Steven Weber

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006) s01e01

I wish I were taking a rhetoric class so I could write a paper on whether “Studio 60” aged badly or poorly. I’ve never taken rhetoric and I’ve also never been great at first draft word choice so I’m not sure if that joke’s accurate but I will say it’s about as funny as anything on “Studio 60”’s first episode. I don’t have Amanda Peet or Steven Weber delivering it, so it’s more in the Matthew Perry arena.

But the point of “Studio 60” isn’t to be funny. It’s about the very serious business of being funny. And it doesn’t age well. It doesn’t not hold up—the pilot is just as good as its ever been in the places where it’s good and its got the problems just where it’s always had them—the second half is uneven, starting with the awkward introduction to the “Big Three” of the show-in-the-show’s Friday night sketch comedy program (Sarah Paulson, D.L. Hughley, and Nate Corddry). Then we get Matthew Perry playing the Aaron Sorkin wonder man and he’s not great at it.

But back to it not aging well for a second—one of the things Perry’s so upset about is the network putting the “flag over the network bug” but also the network bug in the first place.

Remember TV before the network bug in the bottom right? Barely, right? There’s a whole generation who doesn’t. Was Aaron Sorkin really mad about networking branding? And the Donald Trump joke isn’t even as bad as realizing Sorkin’s trying to both sides evangelical Christians with Paulson’s devout Christian but we have found out they really are just a couple sheets short of a Klan rally. Aaron Sorkin’s not a futurist or a political scientist, though… given 2016, it turns out neither of those disciplines are worth much.

Anyway.

What Sorkin does do well is his idealized version of the television industry, where upstart Peet can come in and convince Weber they can get rich off being classy. After sketch show producer Judd Hirsch—who can’t be based on Lorne Michaels because Lorne Michaels never made an actually good show—has his “mad as hell” moment on the air, new network president Peet brings back fired but now super successful Perry and Bradley Whitford (it’s a trip, no pun, seeing Whitford stumbling to find his co-lead cred in the show) to prove TV can still be relevant and good.

Just like it was when Edward R. Murrow used the “Jack Benny” show to take down McCarthy. Or when John Belushi’s Samurai Futaba brought the end to Vietnam.

Peet and Weber are great. Paulson’s interesting. Perry’s likable if you like Perry and Whitford’s likable if you like Whitford, though neither of them are particularly good here. And Perry’s hair is goofy.

Nice guest spots from Wendy Phillips, Donna Murphy, and Felicity Huffman.

Timothy Busfield is excellent as the director. He’s kind of the protagonist of the episode. Or at least the constant; he’s waiting to get fired for leaving Hirsch on the air.

Sorkin’s script is full of love of the craft of television making—I mean, control room director idolatry—and when it’s Hirsch, Peet, and Weber’s show it’s smooth sailing. Rockier when Perry takes the helm but it’s such an expensive… classy production it can’t not succeed as a pilot.

Though, disclaimer, I’ve liked Matthew Perry since the eighties so I’m biased. But it’s worth watching for Peet and Weber on their acting alone.

Sour Grapes (1998, Larry David)

Sour Grapes has its moments, unfortunately all the funny ones belong to Orlando Jones. Jones is one of the peripheral characters, maybe the only successful peripheral character in the film actually. As a precursor to David’s far more successful “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Grapes shows how necessary a proper delivery method is for David’s humor. Here, with Steven Weber and Craig Bierko both essentially playing variations on the David genial misanthrope–Weber to a lesser degree, but Bierko is playing George Costanza–it’s clear something isn’t working. (Weber’s excellent. He should do more movies).

What David doesn’t have in Grapes is any grounding in reality. The only person with any semblance of grounding is Bierko’s wife, played by Robyn Peterman, and she disappears for long stretches of the running time. The film only runs ninety minutes, which just furthers the feeling it’s an elongated sitcom.

Oddly, had David really stretched it out, maybe turned it into a spoof of a mini-series, Grapes would have been a far greater success. While he introduces these characters with great humor potential, they never have time to do anything. Karen Sillas, for example, shows signs of giving a good performance, but her character is never interesting. She’s not developed enough to be funny.

A lot could have been resolved with a stronger director. David’s composition is adequate, but he doesn’t bring any ingenuity to it. Grapes‘s narrative structure is more like an early thirties comedy than anything modern–the morality play for laughs–and he can’t properly present it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Larry David; director of photography, Victor Hammer; edited by Priscilla Nedd-Friendly; production designer, Charles Rosen; produced by Laurie Lennard; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Steven Weber (Evan Maxwell), Craig Bierko (Richie Maxwell), Viola Harris (Selma Maxwell), Karen Sillas (Joan), Robyn Peterman (Roberta), Matt Keeslar (Danny Pepper), Jennifer Leigh Warren (Millie), Orlando Jones (Digby), John Toles-Bey (Lee), Deidre Lovejoy (Nurse Wells), Richard Gant (Det. Crouch), Philip Baker Hall (Mr. Bell) and Kristin Davis (Riggs).


Scroll to Top