Timothy Busfield

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006) s01e02 – The Cold Open

The Cold Open is about Matthew Perry trying to write the cold open (the pre-credits sketch) for the first episode of ‘Studio 60’ he and pal Bradley Whitford are producing. The episode’s cold open is Amanda Peet giving a press conference about Perry and Whitford taking over the show. It’s a quick recap of the pilot, with some adjustments, like Whitford being the one more interested in Peet and Perry both having a not silly haircut and being quite a bit better at the dramatic acting since they shot the pilot.

But we also get to meet the show-in-the-show’s regulars—“The Big Three,” Sarah Paulson, D.L. Hughley, and Nate Corddry. Paulson’s the mega-talented progressive Evangelical who used to date Perry but now they’re working together, Hughley’s the Black guy who’s been on the show forever but can’t do Bill Cosby voices (I think only two now extremely awkward Cosby mentions this episode) so he’s worried about his job, and Corddry’s the young White cishet guy who worries about what bloggers think of the show. Funny thing about the way they act and the way Whitford speaks to them when he’s asserting himself as the new boss… they don’t seem like a “Big Three” anything. They’re all worried about their jobs.

Sorkin puts no effort into establishing the “reality” of the twenty-year old former flagship Friday night comedy show (airing live from Los Angeles and so 2:30 a.m. east coast) on a fifth network. But a fifth network better than Fox. But not much older than Fox? Maybe. It’s like Sorkin doesn’t want to draw attention to the television business in his show about the television business.

There are some good scenes and some not so good scenes. Whitford still seems a little overwhelmed in second lead all of a sudden while Perry’s definitely more comfortable. Especially with Paulson. Peet’s excellent. Cordrry and Hughley are okay, Cordrry more because he’s got limited material while Hughley’s arc is Sorkin encouraging people to think about how the show’s reality doesn’t work.

The biggest deal is Ayda Field as a fourth “Big Three” member who slept with Perry between the end of the pilot and the beginning of this episode because they’re just friends who occasionally sleep together. Only Paulson has no idea (she doesn’t even realize they’re friends much less ones who are irregularly intimate) and it causes some drama between her and Field. Because even though they’re strong female characters, they can only bond over men. It’s awkward but all right; both Paulson and Field are likable and better in their other scenes so it carries.

Oh, and some great Steven Weber. He’s really the stand out in this show, which is something given Peet somehow manages to make all the Sorkin™ material gold.

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.

Striking Distance (1993, Rowdy Herrington)

If it weren’t for the fantastic Brad Fiedel music (until the end credits) and the Pittsburgh locations (the city really is underutilized as a filming location, with Striking Distance taking fantastic advantage of its mix of urban, green and water), there’d be nothing to distinguish this one. It’s a B movie given a high profile because Bruce Willis is the star. Additionally, a lot of the supporting cast is solid and recognizable–but auteur Rowdy Herrington doesn’t have much control of them, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

Willis, for instance, turns in a performance with less depth than if he were selling hair products (maybe to explain his strange, long in the back, pseudo-mullet in the film). Dennis Farina’s awful, clearly needing firmer direction. But Tom Sizemore and Robert Pastorelli are both good. Pastorelli’s actually great in some parts, running loose without having to worry about anyone telling him to stop. Brion James and John Mahoney are both solid in smaller parts. Sarah Jessica Parker isn’t at all believable as Willis’s partner, but she’s not terrible.

The film has, for such a solid production environment, some lame cinematography courtesy Mac Ahlberg, who shot a lot of B movies… so maybe it does fit. Herrington tries to combine a Bruce Willis cop movie with a serial killer thriller, but directed like a horror movie. It succeeds in being incredibly watchable, if completely unrewarding.

There’s a strange amount of bare chested Willis; his shirts apparently go to pieces on touch.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Rowdy Herrington; written by Herrington and Marty Kaplan; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Pasquale Buba and Mark Helfrich; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Arnon Milchan, Tony Thomopoulos and Hunt Lowry; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bruce Willis (Det. Tom Hardy), Sarah Jessica Parker (Jo Christman), Dennis Farina (Capt. Nick Detillo), Tom Sizemore (Det. Danny Detillo), Brion James (Det. Eddie Eiler), Robert Pastorelli (Det. Jimmy Detillo), Timothy Busfield (Tony Sacco), John Mahoney (Lt. Vince Hardy), Andre Braugher (Dist. Atty. Frank Morris), Tom Atkins (Sgt. Fred Hardy), Mike Hodge (Capt. Penderman) and Jodi Long (Officer Kim Lee).


Field of Dreams (1989, Phil Alden Robinson)

If asked, I’d probably blame MTV, video games, and CG for the downfall of American cinema. These reasons are my knee-jerk examples and, if they’re not the whole problem, they’re certainly the major contributing factors. However, following Field of Dreams, I think I’ll have to revise my answer. There’s a sense of cynicism about American cinema, even if it’s not pronounced, it’s present; Field of Dreams was not the last idealistic American film, but it might have been the peak of them. Or the last bump anyway. By the late 1990s, Capra-esque had become a pejorative after all. P.T. Anderson might have cost American cinema more than he contributed.

Watching Field of Dreams now, as a full cynic, as someone who deliberates on the filmic adaptation of novels, as someone who’s seen how bad American baseball movies have gotten, is interesting. No, it’s not. It’s not interesting. Maybe, while watching it, all of those list items did occur to me for a moment or two, but not for any sustained period. Field of Dreams presents a beautiful world, not just in its universal statement, but also in its small ones. There’s a beauty to the scene where James Earl Jones talks to people in the bar. It’s hard to imagine such a scene actually occurring today, which makes Dreams‘s message more significant in modernity than perhaps it was in 1988. (I mean, Bush is worse than Reagan, right?)

I can’t think of a more successful father and son film between Field of Dreams and East of Eden. They’re incredibly different–except there is farming in both–but they’re the only two films to significantly essay the relationship. I just thought of calling them Iron John films (after Bly’s book), but two films isn’t really enough for a label I don’t think.

Besides having James Earl Jones’ finest performance, Costner’s great–I love his awful shirts–so’s Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster and everybody. Phil Alden Robinson, who has gone on to other stuff and none of it–even Sneakers, which is good–shows this level of excellence, controls not just the actors, but the editing, the sound, every part of Field of Dreams fits perfectly. It’s not even the case of a well-tooled construction, it’s an organic creation. James Horner’s score is obviously an important feature–more important, even, than Amy Madigan or Ray Liotta or Burt Lancaster–but there’s also the baseball element. Baseball–in the American context, I’m not sure what it means in the Japanese–does represent some idealized American existence. I don’t even like baseball (which is not, however, why I don’t like Bull Durham. Bull Durham just isn’t good).

Field of Dreams is also an example of the benevolent studio. I believe Universal Studios had the picture’s best interest in mind. There are two significant, studio-dictated changes to Field of Dreams. One was the title, changed from Shoeless Joe, which was the title of the novel and is not the correct title for this film’s story. Second came at the very end: the “Dad” line. I tried watching that particular scene as cynically as possible, with full knowledge of the preview audience and whatnot, but it changed the scene’s effect. I can’t believe I forgot how great this film was… In fact, I’m embarrassed I was expecting less from it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson; screenplay by Robinson, based on a novel by W.P. Kinsella; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Ian Crafford; music by James Horner; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Charles Gordon; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kevin Costner (Ray Kinsella), Amy Madigan (Annie Kinsella), Gaby Hoffman (Karin Kinsella), Ray Liotta (Shoeless Joe Jackson), Timothy Busfield (Mark), James Earl Jones (Terence Mann) and Burt Lancaster (Moonlight Graham).


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