TV Recap

Heads Will Roll

On ''Studio 60,'' the show is hit with a sexual harassment suit, Harriet reconsiders her boyfriend options, and Jordan and Danny practice parenthood with a weepy doll

Amanda Peet, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip | MOMMIE DEAREST Jordan trusted her practice baby to Danny's care — with eye-popping results
Image credit: Amanda Peet: Art Streiber
MOMMIE DEAREST Jordan trusted her practice baby to Danny's care — with eye-popping results

''Studio 60'': Jordan and Danny play house

Now, don't get me wrong, I love a decapitated-baby joke as much as the next Alice Cooper fan. And the sight gags involving Jordan's Real Care practice infant doll — which lost its head in a prop guillotine, then was surgically repaired in a way that offered an eye-popping jolt — were some of the funniest things I've seen on Studio 60 or any other show this season. Still, when this show premiered last fall, viewers were led to believe that Aaron Sorkin was bringing lofty thoughts and big issues back to TV. If this is how the series ends (and it may be, given that NBC has moved up the premiere of The Black Donnellys to next Monday and hasn't announced a date for Studio 60's return), who'd have guessed that it would end with dead-baby jokes?

The practice baby was part of a supposedly cute subplot involving Jordan and Danny trying out parenthood. That is, we were supposed to find it endearing that Jordan needed a bawling baby doll to teach her not to stuff her future offspring in a Prada bag, and that smug Danny would prove an even more negligent caretaker, leaving the baby with Tom and Simon, which is how it found itself getting the Marie Antoinette treatment. Still, the whole subplot played like an Afterschool Special, with a couple of clueless, workaholic adults playing the roles meant for junior high teens. The lesson Danny seemed to draw from the whole fiasco: Hey, child-rearing accidents happen, and you do what you can and move on. Man, if Jordan's kid lives past potty-training, he or she is going to write one hell of a tell-all book.

Luke seemed similarly callous and irresponsible about fatal accidents and children. Directing Harriet in her movie role as Rolling Stones muse Anita Pallenberg, he spent a whole Wednesday night shooting and reshooting a scene reenacting the 1979 shooting death of Scott Cantrell, a 17-year-old who supposedly killed himself playing Russian roulette at Keith Richards' home. In real life, Pallenberg was cleared of any responsibility for Cantrell's death, but in Luke's film, she gives him the gun and all but taunts him into shooting himself. Harriet felt guilty about shooting the scene this way, but Luke insisted, forcing her to relive the bloody nightmare over and over in take after take.

Of course, Harriet's guilt was really about Matt. Shooting late into a Wednesday night, she was missing rehearsal at Studio 60 — not that there was any material, as Matt was going through a writing dry spell apparently brought on by Harriet dumping at the awards dinner. Harriet felt guilty not only for abandoning Matt to shoot Luke's difficult scene, but also for that breakup at the dinner. This was where I wanted to throw a shoe at the TV and scream "Nooooo!'' C'mon, Harriet, you dumped him for a reason. Yes, Luke is a jerk, and you didn't seem too upset when he dumped you after you poured your heart out to him about Matt, but he wasn't that much different from Matt; both can be dictatorial, dismissive jerks. Don't run back to Matt! Find someone else, or be independent for a while. At least stop defending Matt against Luke's insults by saying, ''Matt would never let anyone talk about me like that.''

Funny you should mention that. Matt spent valuable writing time poring over a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former writer, a woman who claimed that the male writers' frank sex talk as they brainstormed created a hostile work environment for her. Some of that banter involved fantasies of defiling the devout Harriet. Now, neither Matt nor any of the current writing staff worked at Studio 60 at the time, but Matt, who was sure that the woman had been fired for lack of talent, still felt appalled to learn of the Harriet chatter.

(Bonus cheap irony points: This lawsuit seemed clearly patterned after the one filed against the producers of Friends by Amaani Lyle, an assistant who claimed that the writers' crude remarks, particularly the graphic sexual fantasies they expressed about Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston, created a hostile work environment. So when Matt Albie was torn between the writers' need for an uncensored forum and his own desire for a chivalrous defense of Harriet, Matthew Perry likely knew exactly where the character was coming from.)

This sexual-harassment subplot seemed odd for several reasons, most of all for Mary Tate, the unexpectedly flirtatious lawyer who did, after all, show up at his office at 10 p.m. and fit to a T the executive sex fantasy Matt had just expressed. Coincidence, or was she another figment of Matt's increasingly fevered, vodka-fueled imagination? Also odd was the red herring in which Simon worried that the plaintiff had a case because he'd slept with her during her employment. (Turned out he'd been thinking of someone else.) Oddest of all: Without a sexually charged workplace, in which men and women routinely flirt with and sleep with each other, Aaron Sorkin would have had no series.

Burning questions: Will Matt date Mary (assuming she's real), or will he and Harriet get back together? What fresh tortures could Jordan and Danny inflict on the baby doll? And do you think Studio 60 will ever return — and if so, in what form?

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Originally posted Feb 20, 2007
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