Welcome back to another installment of my Better Late Than Never exploration of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It’s Monday (we skipped Friday. Whoops. That was our bad.) and we’ve completed our first three episodes of the season and I’m having a blast digging deeper and sharing my thoughts with you, my fine readers. I hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am. I love Sorkin’s writing in this show. It feels so familiar and yet it’s so different and I don’t know if I’m doing it justice, but I’m having fun watching and hopefully introducing the show to a brand new audience.
Today we are tackling episode three “The Focus Group,” which throws everyone, save for maybe Danny, for a loop. After watching this episode, I’m fairly certain that I would hate being a president of a broadcasting network and I would also hate acting in a network television show. There’s way too much stress involved as some of our cast and crew found out in this episode.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
- Jordan being sassy while watching the focus group talk about the things they didn’t like about the show is great. I think this is when I started liking her a lot more and started softening up to her. I’m not sure why other than I understood the commedia dell’arte references and also understood her indignation at the group for not knowing what that is.
- “Yeah, I need the damn focus group to tell me Clooney is good looking.” I like seeing a show poking fun at other shows. I also like how NBC pretty much gets dragged in this show and they aired the show. It’s hilarious to me.
- “You know, I think you’re the devil.” “And that’s lunch.” Sarah Paulson over here killing it, like always. And her Holly Hunter impression is spot on. I love it.
- “God loves me and hates the both of you.” She says as the lights come on. Meanwhile, Simon is freaking out because one, he hates the dark, and two, the lights coming back on make it seem like Harriet is a spokesperson for God. There are great character beats in this conversation between Simon, Harriet, and Tom. I love how Sorkin manages to juggle everyone so smoothly.
- There is nothing I want more than to see Cal and Danny squaring off and bantering more than once an episode. Whitford is on fire but so is Busfield and they’re both funny and witty and occasionally rely on dry humor and I live for that stuff. I’m hoping future episodes give me more of them having fun.
- Ricky and Ron don’t get any slack and I love it. I didn’t like Evan Handler as a speechwriter in The West Wing and I don’t like him here as Ricky in Studio 60. I tell you what, though, Ricky takes a beating from Matt and Danny and does so halfway graciously and I have to admire that about him, but out of all the characters, Ricky and Ron feels the least developed so far. Them and Jack Rudolph. In the scheme of things, Ricky and Ron are definitely the weak links.
- “Can we have this conversation moving?” What a conspicuous way to introduce a walk and talk and here I am, eating out of the palm of Sorkin’s hand. I’m like Whitford. I would do Sorkin’s lawn in exchange for picking his brain for five minutes.
- “You let her win this argument?” “She can make the lights go on and off by herself.” I really do love how Sorkin adapts and builds these characters in this episode. It’s so great. I would kill to be able to write as he does.
- “You know, you look like one of them, but you talk like one of us.” The first inklings of a romance between Danny and Jordan and I am here for it. Danny needs some love and not just cutesy romantic love, no, he needs someone who won’t take his shit. That’s Jordan.
- This montage of the cast and crew celebrating after their demos and audience retention come in is the best way to end this episode. It really shows just how much this cast and crew care about each other and how they have each other’s backs. Found family stories are my kryptonite and, as I said before, I’m a theater girl. Nothing beats families that you find on the stage or backstage like this and Sorkin and the cast capture that perfectly.
I have fallen wholeheartedly in love with these characters and it’s only the third episode. Sarah Paulson, Nate Corddry, D.L. Hughley, Amanda Peet, Steven Webber, Matthew Perry, and Bradley Whitford have such wonderful chemistry between each other that it’s almost hard to believe that they’ve not been acting together for years and years. I mean, this is a brand new ensemble cast and they’re working off of each other so well, they feel like they’ve been together for more than three episodes. Sometimes with ensemble casts, it takes a while for the cast to gel together and feel authentic. Not with Sorkin ensembles. Right from the get-go, they’re fully formed beings with complicated histories and they play off each other so well.
Studio 60 is no exception. While Ricky and Ron feel like the outsiders, as I’ve mentioned above, everyone else just works together so well, but none so well as Peet and Webber and Perry and Whitford. Honestly, though, it would be a crime to single out just those four. The Big Three also work well together. Paulson, Corddry, and Hughley as Tom, Simon, and Harriet have these fully formed relationships as well. None of it is more obvious than in the sequences where they are creating and writing the News 60 sketch. These are backstage scenes in their finest that really show the intricacies of what it’s like backstage with these people who become your friends and family. Sorkin taps that into that beautifully and I love every moment.
Of course, I would be remiss to ignore Peet and Webber as Jack and Jordan. You know, if it wasn’t for Danny and Jordan being absolutely adorable in their own little way, I would almost be rooting for Jordan and Jack. Jack is not the nicest man in the show. On the contrary, he’s probably the most prickly, but Peet and Webber play off each other with such wit and finesse that when they’re together, I can almost ignore Jack’s more frustrating personality traits.
Basically, if you find the show and watch it and haven’t fallen in love with these characters and their relationships with each other by this episode, then Studio 60 isn’t for you. “The Focus Group” is the perfect example of what Sorkin is capable of. The episode is full of wit and humor but is also serious in a way that the audience doesn’t fully understand until the last few minutes. This episode is also the cast at the top of their game too, and it can only go up from here.
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