On ''Studio 60,'' Matt recalls his early days at the show, Danny and Jordan get couply, and sketches get cut mercilessly

By Nina Hammerling Smith
Updated February 13, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Matthew Perry: Mitch Haaseth

”Studio 60”: Matt has some flashbacks

It sure is fun when Aaron Sorkin writes about drugs. Just take last night’s Studio 60. As the episode opened, Matt was watching a dress rehearsal, popping pills like breath mints, and having these flashbacks to his early days with the show. We met his fellow writer Tim, a blue-shirt-and-khakis-clad figure no one else seemed to remember. In Matt’s flashback, Tim had been fired for ”taking pills.” Matt was trying to talk Tim into going into rehab. We saw parallels between the two fellows. Well, actually, it turned out they were more than that — Matt, you see, was taking us on a hallucination hayride. There was no Tim. Never was. Matt is Tim, kind of. Get it?

Last week’s promos set up this episode as a schmaltzy tribute to the doomed Matt-Harriet affair, but what we got instead was actually far more interesting: a peek at what Matt was like as a fresh-faced, wide-eyed young writer still hoping to get his big break. Past Matt was full of go-get-’em spunk, telling Harriet, ”There isn’t one ounce of quit in me. ” I believed him. The whole Tim thing actually had me going for a while, until the none-too-subtle scene between Now Matt and the musical guest, in which she called him out on being high, handed him some eyedrops, and basically told him to watch out for hallucinations.

You get the feeling that Sorkin is exorcising some of his own drug demons, and maybe that’s why this was the best episode in weeks. The stroll down memory lane was hardly arbitrary — let’s see…back in 1999, Y2K was threatening to make planes unflyable, Al Gore was looking like the next president, Brandy Chastain tore off her shirt after winning the World Cup, and, oh yeah, Sorkin was writing a little show called The West Wing. Two years later, he would be in rehab himself. His doppelgänger Matt is so self-absorbed and filled with self-doubt that he can’t even recognize his hallucination for what it is. He swings from defending his writing (”I got it right”) to trashing it. There’s a lot more roiling under that surface than just this latest breakup with Harriet. By the end, when Matt realized that he was projecting some fear of his own potential future onto this writer who never was, we had to wonder how deep into the medicine cabinet he actually was.

The episode did get around to When Harry Met Matty. It’s fascinating that the Luke love triangle also goes so far back — and that even then, Luke was hitting home runs with Harriet (with the Singing Teacher sketch) while Matt was just trying to get up to the plate. But there was definite instant electricity between Past Matt and Past Harriet; their banter was zingy and on point. (Calling the angel-believing, ”values voting” religious right ”honey-crusted nut bars”? Priceless.) Now we know why their push-pull attraction is the way it is — or at least we know that it’s always been that way, from the very beginning, so don’t expect it to change any time soon.

Oh, and the Danny-Jordan thing could not be cuter. I know he was stalking her, I know the whole thing was creepy, but damn it, they make a great pair. She’s like a giddy schoolgirl in puppy love, albeit one whose ”hormones are like a Los Alamos experiment right now.” (Actually, maybe that is just like a giddy schoolgirl in puppy love.)

It was great to see Studio 60 return to its behind-the-scenes roots. The ”Friday-night slaughter” is exactly the kind of juicy stuff that make this premise so promising. Tom and Dylan, fighting for the ”Little Sketch That Could,” on metric conversion, offered up some comic relief. And watching those sketch cards get tossed aside, as the clock ticked down to airtime, actually felt exciting. As if they were producing a live-television comedy show or something. Go figure.

Till next week (when your usual TV Watcher, Gary Susman, should be back), tell us: What do you think? Is Matt headed for rehab? Will Danny stick it out and actually be a father to Jordan’s baby? And should the series be giving us more romance or more sketch-show inside baseball?