Tagaaron sorkin

Sports Night, Season 3

Well, nah, but this does give me a pleasing frisson down the spine. For those of us who are not obsessive fans of Sorkin’s early (or even his later) work, Josh Charles played Dan Rydell on Sports Night as inspired by Keith Olbermann. Thus, putting them together on Olbermann’s current show is funny. Or it was funny before I explained it. Maybe I should have skipped that bit.

“You think?”

Monkeyball

Last night I headed down to the new Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane location, since movie tickets were two bucks during this week’s soft open of the theater. It’s way out of the way for us, particularly coming from work, but seems reasonably convenient for South Austin peeps. Take Mopac south to the first traffic light and turn right, then immediate left. It took twenty minutes flat to come home at 12:30 AM. Kind of late? Well, cheap movies, so I caught a pair of them. Oh look, the title of this post is a bad joke. Look, they were both set in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’d be way amusing to watch a motion captured Andy Serkis in an Oakland A’s uniform.

Moneyball was pretty good even if it was a touch fictionalized. Pitt was great, as was Hoffman in a nice supporting role. The one scene where Jonah Hill is desperately keeping up with Pitt and Hoffman is totally worth the price of admission. I’d love to know what Soderbergh would have made of it but I am totally content with what we got. Also, that was an entirely funny caricature of John Henry.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was kind of conflicted. The first hour or so is a pretty rough drama about the horrors of animal experimentation plus a really good performance by John Lithgow. Then there’s this magical point where my disbelief ceased to hover lightly in the air, and I’ll even spoil it, because it’s awesome. Caesar is in primate jail, and he’s having trouble adjusting. You know what it’s like being the new kid on the cellblock. So he gets kicked around a bit, and when he’s brooding back in his cell, he looks up at the orangutan across the way. Lo! Maurice the orangutan signs, “Hurt bad?”

Caesar is shocked, because whoa, another ape knows sign language! So he signs, “You know signs?” I’m wondering exactly the same thing. Maurice signs back, calmly, “Circus orangutan.” Clears it all up: everyone knows that circus animals are always taught ASL. Me and the shards of my disbelief will be over here snickering wildly. The movie doesn’t get any more believable from there on in. It stays enjoyable, though! It’s just a different movie in the second half.

Studio 60

I just finished watching the first season of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I hadn’t expected brilliance; I’d watched enough of it the first time round to know I was buying some pretty flawed television. It was no Sports Night or even West Wing. But I am a sucker for Sorkin, and in this case I figured I’d get a ton of interesting insight into watching him fail fairly noisily.

It took me the whole season to figure out what was wrong with the show. Not, parenthetically, that there wasn’t a lot that was right. Matthew Perry was great. I like Sorkin dialogue. I liked a bunch of the characters, even the minor ones, some of whom had their arcs and character development sadly cut short when the show ended. Oh, and I really liked Mark McKinney. Man, what a deadpan. And Steven Weber! There’s a show waiting to be made about his character. More on that later.

Lance Mannion had a lot to say about Studio 60 while it was running, and a lot of the stuff he says about why it failed is accurate. I think the comedy was better than he gave it credit for, but I’m picking nits at that point. Sarah Paulson was in fact sorely miscast and abused as a stand-in for Sorkin’s own love life; the whole show moved kind of slowly; enough with the rants about Christianity already. Sheesh.

But he missed the big thing. (Come on. The whole point of blogging is to talk about why the clever person over there is wrong. It only lacks class when you don’t give them credit for clever.)

The real, deep problem with the show is that network comedy sketch shows are about the most unimportant thing on television these days, and Sorkin wanted to do a show about a very important network comedy sketch show. It’s all over the show; the characters treat Studio 60 as if it were the arbiter of cool. Sorkin is writing a world in which everyone in America, not to mention Afghanistan, cares a lot about late night network television.

I can’t name a single Saturday Night Live cast member except for those Lonely Planet guys, and that’s cause of YouTube. OK, I cheated and peeked — Maya Rudolph’s name rang a bell. But SNL is not, in fact, making what one could call an impact on pop culture these days.

So the premise is flawed, and as a result all the storylines — nearly without exception — feel slightly off. It starts out with the story about how Danny and Matt rejoin the show. Realistically, if a couple of SNL vets came back to run SNL again after winning a WGA award for Best Screenplay, the story is about how they’ve lost their career in a big way. Not in this universe.

This continues. Reporters flock to the stage doors, high-powered lawyers hang around the set because it’s so damned compelling, and major reporters push to do big stories on the show. It doesn’t ring true, because it’s all predicated on the idea that Studio 60 really, really matters.

If the show had been set in 1980 or so, it would have worked. Sadly, Sorkin needs his current events. C’est la vie.

The good show that sort of lurked at the edges of this one is the Jack Rudolph drama about a seriously competent network executive who has to grapple with the changing face of media. I want to see Stephen Weber figuring out how to use the Internet to sell his shows. I want to see him using the Internet to create his shows. NBS as the network which breaks with tradition and puts user-created content on prime-time television? Sure, why not? It’s the Sorkin universe. Weirder things happen. But make the stories about…

All the stuff that pisses Sorkin off. He’s always sneering at bloggers in his scripts. So that one is probably a lost cause.

Still, it was interesting to watch him trip up. I’d certainly recommend the DVDs for anyone who’s into that sort of thing. Also there’re more than a couple great bits.

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