Better Late than Never: 10 Random Thoughts on Studio 60 Episode 17

Credit: NBC

Occasionally, TV shows do episodes that more or less don’t make sense in the overarching canon of the show. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes these episodes change the game just enough that it makes audiences pay attention. Or it changes the game just enough that audiences turn the show off altogether. For Studio 60, its weird episode doesn’t happen until a few episodes before the series finale. I think this weird episode was the result of a hiatus that happened after “4 a.m. Miracle.” To get viewers back into the swing of things, Sorkin ditches Danny, Matt, and Jordan altogether and instead focuses on the show within the show.

“The Disaster Show” brings Allison Janney to Studio 60 to host one of the worst live shows we’ve seen since Wes broke into a live broadcast to utterly destroy network television. A wildcat strike and Danny’s insensitive words cause the propmasters to walk out a few hours before the planned strike time. Also part of the propmasters union are the cue card guys who also walk out minutes before the show is set to start and Janney is meant to deliver the cold open. What follows is an awkward and hilarious episode that isn’t needed but is welcomed silliness, all the same.

Here are my ten thoughts and the mini-review follows. You know the drill.

  1. Finally. More behind the scenes of the studio bustling and at work. It takes me back to my high school theater days and it makes me so happy. And, once again, it invokes a bit of the famous walk and talk only through camera movements and not actually walking and talking with a character. It’s a different way to remind viewers where they are and who’s running the show. 
  2. Hello, the Allison Janney/Timothy Busfield reunion I didn’t know I needed until just now. Their chemistry is off the charts. When are they going to be on a TV show together again? I need to know. 
  3. Yup. This is exactly what it felt like in high school theater, only without the prop masters walking out and Cal destroying the table with the neatly arranged props on it, thus breaking a whole bunch of props and ruining the perfect order they were laid out in. This is going to be a fun show, isn’t it? 
  4. Ten minutes in and we’ve not seen Danny or Matt, even though Danny is the one who messed everything up with the prop union and also the cue card guys. I will say, though, I’m glad we’re getting more of the background characters and that Janney is in this episode. She’s ridiculously good at comedy. 
  5. The only problem I’m having with this episode is that it’s awkward and I’m experiencing second-hand anxiety because of it. This is part of the reason I don’t typically watch sitcoms. All this second-hand anxiety makes me cringe and it makes it difficult to get through the episode. 
  6. So not only did the propmasters and the cue card guys walkout, now Studio 60’s been hit with a bomb threat due to a sketch. Oh, boy. This episode just keeps getting crazier and crazier. 
  7. Harriet to Jeannie: “You can go out with Matt.” Harriet to Jeannie multiple times: “You can go out with Matt.” Harriet to Jeannie about ten seconds after Jeannie leaves the room: “Don’t go out with Matt.” They really need to pull it together. They’re absolutely killing me here. 
  8. And there’s an underling speaking truth to what everyone, including myself, is thinking. Why can’t Matt and Harriet just be together already? Because my God, they should be with all the dancing around they do. Even Harriet thinks they should be together, but I’m not entirely sure why she’s not telling Matt that, or better yet, yelling it at Matt.
  9. The show’s a disaster. Jack is drunk as a skunk and wandering around the building trying to hit on Janney. Janney is making a list and checking it twice. The prop guys aren’t back yet. The cue card guys aren’t back yet and Simon has two ladies who think they’re going to Hawaii with him because he’s an adolescent womanizer who can’t seem to tell the truth. To either woman. Alrighty, then. This has been fun. 
  10. Yeah, that ending just confirmed that I need more of Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield together. In a romantic comedy. Can we make that happen? Can someone make that happen? Because it needs to happen. 

As mentioned previously, this episode could be cut from the run entirely and nothing would change in the plot. This was a silly sidebar that finally gave Harriet, Simon, Tom, and Cal more time to stretch their comedic chops. We got a little bit of character development in the form of Simon, but other than that, I think we know that Simon is a womanizer just from what we’ve seen so far in the run of the show. I don’t think we need an episode where he gets by two different women to tell us he objectifies women. But I digress.

The only reason why I’m glad this episode exists is Janney and by extension Busfield.

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not ship CJ Cregg and Danny Concannon in The West Wing, which is where I first fell in love with their chemistry. But I can admit that they have fantastic chemistry. This is fully on display in this episode, even as Busfield is playing a character and Janney is playing herself. The two of them are often engaged in verbal spars which pale in comparison to the spars and barbs traded in The West Wing, but I found myself not caring in the slightest. This was Busfield at the sharpest I’ve seen since The West Wing and since he started playing Cal. Sorkin finally used him and really made him interesting. Sure, we didn’t learn about him and we really didn’t have much character development, but I could still happily watch him playing as Cal any day of the week. I hope the episodes we have left will utilize Cal more than they have because he’s an interesting character and Busfield can hold his own.

Which brings us to Janney. I know that she’s as much a comedic actress as she is a dramatic actress. She can easily navigate both genres with ease and gravitas. I’ll admit that I’ve not seen her in Mom so this is only my second experience with her in comedy and boy did I love it. She wasn’t playing a character in the episode, she was only playing herself, which makes me wonder just how true to form this episode was to her in real life. Or if she was Allison Janney playing a stylized version of herself. Either way, she killed it in this episode and I wish she would’ve been a character in the show. Just bring all The West Wing actors back. (Just kidding.) I really thought her rapport with Cal was brilliant. Her comedic timing was brilliant. When things started messing up, she took it in stride but with an increasing agitation that reminded me of CJ Cregg and a few other Janney characters I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

Basically, “The Disaster Show” was a genius way of letting Janney let loose and letting audiences know that she could do both comedy and drama. It also definitely made me want to see her and Busfield together again. It’s been 14 years now since they last were together. Here’s to hoping the casting gods will put them together again and soon. I need it.

Shelby Arnold
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