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Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip 1.06 - "The Wrap Party"

I do believe that Aaron Sorkin is an intellectual snob. The superiority of the learned is usually expounded via a smug rundown of one's academic credentials - something that characters on Sports Night, The West Wing and Studio 60 have all felt the need to do - but rarely is it as explicitly driven home as in the portrayal of Shana, Lacy and "Trinket" in tonight's episode. I suppose I should be offended that the standard bearer of quality television drama should resort to such blatant, stereotypical Hollywood airhead bimbo humour.

But it was FUNNY!!!!

I haven't laughed so much since Matt put the baseball bat through the window, and unlike that particular gag, the "now, when you say you 'write' the show, what does that mean exactly?" schtick was successfully milked again and again.

The importance of good writing was in fact the theme for the episode. It's one Sorkin has tackled before - whether it be Dan and Casey attempting to hone their sports caster rundowns, or Sam, Toby and Will struggling to perfect the State of the Union address, Inaugural speech or even just a birthday message. Writing, for Sorkin and Sorkin's stand-in characters is not just a profession, but a vocation, it is a calling.

In "The Wrap Party", this comes through not just in Matt's encounter with the trio, but also in Simon's story, Cal's story and - implicitly - Tom and Jordan's.

Simon feels the lack of a "black" voice in the writer's room, and the episode culminates with the hiring of a gifted, if unpolished, writer.

Matt's only real interest is in the writing on the show, and he always knows when his own work doesn't come up to standard (to the point where he is willing to risk alienating the guest host by cutting her sketches ... though she still took his phone number ... bastard) but is offended that Simon thinks he needs help. Another case of art takings its cues from life? Probably not, but it'd be fascinating to be a fly inside the writer's room of a show so totally dominated by the voice of one person.

Cal has an encounter with an apparently addle-minded old man, who turns out to have written for one of the classic programmes that shaped Studio 60's legacy. He comes to his senses once he's been identified: as a writer. "Put him in the writer's room," Cal says - a gesture that is as much a gift to the veteran as meeting him is for Matt and Danny.

Tom's tour of the theatre set up the reveal of the old man's identity - in a clever bit of, yes, writing. Unlike the Harriet interview in last week's episode, the long stretches of exposition had a dual purpose beyond the infodump: as well as dropping in the mention of the blacklist, it became obvious that Tom was rambling in order to distract from the tension between he and his father, their conflict punctuating the studio's backstory effectively.

Father/son issues are another recurring theme in Sorkin's work, and while this one ended on a note of accommodation, I won't be surprised if the discomfort between Tom and his father flares up again, no doubt motivated by the older Jeter's belief that his other son, David, is doing more worthy work as a soldier in Afghanistan. Conversely, Tom believes that his work too has real value - they're not "skits", they're "sketches". Incidentally, his father calling Tom by his brother's name was a good touch (and not at all unrealistic).

Jordan's respect for the craft came out in her decision to buy the United Nations drama (from a writer, not a producer). Jack Rudolph's rant about subtitles was funny, considering the willingness of smash hits Lost (and more recently Heroes) to play extended scenes in another language.

Speaking of Jordan: now this is more like it. No longer the all-too-perfect superwoman, her vulnerability during the wrap party as she pathetically, drunkenly sought to bond with the gang was touching, funny and - most importantly - endearing. ("Superman's Dome of Pleasure"??) It's unfathomable that it took so long to make the character likeable.

Her encounter with Darren Wells established three things: it reminded us that her ex-husband's revelations will continue to be a plot thread, it made her more sympathetic in a dramatic, not just comedic, moment, and it told us it's okay to hate the arsehole before Harriet's inevitable reconcilliation with Matt late in the season.

A short scene like that that accomplishes three things simultaneously is difficult to pull off. "The Wrap Party" did this several times. It also managed to successfully juggle five different threads: Matt's, Simon's, Tom's, Cal's and Jordan's. (No simple A story/B story for Studio 60! No, we got E stories here!) And it did so in a way that tied all these threads together. (Note for instance that Eli Wallach's character was a soldier: contrary to what Tom's father may think, comedy and national service are not mutually exclusive. Or how, once again, writing is tied into the ongoing Harriet/Matt romance.) It substantially fleshed out Simon and Tom's characters. It was funny as heck, and dramatic when it needed to be. It was entertaining, and it had something to say.

Of course it was well directed, well produced, well acted. But the foundation was good writing. So, much kudos to those in the room who helped "break" the episode, Melissa Myers and Amy Turner (story credit) and, of course, Aaron Sorkin (teleplay) for the best (post-pilot?) Studio 60 yet.

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Not as funny or as touching or as tightly written as "The Wrap Party", and not really successfully fleshed out to 90 minutes, but still very entertaining. [Read More]

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 24, 2006 12:14 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Daredevil: Yellow.

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