”Studio 60”: A night of Christmas miracles
Here’s a little-understood paradox: Sometimes, the entertainers with the most Christmas spirit are Jews. It’s been this way at least since Irving Berlin wrote the best-selling holiday song of all time, ”White Christmas.” These days, you get Christmas albums from the likes of Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Barry Manilow. And on TV, you get Aaron Sorkin — er, Matt Albie — insisting that the Grinches and Scrooges on his staff write him a Studio 60 show full of yuletide cheer.
”How is it I?m Jewish and I’m the only one with Christmas spirit?” grumbled Matt, shortly after plunking on the writers’ table a frail, Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree. Then the kicker: ”Come to think of it, how come I?m the only Jew in a comedy writers’ room?”
That crafty Sorkin, ladling on the syrupy holiday sentiment with one hand and spiking it with grain alcohol with the other. He engineered this episode, ”The Christmas Show,” to alternate unironically mushy spirit-of-Christmas scenes with moments of cynicism — especially from that writers’ room, where the staff spent the week surfing the Internet to find all kinds of killjoy facts and figures debunking the Nativity and Santa Claus.
There was also the apparent parody of the Holy Family, in this case, the less-than-virginal Jordan, her fatherless fetus, and surrogate dad Danny. I’m sure none of them saw it this way; for one thing, there is a biological dad. (He’s a former boyfriend of Jordan’s: the insurance exec who outed Danny as an off-the-wagon cocaine user in the Studio 60 pilot.) And even though Danny escorted Jordan to her OB-GYN appointment, visited her at her office, and drove by her house a couple times, he was the last person to realize that he’s fallen in love with her. (Maybe second-to-last: Jordan didn’t seem to have a clue, either.) I think we were supposed to view as romantic and sweet the moment when Danny finally declared his love for Jordan (who was too astonished, or too busy carbo-loading, to respond), but his announcement, ”I’m coming for you, Jordan,” sounded a little creepy and stalker-ish, no?
Harriet got a Christmas present in the form of a plum movie role: She’d play the Rolling Stones’ muse-groupie Anita Pallenberg opposite Heath Ledger in a biopic of Stones co-founder Brian Jones. Matt congratulated her and assured her she was ideal for the role (um, no she isn’t), and then immediately ruined the moment with a jealous comment about the film’s producer, Harriet’s former flame Luke, whom Matt accused of casting Harriet partly so he could date her again. (There’s that heartfelt-moment-followed-by-cynical-moment thing again.) It was especially infuriating because Luke later admitted that Matt was right. Matt confused matters even further by planting a big wet one on Harry between sketches on show night, leaving the poor flustered gal to say Matt’s name instead of her own at the top of the faux-news segment.
Another Christmas miracle: Jack completed his transformation into a stand-up guy. He took the news of Jordan’s pregnancy with unalloyed supportiveness and graciousness. Then he did the right thing regarding an FCC threat over an obscenity uttered by a soldier under grenade fire during a live NBS news broadcast. Jack could have knuckled under, but he ultimately agreed with Jordan that the network should fight the complaint on free-speech grounds. He realized that such a battle could scuttle the parent company’s zillion-dollar China deal and decided he’d rather resign than commit the network to certain financial disaster, but Wilson White wouldn’t hear of it. Turns out he was ready to flex his megacorporate muscle to fight the government on the network’s behalf. (”I’ve been waiting my whole life” for such a moment, he said. Ed Asner’s Wilson really tore into this exchange with relish, and Steven Weber’s performance as Jack just gets better and better each week.) A CEO standing up for the right to present inconvenient truths? Yet another miracle!
All told, this episode managed to juggle about seven plots, not all of them gracefully, but you have to admire the Studio 60 brain trust for their ambition. The whole trying-to-make-snow-out-of-coconuts thing was pretty silly, though Cal accidentally smashing the table with a coconut was the show’s best sight gag yet. Something may blossom, however, in Tom’s crush on Lucy, or in the increasingly sassy attitude of Matt’s assistant, Suzanne. (Remember her initial meek, waifish appearance in the pilot, asking Matt, ”Are you coming to save us?”) And the episode ended with another nice musical moment as Danny found a way to give a little Christmas bonus to some displaced New Orleans musicians. (Real-life alert: The performers in this episode really are New Orleans players and beneficiaries of the Tipitina’s Foundation, which aids musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina.)
Questions to discuss till next time: Is Jack correct to moan that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to broadcast television? Will Harriet pick Matt over Luke? Will Jordan stop stuffing her face long enough to respond to Danny’s declaration of love? And how will she handle the upfronts?