I’m not going to mourn now for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which limped off the air last night after tying up all the grim plot strands of the last few episodes in a pretty bow in time for the final curtain. (Spoiler alert: Tom’s brother got rescued from AFGHANISTAN, Jordan survived her postpartum complications, Jack decided not to make Simon apologize for his intemperate remarks to the press, and Matt and Harriet decided to give it another go. Really, did you expect otherwise?) I’m not grieving now because the series really died a few months ago, as it became clear that Aaron Sorkin’s intellectual ambitions for the show outstripped its ability to convey those ideas with heart, humor, drama, and three-dimensional characters — and as it became equally clear that audiences didn’t care about the backstage drama among pampered showbiz folk as much as they cared about the high-stakes drama at the White House on The West Wing. I’ve had plenty of time to adjust to how my initial euphoria over this show was overtaken by disappointment, dread, and ultimately resignation.
In the last four episodes, Sorkin finally ratcheted up the drama quotient by afflicting the characters with recoginzable human problems, but it was too little, too late. And too bad, since Sorkin had a couple of subtle but worthwhile points to make that may have gotten lost in all the melodrama. First, as the flashbacks indicated, that period of national unity and resolve following 9/11 was a lot shorter than many of us may remember; it took only a few weeks before people on either side of the political spectrum started demonizing each other and deeming each other insufficiently patriotic. Second, as Jack grew to realize (in the middle of a drunken stupor), the Hollywood blacklist may have been made possible by well-known McCarthyist politicians, but it was actually devised and implemented by faceless, timid studio executives operating in secrecy. And Jack realized that he didn’t want to be one of those cowards — especially after the way he’d pushed Matt and Danny out the door years before after a post-9/11 sketch resulted in threats of an advertiser boycott.
To me, Steven Weber’s Jack (pictured) has been the most fascinating character on the show, since he’s the only one who seems not to have been blessed (or cursed) with ideological certainty. He means well, but as a corporate executive, he’s usually been inclined to sacrifice idealism for pragmatism. Despite his inner conflicts, he usually comes through in the clutch and does the right thing, astonishing no one more than himself every time he grows a conscience. Weber’s fast and loose portrayal always caught me off guard; he was like a younger, smoother, less sleazy James Woods. It’s one of the things I’ll miss most about the show — that and the potential for intelligent commentary on our media age delivered in an entertaining package. For that, I’ll have to rely on Tina Fey’s more oblique, absurdist take over at 30 Rock.