Entertainment Weekly

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

'Studio 60': Not about comedy. So what's it about?

Posted on

91028__hughley_l

91028__hughley_lHow to put this: Studio 60 doesn’t know from comedy. (This isn’t just me shooting my mouth off. This is a lot of comedy practitioners I’ve talked to, shooting their mouths off. Advocates and detractors are fighting it out here.)

”Science Schmience?” Really? Where’s the joke? Where’s the punchline? (Note to Sorkin apologists: ”America’s willful dismissal of science is a shame and an embarrassment!” is not a punchline.)

”But it’s a drama, you dolt!” scream the faithful. Yes. It’s a drama about comedy. Except it’s not about comedy. It’s about (in this order) Aaron Sorkin, ”issues,” and ”television.”

addCredit(“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Mike Ansell”)

Comedy (specifically, television sketch comedy, and even more specifically, Saturday Night Live)is supposed to be lens through which Sorkin examines the culture wars,the use and abuse of the glass teat, the politics of free expression ina commercial medium, etc. But the ”comedy” of Studio 60functions more like a barometer of the weather up Sorkin’s ownrarefied, um, argot. We’ll leave aside his main characters drugproblems, workaholism, and inability to relinquish control (is itreally heroic that Matthew Perry’s character insists on writingeverything? Or is it, I dunno, manic?), and focus only on the sketches.In Episode 3, we saw more of the show-within-a-show than we’ve everseen before (including the SNL-type newscast parody, featuring players D.L. Hughley and Sarah Paulson, pictured). And what we saw… was not comedy. Commentary, definitely.Wit, perhaps. But not comedy. Not even BAD comedy.This has nothing to do with ‘funny.’ There’s no debating ‘funny.’ ‘Funny’ iswhat makes people laugh. Which seems like these characters’ least pressingconcern. Which is why I say again: This is not comedy.

The sketches and/or sketch artists on Studio 60 have referenced or utilized the following:

Alfred Lunt
Groucho Marx (that legendary ”frat comic”)
Commedia dell’arte
Moliere
Gilbert and Sullivan
The erosion of science — its demotion to mere ”belief system” in Bush’s faith-based America

They have not referenced/utilized:

Pop stars
Funny fat people
Funny ugly people
Intentionally fake-looking spurting-blood effects
Testicles
Hoboes/pirates
Falling down and breaking something
Speedos on men who shouldn’t wear Speedos
”Cooter”: The word, the concept or the Dukes of Hazzard character
Boobs
Testicles again

In the fictional realm of the NBS network, does Studio 60 follow Masterpiece Theater’slead-in? Far be it from me to argue for the dumbing down of televisiondrama, but let’s keep our eye on the ball: Comedy is anarchy. AaronSorkin styles himself a philosopher king. He wants to will hisenlightenment on his audience. That’s not how comedy works. Comedy issomething the comedian is barely in control of. Comedy is somethingthat happens somewhere between the comedian and the audience. Sorkin writes essays-in-dialogue. In his view, comedy must mean something, and that ”something” must be the will of the writer.

That’s not comedy. That’s schmomedy.