Matthew Perry: Scott Garfield/NBC
Gary Susman
October 10, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”Studio 60”: Recycled gifts, recycled jokes

”How did we move from baseball to August Strindberg?” Matt asked Tom at one point during ”The West Coast Delay,” this week’s episode of Studio 60. Why, through one of Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme’s patented walk-and-talks, how else? As annoying as that kind of synaptic leap can be in the context of a show about comedy (is there anything less comical than a Strindberg psychodrama?), I love it that Sorkin is willing to make such leaps and show off his big brain (where else on TV is someone going to name-check the 19th-century Swedish playwright?). I’m not sure Sorkin is applying his big brain to anything resembling a point — or a punchline — but I’m glad he’s trying.

I’m also not sure the petty dramas on Studio 60 — the post-breakup stirring of the embers of Matt and Harriet’s romance, Jordan’s stress over her ex-husband’s pending tell-all book, the struggles between Matt and the rest of the writing staff — rise to a Strindbergian level. I don’t think Strindberg ever wrote a scene in which a woman re-gifted to her ex-lover a baseball bat signed by her new boyfriend, a major-league pitcher. Even if Harry was sincere about wanting closure, and about not having noticed that her pitcher pal had scribbled his phone number on the bat, the gesture only made for more trouble. And by trouble, I don’t mean Matt’s hilariously futile attempt to make Harriet jealous in return by obtaining a similar token (a signed stiletto boot) from one of the Pussycat Dolls — er, ”Bombshell Babies.” No, I mean that Harry and Matt clearly aren’t going to get closure anytime soon, especially if Matt catches her again going to first base with the pitcher in her dressing room. ”Are we done?” she asked Matt. ”I’m certain we’re not,” he replied. (By the way, I’m glad Sorkin finally gave Nate Corddry’s Tom something to do: following Matt around like a puppy, offering bad romantic advice, and pining over his own doomed-by-showbiz romance.)

Meanwhile, Jordan remains at a loss over how to squelch her ex-husband’s book about her semi-sordid past. Not sure why she cares — is Jordan really enough of a boldface name that a self-published, online-only book about her would get read that much or be such an embarrassment to NBS? — but she may have come up with a good idea that will indirectly help save her job: getting Matt and Danny to grant full access to a Vanity Fair scribe for a backstage epic that’ll bring in upscale VF readers to replace demographically undesirable viewers who are presumably defecting in droves over Studio 60‘s relentless red-state bashing. Hmm, maybe NBC should try the same thing to help save Sorkin’s ratings-challenged series. Speaking of meta, the VF journo whose rack Matt and Danny couldn’t stop staring at is played by the always-welcome Christine Lahti, who is, of course, Mrs. Thomas Schlamme; I wonder if the name Martha O’Dell is supposed to recall VF’s Maureen Orth (same initials), who’s married to Tim Russert, who hosts NBC’s Meet the Press, which was spoofed this week by Harry in a Studio 60 sketch. (I don’t know why the idea of having Juliette Lewis host the show was supposed to be funny, as Lewis has been off the pop-cultural radar for ages, but I don’t want to complain yet again about what a dud Sorkin is as a sketch writer.)

In the writers’ room, Ron noted that everyone but Studio 60 had made fun of Jordan’s woes as he went on a table-shaking tirade about the indignity of Matt’s granting him and the rest of his overfed crew just 90 seconds of airtime on this week’s 90-minute show. Judging by the work Ron and his terrified scribes came up with, Matt’s Sorkinesque refusal to delegate is perfectly justified. When the bit they wrote for Simon was found to have been plagiarized (see, the bat isn’t all that was re-gifted), the resulting scandal threatened to erupt into a costly copyright lawsuit and necessitated some furious last-minute scrambling to air a few seconds of fresh, live material on the West Coast version of the broadcast. (Note to Matt/Aaron Sorkin: Please don’t fire Ron/Evan Handler just yet, since I’m still enjoying him.) The crisis didn’t really have a satisfying payoff, but the last-minute audience that was recruited off the streets of Hollywood (hookers, gangbangers) provided a priceless visual.

What do you think? Will Martha’s lurking around backstage help or hurt the show? Will the writers ever earn Matt’s trust, or will he fire them all? And are you rooting for the Matt-and-Harry reconciliation hinted at in the previews for next week, or do you think they’ll be funnier and sharper if they stay on the outs?

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