a fairly straight forward (if still unique) episode where the prop-masters union has walked out minutes before the airing of the current episode, and the crew is in the midst of a “disaster show” where essentially everything that can possibly go wrong does. The episode’s most notable feature is the complete lack of Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford, and Matthew Perry, who spend the entire episode off screen. For a show to be facing ratings problems like this and to keep its starts out of an episode entirely is a ballsy move. However, the next three episodes all follow an essentially coherent and continuous story that takes place almost over a relatively short period of time. After an entire episode where Simon and Harriett are concerned because neither Tom nor Tom’s parents have heard from Tom’s brother, an Air Force engineer working some of the most dangerous jobs in Afghanistan. It turns out that Tom’s brother has been kidnapped by the Taliban (along with two other soldiers) and they will execute them unless the Army meets their demands (which the Army would never consider. Jordan has become worried that she hasn’t heard her baby kick all day. As Danny is rushing her to the hospital, everyone hears the news concerning Tom’s brother. At the hospital, they discover that the baby’s umbilical cord is choking the baby to death and they have to do an emergency delivery several weeks before her normal due date. Before she gives birth to the baby, Danny proposes to Jordan who accepts. Even after she successfully delivers the baby (via C-Section), there are still health complications as Jordan can’t stop bleeding internally after the surgery. As Jack and Matt scramble to try and contact a group that specializes in kidnapping and ransoms to try and rescue Tom’s brother, the disc ends with much uncertainty and I really want to know how this all ends.

Nathan Corrdry (who plays Tom Jeter) is really one of the unsung heroes of this cast. Week in and week out he has the fairly thankless part of the third wheel of the main cast, but he’s handled all of the material thrown his way with serious grace. When he was arrested back in the “Nevada Day” episodes, those scenes between him and John Goodman where Goodman realized why he had the oustanding speeding ticket in the first place where some of the most emotionally powerful moments of the series, and the scenes when his parents came to visit him at the Studio 60 set really added some interesting depth to his character. His performances over the end of “Breaking News” and the two “K&R” episodes was his best of the series yet. He nailed all of the anger and frustration and grief when he discovered his brother had been kidnapped, and the scene where he first finds out had me in tears. D. L. Hughley had some really strong moments as well when he confronts the media and goes off on their shoddy reporting and how they’ve exploited this family’s tragedy for ratings. The series acting is always great, but for this four episode stretch it was at the highest of the entire show. It’s almost like everyone knew the show wasn’t getting picked back up and they were going to put everything they could into these last shows. My only real complaint was that Matt managed to come off as an even more insufferable prick than he is in the past. I get that he wants to educate Harriett and cure her of what he (and I) believe to be her ignorant, blind faith, but he’s condescending and aggressive about it that he just comes off as big of an asshole as the people he’s trying to fix.

 

I’ve really enjoyed the introductin of Kari Matchett to the cast as a lawyer investigating claims of sexual harassment against a former staff writer on the show. She brings a feisty intellectualism and strength to her flirtation with Matt that Harriett could never come close to providing. I really wish that the show had been around for more than one season so there could have been more time devoted to placing Matt with Matchett’s character because she is A) more attractive than Sarah Paulson and B ) just a more interesting character, even if I think the joyful way she exploits sexual harassment laws is despicable. All in all though, I’m sad that my time spent on Studio 60 is drawing to a close. I’ve got one episode left of the “K&R” arc and then the series finale. This was a great show but its liberal politics and exceedingly literate and intellectual writing kept it from finding the audience on network TV that it truly deserved. The next time that Aaron Sorkin wants to write a TV show, he should contact HBO. I truly believe there is a much greater audience for the sort of artistic and ambitious television he writes on the premium cable networks than there is on the brain-dead network stations.

Final Score: A

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