Sunday, September 10, 2006

Studio 60 vs. 30 Rock

I've been intrigued by two upcoming NBC series, the Aaron Sorkin drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Tina Fey's sitcom 30 Rock, both of which start with an identical premise: the backstage shenanigans at a Saturday Night Live–like show. So I managed to get my mitts on screeners of the pilots and proceeded to spend some quality time in front of the tube.

Let's get one thing out of the way: Tina Fey is one of the most overrated people in television. During her reign as head writer on SNL, she brought the show right back to the dark days of the 1980s. She's not half as sharp as she thinks she is, as illustrated by the half-baked Mean Girls (Heathers is vastly superior on all counts). Now it looks as if 30 Rock (which starts in October) will bring the day of reckoning. Granted, what I saw is not what's going to air, since it was reshot with Jane Krakowski replacing Rachel Dratch as the star of The Girlie Show, the show within 30 Rock.You can howl til you're blue in the face about how the network traded idiosyncratic indie-type Dratch for a more beautiful woman, but Dratch was woefully out of her depth and Krakowski actually is a versatile comedienne. Fey is another matter: She gave herself a prominent role in the series, in addition to writing it, and her limitations are already showing. It's highly unlikely she has what it takes to write a satire of the kind of show she herself used to do, so 30 Rock is probably going to turn into a benign workplace comedy similar to Newsradio. We're two months away from Thanksgiving but the turkey's already landed.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip also suffers from dead weight at the middle, namely the wooden Matthew Perry and the wet blanket known as Amanda Peet. The latter is meant to play a wunderkind network prez but alas she emits all the steely charisma of frozen haddock, and in some weirdly lit scenes her prominent, blindingly white central incisors kept reminding me of Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu.

That said, the episode I saw is well written and oddly gripping, especially Judd Hirsch's impassioned hijacking of a live broadcast—followed by reviews calling it a Network-like incident, a comparison you should expect to see in every actual write-up of the show as Sorkin cleverly feeds critics the image of himself as a modern-day Paddy Chayefsky. Sarah Paulson, aka Mrs Cherry Jones, is promiding in the part—apparently inspired by Kristin Chenoweth—of a Christian with decent social views. I don't have any pre-conceived opinion about Sorkin, having successfully managed to never see more than two minutes of The West Wing, but Studio 60 (starting mid-September) shows a bit of promise, especially if it explores base compromises in network television and the inanity of live sketch comedy. But considering that abortion still isn't an option on American television, I doubt Studio 60 will have genuine fangs (unlike Amanda Peet), limiting itself to the usual biteless bark about the media blah blah blah.


Debbie Downer said...

But am I wrong, or did "NewsRadio" do well? Wasnt that the one with Phil Hartman? Didnt it last several seasons? I am just wondering why you would compare 30 Rock to a show that was successful and then call it a "turkey"?? (unless I am wrong or I'm thinking of another show).

I enjoy reading all the different reviews of the pilot (though now sans Rachel), so thanks! :)

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Phil Hartman indeed was in the early seasons of Newsradio (which also starred the estimable Maura Tierney, Dave Foley and Vicki Lewis–oh, and Andy Dick) and yes that show was reasonably successful, hanging around for five seasons. But it was deadly dull, an amiable workplace comedy with no bite. Comparing 30 Rock to Newsradio feels valid to me because they both take place in the NY media world and neither is/was very sharp. Of course 30 Rock may very well go on to a long life, but that in itself wouldn't make it a successful show in my book.

Anonymous said...

I humbly disagree about NewsRadio, which I think was one of the best acted and best written sitcoms of the last 20 years. Hardly "dull" -- the show regularly went in genuinely weird, unpredictable directions, almost to the point of absurdism. Alas, the NBS brass never decided on a time slot for it, but the show holds up surprisingly well in reruns.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

It's true that compared to other workplace sitcoms of the ’90s such as Suddenly Susan, Just Shoot Me or Caroline in the City, Newsradio was a work of genius. But I still think its great cast was underused; I guess I'm frustrated by how much better it could have been.

Anonymous said...

OMG, you just called Newsradio a "benign workplace comedy"?????? Have you watched Newsradio ever? I am hoping that it's a foggy recollection that is making you say that. I think 30 Rock will sink, but nowhere in that cast do I see even a sparkle of brilliance. Newsradio had DAVE Foley, PHIL Hartman, ANDY Dick, and Jimmy James himself STEPHEN Root!!!!! When Andy Dick is the throw away joke guy, you know that you are flooded with talent. There are so many poorly realized shows that really did/do suck that I am simply stunned that you picked a show that really was/is funny. Hey but you are right Amanda Peet has teeth only "Wilbur" could love.

Late Night Geek said...
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Late Night Geek said...

Hey - we are all entitled to our opinions, but I can't imagine reading a review with which I disagree more.

Krakowski was awful, Fey was good. How you can even talk about 30 Rock without mentioning Tracey Morgan or Alec Baldwin is beyond me, considering they are what makes the show worth watching.

The Mean Girls vs. Heathers comparison is the biggest straw man since Ray Bolger.

Newsradio was a huge network success - although by your writing style, I assume you were in college when that show was in it's heyday. 

The Sara Paulson character on Studio 60 is so implausible; it runs second only to Judd Hirsch’s absurd, hackneyed and trite monologue on the evils of TV. All in all, S60 is a far inferior show to 30 rock, and way less realistic.

I’d like to point out that I think you are a good writer and probably a stellar person...I just respectfully disagree and for some reason felt like writing the above between my sandwich and my meeting. No offense, just stirring the proverbial pot.
6:04 PM

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Hey that's cool, consider the pot stirred. I had no idea the post that'd get the most comments would be about TV shows...