Welcome back to Better Late Than Never. I apologize for the delay this past weekend. I was busy rearranging my living room to accommodate the delivery of a fridge. You know, real-life stuff that got in the way of my true passion. Stay young for as long as possible. At the same time, cherish the little things, like getting a new fridge after five years of dealing with a shoddy one.
Anyway, let’s recap where we’ve been and where we’re going. When we last left the Studio 60 crew, Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) brought in a writer for Vanity Fair to write a story about the rejuvenation of Studio 60 following Wes Mendel’s firing and the hiring of Matt and Danny. During the episode, Martha (and the audience) observed the inner workings of putting on a sketch comedy show in the middle of a crisis. Yes, the writer’s room supposedly plagiarized a joke which meant Simon and Harriet had to cut into the West Coast broadcast of the show to correct their error. It was, as I mentioned, a “breezy” episode of the series. Breezy but needed.
“The Long Lead Story” picks up the following week, with Martha interviewing the actors and PAs, shadowing Matt as he writes, and trying to figure out the romantic thread running between Harriet and Matt. This episode was breezy in a forgettable way. While it gave us a much-needed look at Harriet’s background and more of the give and take between Danny and Jordan, this episode felt weaker when stacked against the previous four episodes. I think it had something to do with how heavily the episode leaned into the sketch aspect of the show.
Whatever the case, go ahead and read my thoughts and then stick around for the mini-review at the end.
- “It’s a ten thousand word piece. Not all of them are going to be winners.” Martha O’Dell speaks the truth about hundreds of pieces of writing all over the place in all mediums at any time of the day. Writing is hard, man, and she hits the nail right on the head.
- Okay, but like, I am listening to Jordan talking about this scripted show called Nations and really want to see a Sorkin written show that tackles exactly this same concept. Maybe it’s just because I like Sorkin, but I think we all know, he’d knock it out of the park, if The West Wing, Newsroom, and Studio 60 have anything to say about it.
- “This is a young playwright coming out of New York.” Hi, so is Trevor Loughlin a Sorkin stand-in? It sounds like he’s a Sorkin stand-in. I’m not sure how I feel about that. But I kind of like it? Maybe? I mean, Lin Manuel Miranda is tackling a bit of a story within a story like that for Netflix and tick, tick, boom! So, it can work.
- This Nancy Grace bit is super good. I’ve watched a lot of Nancy Grace in my time and Paulson hits her right on the head. She continues to wow me, honestly. She was made to be a leading lady and all it took was Ryan Murphy coming in and writing for that talent. Not that I think Sorkin didn’t, because he did, but Murphy made her a star and I thank him for that.
- Harriet’s life story is so touching. It gives her so many different facets and makes her much more interesting than she was in the previous five episodes. I feel like this is really her episode. Just like we’ve gotten other stories in the past, this is her time to shine and boy does she sparkle. I say a lot about Matt and Danny, mostly because they are the stars of the show, but Harriet is my third favorite character. Hands down.
- I adore Steven Webber and Amanda Peet’s chemistry. It’s not sexual chemistry, thank god, but it’s a bright spot in the show. Their platonic, working relationship, while a bit skewed and off-balance in power, I don’t know, it just works between them. Like Danny and Matt’s platonic friendship, Jordan and Jack’s platonic love-hate work relationship feels nice in the face of all the romantic subtext.
- I’m repeating this thought once again but this set is phenomenal and I need more of it in my life.
- “I operate like an international spy.” Then he walks in and Martha just repeats everything Simon said because he’s wired to a hot mic. Oh yeah, Simon. Real smooth. James Bond, you are not.
- Danny immediately worrying about Jordan is both adorable and endearing and that’s part of the reason I love Danny. He’s not self-serving or selfish. He easily could be but, instead, he worries about everyone around him instead. I find it admirable and an interesting character trait for him.
- The ending of this episode is so tender and soft. I’m sure it has a lot about the fact Sting is singing “Fields of Gold,” my favorite Sting song, while being accompanied on a lute while Matt and Harriet semi-make up and are equally as soft and tender as the song. Matt and Harriet are my OTP to end all OTPs. I don’t care what anyone says. I also really need to see Matthew Perry and Paulson star together in a show or movie again.
- BONUS: Cue me yelling “NOW KISS. WHY AREN’T YOU KISSING??” loudly at my computer screen. Spoiler alert: they did not kiss.
There are only two things I want to talk about with this episode. One is Harriet’s life story and two is why this episode feels so weak when buttressed against episode four.
First, Harriet’s story and the relationship Sorkin writes with her mother is so beautifully done. What makes Sorkin’s writing, for me, isn’t his political leanings–though they are persuasive and idealistic and everything that people cling to right now. No, what makes Sorkin’s writing and what makes it so accessible is the relationships he builds, even if that relationship is with someone who is off-screen. Harriet’s life story and the way she speaks about her mother and her faith are tender and genuine in a way that most backstories aren’t typically in this kind of TV show.
Usually, when an audience member encounters a character who is an actor, that actor isn’t genuine and if they are genuine, the authenticity doesn’t show up until well into the run of the show. It’s usually brought about by an existential crisis or some sort of conflict and it definitely isn’t willingly shown to a reporter who is asking questions. That’s a part of what makes Harriet and Sorkin’s writing so accessible and so endearing. Sorkin breaks tropes. He does so with ease which is refreshing. Harriet’s story is a bright spot in an otherwise unforgettable episode.
Of course, Paulson nails the performance, and I found myself falling even more in love with her and Harriet. I also gained an appreciation for her. Harriet is living her best self, though maybe I could make an argument against that because her best self would include being with Matt, but that’s neither here nor there. Seeing an effortlessly strong woman who is sure of herself and flawed and well-written is such a wonderful thing to see, especially in a show that aired in 2006.
Unfortunately, despite Harriet and her characterization we get in this episode, “The Long Lead Story” is forgettable. Not just forgettable, it’s just plain bad. The cast and crew of the sketch show are out of damage control mode and the story stalls. Why? The only thing I can think of is this episode proves that Sorkin doesn’t know enough about writing sketch comedy and how the backstage works at places like SNL. Which is, unfortunately, true. Lorne Michaels wouldn’t let Sorkin shadow SNL in preparation for Studio 60 and it shows in the episode.
The sketches are bad. Even Matt says they’re bad. The backstage aspect of it feels weak too. Dialogue isn’t snappy. Sorkin spent too much time on the sketch about Nancy Grace that could’ve been used for more character building. True, the audience gets some of that backstage stuff that I love so much but it’s not sparkling. It’s not witty. It doesn’t feel like Sorkin. And it’s not like the backstage stuff is too technical because we know he can do technical from The Newsroom. This backstage episode is lacking a personal connection. Even in Sports Night, the audience got both the technical aspect of running a TV show but it was the personal connection that kept it from getting dull.
In “The Long Lead Story,” our emotional anchors are Martha and Harriet, one of whom is an outside source in this world. I think what would’ve made this much better is if Sorkin developed Cal (Timothy Busfield) more and gave him a love interest who worked in the industry like Matt and Harriet, Danny and Jordan, and Jack and Jordan (even if they are platonic). Cal is important to the backstage crew and yet, we barely see him. I don’t know. Sorkin could’ve also chosen to tighten his focus in this episode as well to just Matt and Harriet and Martha instead of throwing everyone else in the mix too. That might have helped, but since Studio 60 is an ensemble, I can see why he didn’t.
Episode five might be the weakest episode of the season so far, but it does have its moments. Harriet’s backstory and the inclusion of Martha are the bright spots in an otherwise skippable episode.
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