Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
Loving the work of Aaron Sorkin is a little like loving the Chicago Cubs. There's a history to it – and more than a little bit of talent, but chances are very good that you're going to end disappointed. During the last (forever?!) episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a new character was introduced named Mary Tate. She walks into the office of Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) to announce that she works for the network, defending them in a suit brought by a former writer. And her law firm: Gage Whitney. If you were a West Wing fan, then you know this is the law firm that Rob Lowe's character Sam Seaborn started out at. Aw, Sorkin gave us a callback!
With that moment, we were reminded of our history with this man — this man with a penchant for musicals, for sports, for politicos, for lawyers. And I remember the law firm of Gage Whitney because that's the episode when I started watching the Wing. It was a season premiere — one of the many flashback-filled masterpieces in the Emmy winning drama. What season did it premiere, you ask? Why, season two — 22 of the finest episodes of television ever written. I mean, come on, Galileo? Shibboleth? Two Cathedrals?!
Season two was also the peak of quality on The West Wing. While seasons three and four were certainly phenomenal (and award-winning), it was still lesser. It was when he began to burn out; it was when he wasn't using his consultants as often.
The fact of the matter is that when Sorkin was writing both SportsNight and The West Wing, he had to have outside help by virtue of the fact he didn't work in sports and, before TWW, he had never been all that involved politically. He needed a constant influx of help, consultation and suggestion from the real experts. And TWW specifically began it's creative decline when he fired a vast portion of his consultants like Peggy Noonon. SportsNight, due to ABC not yet realizing what they had, never found its audience and was cancelled after its second season.
Based on the first eps of Studio 60 , Sorkin was clearly going on an assumption that because he was an excellent television writer, he had all the perspective he needed to write a show set behind the scenes of a television show. But this is the world of comedy, not drama, and live comedy at that. It's a different animal, and he should have been square on that from the beginning. Half a season in he brought in talent like Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall, SNL), but it was too little too late. He'd gotten so mired in the unromantic relationship stories, the unfunny sketches and the random drug addictions, that not even the brilliant mind that brought the Headcrusher to Canada could save this show desperately in need of a lighter touch. At that point, it had become an hour-long helping of smug, lacking not just the realism of a comedy show, but also the irreverence that is so vital to that medium.
When he was writing TWW and SportsNight, Sorkin went in with a fire for the characters, but this time around it seems like the only things he has a passion for is proving how awesome he is, and that Kristin Chenowith should have never broken up with him because of how awesome he is.
So now, as rumors abound that the show may not return from hiatus, those who have suffered through these sixteen episodes – much like those who remember seasons and teams past that they loved, even as they suffer through a last place stinker – we breathe a sigh of relief. And, most importantly, we hope that in the off-season our fallen team will regroup. And when a new season, a new show, starts up for Sorkin — which make no mistake, he'll get, once Studio 60 becomes martyred a la SportsNight when this is yanked — I'm sure I'll be first in line to rent the pilot again on Netflix, constantly scour the entertainment news for casting announcements, and wonder who will be back from the old roster: Busfield, Whitford, will Janney be back up to bat? And where the hell has Joshua Malina been?! But whether or not NBC offically pulls the plug, I'm going to support my other teams, ones that don't so consistently let me down.