Steven Weber: Mitch Haaseth
Gary Susman
November 14, 2006 AT 05:00 AM EST

”Studio 60”: There’s no people like show people

Thank goodness all the messy loose ends of last week’s Studio 60 cliff-hanger were so tidily resolved. Otherwise, poor, slobby, nervous Dylan might have had to sit in at the News 60 desk and try not to stumble over that joke about Russian marijuana.

Yep, Aaron Sorkin raised the stakes in the two-part ”Nevada Day” episode, which concluded this week, but at the end of the day, he’s still writing a series where the drama hinges on whether a group of well-paid showbiz folks will be able to crack a few jokes at the expense of easy targets.

Still, there’s something touching in Sorkin’s quixotic quest to portray television as a business populated by honorable people. Take the ongoing war of witticisms between Matt and Harriet over the latter’s unfortunate remarks about gay people. (By the way, when Harriet asked why everyone thinks she’s homophobic and Matt answered, ”Because ya ahrr,” am I the only one who expected him to finish that sentence with the name ”Blanche”?) Harriet was big enough to address the issue by saying, ”I don’t know” (a phrase she said Matt should try sometimes). And Matt was big enough to take potshots at his own side. (”I don’t need any reminding that my party is full to brimming with panderers and mediocrity,” he said of the Democrats.) See, folks, despite their intractable differences, they’re both people of good will who just want to make viewers laugh. (They also seem to want to recouple, but they had the restraint and good taste not to do so on this episode.)

In fact, almost everybody behaved surprisingly honorably in this episode. Tom’s outstanding speeding ticket turned out to stem from his effort to visit his brother before he was deployed on his third tour of duty in AFGHANISTAN! (Allow me a moment to gloat: I totally called this one last week.) But Tom also had the discretion not to play the my-brother-the-war-hero card; no one would have known had the Pahrump officials not spotted his military bracelet. Judge John Goodman, after having considerable fun at the Hollywood visitors’ expense (including some squirmy moments where he called Simon ”Sammy” and asked about his kinky hair), finally did the honorable thing and let Tom and Simon go free. (The Pahrump deputy played along and ”lost” Simon’s incriminating half-smoked joint.)

It was also a treat to see Matt, left to run the show without Danny, rise to the occasion. He smoothed things over with Harriet, got Jeannie to reassure Dylan that he’d look sharp behind the news desk, and offered paternal consolation to writer Lucy after she’d suffered a bitter breakup. Sure, he expressed a macho jealousy that Tom was the one who got to be Harriet’s chivalrous protector during the sidewalk scuffle, but that only made Matt seem vulnerable and sweet.

Even Jack, of all people, proved to be a stand-up guy, though he proved it by losing his temper not once but twice. (Two Emmy-reel moments for Steven Weber!) He lost it once in front of the judge (and nearly got locked up for contempt of court) and once again in front of the Chinese zillionaire who suggested that the tell-all book about Jordan had brought shame upon NBS. That was the last straw for Jack, who ranted about the honorable behavior of Tom, Simon, and especially Jordan (she’s so honorable ”she’s killing me,” he moaned), and if that wasn’t good enough for Mr. Zillionaire, he could take his mega-deal elsewhere. It was the shock of the season to date to see Jack placing principle above profit (especially after berating Danny a few minutes earlier for doing just that every week on his show); the moment had an unexpected poignancy that was almost Capraesque. Only some tricky, face-saving mistranslation by the quick-thinking viola prodigy kept the deal (and Jack’s career) alive.

Who’d have guessed that the major threat to the deal would turn out not to be the circus surrounding Tom’s arrest and deportation to Nevada but rather the smears in the tell-all book Jordan’s ex-husband is writing? I still don’t get why scurrilous rumors about a TV executive would hit the supermarket tabloids alongside gossip about actual celebrities, or why moguls like Mr. Zillionaire or Wilson White would care. (At that level, who doesn’t have skeletons in his closet?) Still, Jordan’s flippant attitude isn’t doing her any favors (”I was being dry,” she said, more than once. ”Why don’t people ever get that?”), especially with the ominous Wilson. (I can’t get enough of the no-longer-cuddly Ed Asner in this role.) Jordan’s job prospects are so dire that Amanda Peet has finally stopped smiling.

What do you think? Is Jordan about to get fired? (That’s one way, however drastic, for the producers to hide Peet’s pregnancy.) Is Jack developing a conscience? Will Darius ever learn the strange protocols and folkways of white people? And will the Pahrump events chasten the Studio 60 folk (and Sorkin) enough to make them stop condescending to red-staters or, in the words of Goodman’s judge, ”stop thinking everybody between Fifth Avenue and the Hollywood Bowl just stepped barefoot out of the cast of Hee Haw”?

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