On ''Studio 60,'' Matt bids for Harriet, Viola Girl Kim chases Tom, and Danny targets Jordan -- is this show getting more romantic or more creepy?

By Gary Susman
Updated January 24, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Matthew Perry: Mitch Haaseth

”Studio 60”: Love and manipulation are in the air

Welcome to Studio 60 2.0 — now with extra romance! Aaron Sorkin has said in recent interviews that he’s going to play up that angle of the show (more smooching! less sermonizing!), and already, we’re seeing the results. There was LukeS5858 vs. BossSexy — er, Luke vs. Matt, fighting a proxy war online over Harriet. There was Tom, asking out Lucy, though his date is about to be sandbagged by the return of his young fan, Viola Girl Kim. And most of all, there was Danny, amping up his borderline-creepy stalking and harassing of Jordan. Can you feel the love tonight?

Love, like everything else in this episode, was really about power. As in The 48 Laws of Power, the strategy manual for people who’ve never heard of Machiavelli, as Matt put it. (Funniest line of the night: In response to Darius’ observation that the book is a bible to hip-hoppers, Matt asked, ”Do they know it’s written by a guy whose only achievement is writing a book?”)

Turns out Jordan’s new underling, Hallie, had read the volume as well, including the law about suckering your opponent by pretending to be a sucker. (It was funny when Jordan called her the vice president of Illiterate Programming, but Hallie’s clearly read at least one book.) The new vice president of Alternative Programming (yes, that’s really what networks call the executives in charge of reality TV), Hallie went over Jordan’s head to pitch a show to Jack, showed off her svelte bod in the company gym, and bared her claws to Jordan with an especially catty line: ”Uh-oh, there’s another pretty girl at the dance, and this one’s not pregnant.” Jordan recognized Hallie as Eve Harrington to her Margo Channing, but I don’t think Bette Davis ever acknowledged her own power maneuvering with a line like ”Oh, I’m a beeyotch, baby.” Now that Jordan and Jack are getting along, we apparently needed a new rivalry in the NBS executive suite, so it looks like Hallie will be around to make trouble — and to give Sorkin an excuse to bash unscripted TV — for a while.

Speaking of Jack, he’s not nearly as much fun now that he’s an idealist, though his short temper continued to make for lively moments, like calling the corporate overseer who held Jack’s future in his hands a moron. The power struggle at the board meeting seemed to end with Wilson casually tossing aside the chairmanship and everything he has spent his life building. What happened to the CEO who was ready to fight the battle of his life against the federal government just one episode ago? (Maybe he’s just trying to sucker his opponents by playing a sucker.) Fortunately, Jack came up with a risky but bold plan to outplay the board members, inspired by the serendipitous but unlikely appearance of a story in a stray newspaper’s entertainment pages. (I’ll let you readers decide what kind of cultural-elitist irony it is for a random copy of the New York Times Arts & Leisure section to save the day for NBS.)

Of course, for Jack’s plan to work, for him to save the Macao deal with Zhang Tao, he had to do a favor for the Chinese tycoon: get his daughter Kim to give up her dream of ditching the viola to become an improv comedian. She’s still hung up on the unwitting Tom (yes, Sorkin is digging up that unlikely plotline from the absurd two-parter last fall), but Jack apparently figures that letting her spend time with the sketch player and seeing how unglamorous his life is will send her scurrying back to Juilliard faster than a Beethoven scherzo. (Heck, having her listen to Tom natter on about the history of sketch comedy or the travails of his brother fighting IN AFGHANISTAN should kill her fantasy in about five minutes, tops.)

Tom doesn’t know it yet, but Jack’s favor is going to conflict with the date he finally had the nerve to ask Lucy for. I’m guessing that all these people are going to end up at Harry’s pro-abstinence benefit dinner, along with Matt or Luke, whichever of them won the online bidding for the right to be Harry’s date. Matt’s jealousy really isn’t cute anymore, especially given his ambivalent feelings toward his ex-girlfriend, and I’m glad Harriet finally told him to make up his mind. Matt’s preaching is also getting tiresome, especially to Harry, who said, ”I’m sorry, I nodded off while you were talking.” (You and the rest of us, kiddo. Which brings up my biggest complaint with this sloppily structured episode: too much exposition, too many scenes of characters telling each other what we’d just seen.) Then again, when Sorkin’s mouthpieces are spouting off about politics or religion, that activity at least keeps them too busy to invent more dreadful-sounding sketch characters like Dolphin Girl and Husky Gymnast.

So just about everyone at Studio 60 is likely to take Thursday night off. (Does the title of this episode, ”Monday,” mean we have to sit through ”Tuesday” and ”Wednesday” episodes first? Oy.) Everybody, except perhaps for Simon and Darius, who were busy squabbling over what Simon perceived as Darius’ insufficient gratitude for having been rescued from death by Def Comedy Jam. (Maybe Darius just thought the militant Fruit of the Loom spokesfruit idea was lame.) Oh, and Danny, who will be too busy pulling amorous stunts like getting his famous pals to blast-fax Jordan with testimonials. ”Will you please stop?” asked the mortified Jordan. ”No,” replied Danny. I think we’re supposed to see him as a lovesick romantic, but his attempt to wear down her resistance just looks like a desperate power play. Which law in the book covers that one?

Questions to ponder: Will Jack’s plan work? Will Viola Girl Kim come between Tom and Lucy? Would a real-life network buy Hallie’s reality pitch, All You Need Is Love? Will Jordan stop eating long enough to save her own job? And will Heroes fans stick around next week after their show is over to watch Masi Oka’s guest spot on Studio 60?