Monday, November 13, 2006
Aaron Sorkin: Writer, Director, Pain in My Ass
Homer Simpson: The evening began at the gentleman's club, where we were discussing Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon. Scully: Mr. Simpson, it's a felony to lie to the F.B.I. Homer: We were sitting in Barney's car eating packets of mustard. There, you happy? Do you know how, when you're in school, there's always That Kid? You know the one I mean; he's a-know-it-all, and wayyyy too eager to show you that he knows everything there ever was to know. And then this kid grows up, and is still like that, only now instead of bragging that he memorized pi to the 5,873rd decimal point, he says things like "Coffee? I'd love some. By the way, that reminds me of this early Latin text I was perusing just last night for some light reading. In the original Latin." Or "You know, that drive-thru window brings to mind my thesis on Postmodern Isolationism…" or some crap like that. Do you know the type of person I'm talking about? Okay. Well, that is what watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is like for me. As I watch the show, I’m continually thinking that Aaron Sorkin is That Kid, all grown up. I’ve been trying to figure out just what, exactly, is preventing me from truly loving the show, and I think I’ve pinpointed it. I never watched The West Wing, but I understand from fans of the latter that the two shows are very similar; Aaron Sorkin has a specific writing style, and he's consistent. Which is fine, but while the heavy, plodding, hyper-intellectual atmosphere might be appropriate for a show set in the White House, to me, it is just completely out of place in what is supposed to be the manic, frenetic world of sketch comedy. The characters are consistently up in arms over a sketch comedy show in a manner that is suspiciously similar to how I imagine a fictional White House staff would react to things, if you know what I mean, and I think that you do. The thing that kills me is that I really want to like the show, and in many ways I do. It’s just that certain aspects of Mr. Sorkin's writing are just so…annoying. The first episode had everyone referencing the director of the movie Network, Paddy Chayefsky, over and over again. Okay, we get it, Aaron, you want us to know that you know who he is. Here's a small shiny gold star. Now, the show is like, all of 6 episodes old, and already we had a Very Special Episode about blacklisting, featuring a wizened and kindly old man who teaches everyone a Super Important Lesson. Yuck! It was so sanctimonious. Perhaps Mr. Sorkin could’ve waited until the show was at least reasonably established before getting so preachy. Another episode had one of the members of the (fictional) Studio 60 cast telling the head writer of the show that his current girl situation (a straightforward “not wanting to admit feelings” thing) was akin to…some weird obscure play. So obscure, in fact, that I cannot even remember anything about the title so I can try to find the name. (And I majored in literature in college, so I know a thing or two about weird old plays that nobody knows about.) Do you know what someone in real life would say that situation is like? Ross and Rachel; Carrie and Mr. Big; Any teenybopper movie ever made. Not [insert name of weird old play here]. There's simply no need to dredge up some random play that no one’s ever heard of to compare to that most basic of boy/girl situations, unless your objective is to tell everyone just how smart you are, in which case, mission (sort of) accomplished. But what that does is take everyone (well, at least me) out of the show, which is, at its core, quite good, to take a few moments to roll their eyes at Aaron Sorkin. It's not that I don't like the show; I do, to an extent. It's just that I can never completely enjoy having to watch a show that requires Encyclopedia Brittanica to fully comprehend the writer's "genius” when you just know he had to look up all his lofty references there himself, while eating mustard packets in his car.