As the ratings for Studio 60 get steadily worse, I’ll be interested whether the reaction from critics is that this show is too smart for the public, or whether we’ll get the Phantom Menace effect, where once a few critics start noticing that an manifestation of critical overpraise is mediocre or sucks ass there’s sort of a tipping point where more people start saying it. There seem to be some signs of the latter. Heather Havrilesky is pretty much off the reservation, and Slate is surprisingly hard-hitting:
It’s not just that the sketches aren’t funny, although they’re not. Take the third episode’s centerpiece: a game-show parody called “Science Schmience,” in which fundamentalists of all stripesÂan Orthodox Jew, a Taliban member, an evangelical Christian, Tom Cruise, and a witchÂattempt to refute science with faith. In premise, it’s promising, if cluttered (that’s a lot of yahoos on one stage). In practice, though, it’s painful. To the evangelical, who’s just claimed that life began 6,000 years ago, the game show’s host pronounces: “You understand that archaeologists are in possession of a 3 million-year-old skull found by Johannesburg, which would put your answer off by 2,994,000 years.” Yeah, it sounds about as funny as it reads.
So, what does Aaron Sorkin think is the sketch comedy of your dreams? What’s his idea of “cutting-edge political and social satire” that challenges the audience? “Pimp My Trike,” starring a blinged-out D.L. Hughley, and sketches poking fun at such timely and relevant superstars as Nicolas Cage and Juliette Lewis.
And Sorkin makes it even harder for himself when he forces his wan sketches to provide the dramatic payoff to episodes of Studio 60. The second episode, “The Cold Open,” follows Matthew Perry’s character, Matt Albie, as he struggles to come up with a dynamite opening for his first show back on Studio 60. His solution? A light-orchestra version of “The Major-General’s Song.” Leave aside the absurd notion that Sorkin thinks Gilbert and Sullivan are hip. Leave aside, as well, the fact (pointed out by Entertainment Weekly’s Scott Brown, among others) that Saturday Night Live featured a parody of “The Major-General’s Song” in 1995. Just imagine you tune in to Studio 60 the week after Wes Mendell’s now-legendary on-air tirade, eager to see how the show deals with this momentous event. And you get … a Gilbert and Sullivan song? With no mention of Wes Mendell’s freakout? Filled with glib lines like, “To bite the hand that feeds you is a scary way of doing lunch,” sung too quickly to be understood? To close the Studio 60 episode “The Cold Open” with this fussy and unfunny songÂa close meant to be uplifting, climactic, ennobling evenÂhamstrings the episode and Sorkin’s entire series.
Hmm. Actually, the thing seems to have such a high pretension-to-achievement ratio that I might have to watch next week…
…thanks to eRobin in comments, I see that NBC.com is fairly generous with the clips, although they don’t seem to have
Martin Prince Sting playing the lute. They do have the Gilbert & Sullivan parody up, and nothing I read prepared me for its almost painful lameness. (They’ve also generously included the lyrics. Heh, they said “reacharound.” Edgy!)