So good a blind man could see it!
I have a friend. This friend is blind. He has been since birth. He watches television, well... he listens to it. And a few months back, he and I were discussing Aaron Sorkin's writing skills. My friend told me that since the first episode of SPORTS NIGHT, he has loved Sorkin's ability to (as he put it) "challenge my ears to stand up and pay attention." We both agreed, my friend and I, that Sorkin is a master of the spoken word. He uses dialogue better than anyone writing in American cinema or television today. And STUDIO 60 was no exception. My friend told me that STUDIO 60 was one of the most enticing shows his ears had ever enjoyed. So when my friend heard that STUDIO 60 was being cancelled, he was very upset. I was too. My friend told me that watching STUDIO 60 made him "feel as if I could see the action right in front of me." It made my friend think. It made him feel. But most of all, it made him SEE. I hope I am not putting too fine a point on it... but STUDIO 60 - and specifically Sorkin's use of language and tempo - gave my friend a sense of what it might be like to enjoy a television show with ALL of his senses.
Those were my friend's feelings; these are mine. I second everything my friend spoke about Sorkin and his immense talent with language. He also loves women. Not in the way you think I mean... I mean this guy adores writing for female characters. Every single one of the female characters that Sorkin has ever created have such presence, such guts. He gives them every ounce of respect, then he ratchets up their intelligence and moxy to a level rarely seen on television. You can tell he really respects women. SPORTS NIGHT was a fantastic show (and well ahead of its time) with strong female characters that matched their male counterparts blow for blow. THE WEST WING (at least the first four seasons) was even better, giving Allison Janney tons of meaty material to sink her acting skills into. (But when Sorkin left the show, I did as well.) Then came STUDIO 60. Again, strong female characters equal in every way to their male counterparts... but... I will readily admit that when the show first began its short lived run on Monday nights, I found it to be a bit difficult to care about. More to the point, I found the relationship between Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) difficult to care about. All they ever seemed to do was fight. But as the episodes progressed... and specifically after the two month hiatus that NBC put the show into from March through early May 2007... I found myself rooting for them. The show became as exhilarating as anything Sorkin has done. Who could forget when John Goodman stole the show (and won an Emmy) for his portrayal of a kind hearted, rural town Judge in the two part Nevada Day episodes? When he wagged his finger at Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) and ordered him to "Stop thinking everyone living between (New York) and (Los Angeles) just stepped out of the cast of Hee-Haw. Tell your friends!" Or the very end of The Disaster Show when Cal Shanley (Timothy Busfield) reminds Allison Janney that "it sure beats digging holes for a living." Or the moment when Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) reminds Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) in both the Pilot and The Christmas Show that "we live here now." Or The Christmas Show itself, when the displaced musicians from New Orleans were spotlighted during a soulful rendition of O' Holy Night? If you did not shed at least a small tear as that song ended, then you have no soul. Or most of all, the four part K&R story arc that brought the horrors of war home for one character in particular. I cannot list all of the great moments from STUDIO 60 because there are far too many. Like others here have mentioned, the show caused me to laugh AND to cry in the same one hour time span. THAT is saying a lot.
I have read other reviews commenting that "if you did not get it, poor you." I don't think "getting it" had anything to do with the shows cancellation. When one considers that NBC chose to replace STUDIO 60 with a show entitled THE NATIONAL SINGING BEE... one can clearly see that "getting it or not getting it" was never a factor in the decision. NBC was clearly catering to the lowest common denominator. THE NATIONAL SINGING BEE instead of STUDIO 60? You've got to be kidding me. I cannot give a good reason for the shows cancellation. I doubt very strongly that anyone can. Sorkin knew this might happen. He's been there before. That's why, during the episode titled Breaking News, Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) tells network exec Jack Rudolph (Steven Weber) "Ratings are cyclical, Jack. Who the hell knows why anybody watches anything?"
Lastly, as to the release of the show on DVD, I have two issues that had me strongly considering giving this set only four stars instead of five - which the SHOW ITSELF clearly deserved.
1. The title: Calling this set THE COMPLETE SERIES insults the viewers understanding that the show itself was NEVER INTENDED to run for only one season. I have no doubt that Sorkin and the cast intended to see this show run for many years. Did Warner Brothers home video actually think that consumers would be confused if they had simply labeled this set THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON? I knew there was never going to be a Season Two once the show was cancelled...
2. The Audio Commentary: During the Pilot episode on disc one, both Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme provide a brief discussion/commentary on the show and its inception. One glaring omission, however, is evident throughout. The commentary was recorded WHILE THE SHOW WAS STILL IN PRODUCTION, therefore, NO DISCUSSION IS EVER PRESENTED AS TO THE REASON FOR OR TIMING OF THE SHOW'S CANCELLATION. The cancellation is never even mentioned. I feel that in NOT allowing Sorkin to comment on the show's demise robs BOTH the producers AND the fans of a vital piece of the puzzle. Personally, I was searching for some kind of explanation on this matter. Namely: Was Sorkin given a chance to alter the final story arc to coincide with the show's cancellation? Did he completely re-write the show's ending to suit the network decision? None of this comes to light on the discs, as the commentary quickly shows.
That said, I am pleased to have this boxed set in my Sorkin Collection. The show took some time to build momentum, and that leads me (and many others) to wonder what if? What if there had been a Second Season? Oh well. Like I said at the start of this review... the show was so good even a blind man could see it. Too bad NBC execs were too blind to do the same. Here is to hoping for more of the same from Sorkin and company. After all, it sure beats digging holes for a living.