Based on a once-challenging-now-lame sketch show that markedly resembles NBC’s own once-challenging-now-lame Saturday Night Live, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a bold(ish) move for NBC. The fourth-place network seems to be issuing its own creative mea culpa by airing two series that tweak SNL theoretically and bash network sheepishness specifically (Tina Fey’s 30 Rock debuts Oct. 11).
Creator Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) employs the same stark shadows, circuitous camera work, and slapping dialogue that marked his White House. And it works: Matthew Perry and West Wing alum Bradley Whitford, playing the golden boys charged with toothing up the sketch-show-within-a-show Studio 60, land some pissy, articulate arguments about free speech, pandering, faith, and humor. You may remember you once liked Perry.
Certainly, it’s a bit pat that one of Studio 60’s comedians, Harriet Hayes (Deadwood’s Sarah Paulson) is a born-again (and smoking-hot) Christian: Here will be our red-state voice in a blue-state industry! But Sorkin makes it sing. In an upcoming episode, Hayes leads a preshow prayer, and what looks to be starchy turns quite sweet.
Every so often, when the tension feels DefCon 1 high, there’s a temptation to remind Sorkin that the fate of the free world isn’t at stake. Then again, with such mesmerizing speed-bag dialogue, Studio 60 is a great case for taking TV seriously.