Some time ago I mentioned the eager anticipation with which grieving West Wing fans were awaiting the arrival in the UK of Aaron Sorkin's latest production, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Well, we're now about half-way through the first (and only) series on More4, and the whole thing has just re-started from Episode One on Channel 4, at some godawful hour of the night.
The verdict so far? Well, for Sorkin fans it's unmissable, since it has many of the features that we loved about The West Wing: the snappy dialogue that you have to replay to catch in full, the 'walk and talk' extended camera shots, the layered relationships built around a fast-moving workplace. Hell, it even has 'Josh' from The WW in a starring role, not to mention compelling performances from Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet and Sarah Paulson.
However...despite all this, the show isn't as immediately appealing as Sorkin's presidential drama, and you can kind-of see why the ratings fell away and it got canned after one series. Despite the frequent moments of comedy (it is, after all, about the production of a weekly comedy show), there's a darkness and intensity about Studio 60 that wasn't there in The West Wing. It may simply be the fact that most of it takes place in the enclosed space of a badly-lit theatre, but Sorkin also seems more unremittingly concerned with darker themes of relationship breakdown, miscommunication and (ironically/appropriately) the unrelenting pressures on creative artists from ratings-obsessed networks and narrow-minded religious and cultural conservatives.
H. and I have had more moments of pure pleasure from our recent discovery - via the wonder of DVD boxed sets - of a much earlier Sorkin production: Sports Night. We were put off buying this for a long time by its ostensible subject (neither H. nor I being great sports fans), but we needn't have been. It's only available in Region 1 / NTSC format at the moment, so we've taken to watching episodes in bed, after the children have gone to sleep, on the portable multi-region player that I bought H. for Christmas.
The comedy is much broader than in Sorkin's later work, but the writing, acting and interweaving of personal relationships and social/political concerns are classic Sorkin. And there's the added pleasure of watching future WW stars such as Joshua Malina ('Will' in The WW who has a key role as a nerdy producer), Janel Maloney ('Donna' in The WW, in a minor role here) and Teri Polo (later the wife of president-elect Matt Santos in the final WW series), as well as Peter Krause who went on to star in Six Feet Under and Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives fame. The show's production team - Sorkin as main writer, producer Thomas Schlamme and theme-music composer W.G.Snuffy Walden - came together again for The West Wing and Studio 60.
Enough TV trivia. Back to the politics.