TV Article

Infectious Laughter

On ''Studio 60,'' everybody falls ill: It's a fever for Simon and Tom, flop sweat for Lucy and Darius, can't-tell-a-joke syndrome for Harriet, and morning sickness for Jordan

Bradley Whitford, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip | SICK HUMOR Danny had to rally an ailing cast
Image credit: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Art Streiber
SICK HUMOR Danny had to rally an ailing cast

''Studio 60'': Is there a doctor in the house?

Hey, Aaron Sorkin, what are we, chopped liver? You name-check a website where anonymous posters comment about the folks on Studio 60, and you pick Ain't It Cool News? EW.com's anonymous commenters aren't good enough for ya?

Web-based rumormongering wasn't the only viral ailment plaguing the Studio 60 set this week, in an episode with the inoculatory title ''B-12.'' Most of the cast came down with some kind of bug, which led to several shots of the players getting jabbed in the rear with needles. Of course, maybe they wouldn't all have been so sick if so many of the company hadn't been walking around in a deluge without umbrellas or practicing their spit takes on each other during rehearsal. We've come a long way from the highbrow realm of Gilbert and Sullivan parodies, folks.

Also feeling queasy were Lucy and Darius, under pressure to produce just one sketch, now that they and Matt are the show's sole writers. Well, almost: Matt brought in an alumnus of the show, the depressed and chuckle-impaired Andy (a sharp dramatic turn for former SNL-er and Kid in the Hall Mark McKinney), to coach the fledgling pair. His solid advice to Matt: Make them sink or swim by guaranteeing that their sketch will run. ''They gotta fear failure like it's grim death,'' Andy told Matt. ''They gotta be every bit as damaged as you are.'' And although their hostage sketch bombed in dress rehearsal, they managed to clean it up and make it work in time for the show. Unfortunately, breaking news of an actual hostage situation that ended with everyone dead forced an 11th-hour axing of the sketch for taste reasons, so Lucy and Darius had to write a new sketch for the end of the show after the show had already started. Now, that's sink-or-swim pressure. Fortunately, Matt came up with a brilliant idea, inspired by that contagious rehearsal moment: ''Spit-Take Theater.''

Here's where I have to note once again how alternatingly brilliant and infuriating Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is. On the one hand, we have Sorkin finally recognizing (or remembering from Sports Night) that the time pressure of trying to put on a live broadcast is inherently dramatic (it was great fun to watch all the sketch players' backstage hustling this week) and doesn't require an injection of additional conflict. He also is finally acknowledging that comedy doesn't have to be all witty banter and lofty cultural and political references, since watching people spit at each other is pretty damn funny, too. But we didn't get to see ''Spit-Take Theater,'' only the goofing around that inspired it. Instead, we saw a Bachelor parody (a timely jab at a rival network's show, whose finale aired opposite Studio 60 last night, but one that spent too much time explaining itself to be funny) and an interminable Deal or No Deal parody with guest host Howie Mandel. (Is this the product placement Jordan and Danny were talking about last week?) In fact, because of this episode's flashback-heavy chronology, we saw this painful parody twice. (At least the show kept returning to segments with musical guest Corinne Bailey Rae, who served as an aural palate cleanser.)

Also infuriating: the running gag about Harriet's inability to tell a joke. She needed one for a speech, and Matt gave her one that she kept butchering in her attempts to retell it. Matt likened her gag mangling to an ailment (there's that metaphor again), like dyslexia or color blindness. It was actually sort of sweet to watch Harriet dither, especially since, for once, the issue wasn't her religious background. But one thing stuck in my craw, which was, um...that Harriet is a professional comic. Sure, she's a sketch comic who relies on cue cards and doesn't usually have to tell typical setup-punchline jokes, but still, she's a professional performer of humorous material. How are we supposed to buy this?

Another intrusive presence on the set was returning Vanity Fair scribe Martha O'Dell. It's now clear that Christine Lahti's nosy reporter is based on yet another real-life Sorkin ex-girlfriend, Maureen Dowd. Like Maureen, Martha is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times op-ed columnist who often writes about pop culture. Martha's most recent column made Danny livid, and not just because she described Tom's movie as a failure. (Actually, a $9 million domestic gross sounds pretty good for an indie film about Lyme disease — hey, there's that metaphor yet again!) Danny was also upset that she cited as a source the aforementioned anonymous Ain't It Cool pundit. Danny correctly labeled this unprofessional journalism, and instead of a reasoned response, her rejoinder was ''Your fly is open.''

See, many reporters don't like it when you call their rumormongering unprofessional, even if you're right. That's what Jordan found out when she finally agreed to confront her bad press by sitting for a quick interview with Time magazine. The sit-down started smoothly, with Jordan deftly sidestepping most of the reporter's questions with her usual sardonic quips. But when his questions turned more personal and pointed, particularly about the rumors that her job was in jeopardy, Jordan told him she didn't like him and called him a gossip who was trying to invent drama where there wasn't any, likening him to a hairdresser or a cockfight promoter.

Danny later comforted Jordan, telling her that her remarks were getting raves from commenters on the Web. (Wait, now anonymous Web posters are good?) It wasn't like Jordan to lose her cool, but she had a hormonal excuse. Which was, of course, the not-so-big surprise that we've been awaiting ever since Amanda Peet announced she's pregnant in real life. Still, the climactic revelation, with both Jordan and the suddenly cognizant Danny uttering the word ''pregnant'' at the same time, was a well-executed final scene, especially since it capped Matt's otherwise pointless running gag about how you shouldn't take B-12 shots if you're pregnant.

Questions to ponder till next week: If Andy sticks around, will he ever crack a smile? Will we ever see a funny completed sketch on the air? Just how likely is Jordan's firing? And who is the father of her child?

Originally posted Nov 28, 2006
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