I wasn’t sure if I’d have the strength to finish this guide. Studio 60 takes a lot out of a guy, particularly when he reviews 11 episodes in one go. But I’ve been watching a lot of Saturday Night Live lately, and it’s reminded me that – even after all these decades, and even in a largely uneven season – sketch comedy can still bring joy to the world. It can bring laughter to us when we most need it.
Sure, SNL coasts a lot on its former success. Sure, it hasn’t been consistently good since around the 1980s. But the writers and castmembers clearly love their work, and the fact that the show is still pretty decent over forty years after its debut is quite an accomplishment.
So when a scripted series adopts an “Anybody can do sketch comedy” attitude, it’s my solemn duty to push back.
(The first half of Studio 60 is recapped here. And now for the latter half…)
12. Monday: Building off the creepy way that Danny flirted with Jordan at the end of the midseason finale, the first episode of ’07 features him fully engaged in “charming stalker” mode. Except minus the charming part. Thankfully, by the end of the episode, he learns his lesson and decides to… keep on stalking her. Elsewhere, we have a “free speech” subplot centering around FCC censorship, and a clash with a reality-TV executive whom Jordan refers to as the head of “Illiterate Programming.”
13, 14. The Harriet Dinner: Danny and Jordan get locked on the roof together, and HILARITY ENSUES. Kind of. There is one funny moment involving them trying to get the attention of a homeless man in an alleyway. But the rest of that subplot is pretty lame, in a watered-down screwball-comedy fashion. The rest of the episode centers on a dinner honoring Harriet, although I’m not entirely sure why. In the episode’s biggest letdown, John Legend is mentioned as the show-within-a-show’s musical guest, but never shows up onscreen.
15. The Friday Night Slaughter: This episode is a not-bad character piece, although it would definitely be better if we cared about the character. In flashback, we see a late-90s Matt (played by Matthew Perry in a backwards baseball cap, because everyone in the late ‘90s wore a backwards baseball cap) when he first joined S60 and met Harriet. This is one of the show’s better episodes, helped by the fact that Matt’s memory bias turns him into an unreliable narrator, which allows for a surprise twist at the end. It could have been a lot worse.
16. 4 AM Miracle: Well, here’s an unfortunate one for the post-Weinstein era: A sexual harassment suit brings a lawyer to the set of S60. And, wouldn’t you know it, she and Matt might be falling in love! This is what’s called a “circular narrative,” I think…
17. The Disaster Show: Hands down, this is the best episode of the series. The story focuses on a live taping, hosted by the ever-wonderful Allison Janney, in which everything that can go wrong, does. It’s no “Celestial Navigation,” but there are some genuine laughs, and some good reignition of the chemistry between Janney and Timothy Busfield. The story is a standalone (good), it’s only 36 minutes (good), and Matt, Danny, and Jordan are entirely absent (very good). If you watch just one episode of this series, it should be “The Disaster Show.”
18. Breaking News: Argh, now we’re back to the main story. I really can’t say much about this episode that won’t veer into broken-record territory, and while I enjoy bashing this series as much as the next guy, even the most caustic of critics must know his limitations. I will say that I kind of like the last five minutes of the episode, where the show suddenly finds itself embroiled in the middle of an Afghani hostage crisis. Yes, really. As if the show didn’t already feel like it were running on empty, we now have a plot ripped straight out of latter-day 24. And, um, get used to it, folks. We’re going to be here a while…
19, 20, 21. K&R: The absolute low point of Studio 60 comes courtesy of this final hostage crisis arc. (The title refers to “Kidnap and Ransom.”) Watching these three episodes – each one more boring and seemingly more interminable than the last – I began to feel as though Sorkin had taken me hostage. There’s a lot of flashbacks (this time centering around Matt trying to write comedy post-9/11), and a lot of suspense that gets diffused by the constantly repeated plot points which exist to pad out the running time. This is why 22-episode seasons are a dying art, folks.
22. What Kind of Day Has It Been: Don’t let the title fool you: This is just “K&R, Part 4.” But because the Rule of Sorkin dictates that every series of his have a Grand Finale with this title, “What Kind of Day Has It Been” gets to pretend it’s not a tiresome extension of an already tiresome arc. Every story thread gets resolved, every romantic arc is tied with a bow, and all the characters live happily ever after. Yay.
So there you have it: A complete guide to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Please don’t ever watch it. Well, except maybe that one episode.
On a happier note, my “Best TV Shows of 2017” list will be posted later this week. Rest assured that every series named there will be better than Studio 60.