As a fan of Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing from its first episode through the finale (even through the second-to-last season), and before that enjoying his failed Sports Night, I was bound to watch Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip this fall. Not only does it feature many of the fine actors from WW, but in the months leading up to the S60 premiere the NBC marketing machine ensured that I was not oblivious to its existence; there were articles in every magazine and newspaper, there were spots on their network and their associates (Bravo, USA), there were billboards taking up the entire side of buildings on Sunset Blvd.
I knew it was coming.
Unlike Sorkin's previous series, where by my recollection I knew little about them before seeing an episode (truth be told, I caught the first episode of WW more by accident than intent, with nothing else on in that time slot that interested me; from what I'd seen in promos, I expected it was a sitcom), with S60 I saw a lot of hype for it. (It struck me as a bit odd at first that NBC would do this, as it had been my belief that they had given up on WW long before it actually finished, pre-empting its 8:00 pm Sunday time slot whenever possible—especially during sweeps.)
I liked to believe this indicated the network really believed in the show, and that the press really thought it was good. However, it did start to approach that level where it made me worry that the publicity machine was compensating for something.
Then last month S60 premiered. I watched it. I enjoyed it.
During its second week I was on vacation, but I taped it and watched it later. I have seen all the episodes thus far, and I fully intend to continue watching it. It's a decent show, featuring the standard Sorkin elements that all the magazines said it would have. (Matthew Perry shows how much he was wasted on Friends.)
The thing is, I don't find myself watching with the same level of interest that I did with WW. When I would watch those new episodes (and I watched them on tape when it moved to Sundays, as it was up against The Simpsons), I paid attention. I wasn't washing dishes or doing laundry or having it on while doing something on the computer. It required focus, and I wanted to give it that focus. S60… well, it keeps my attention, although perhaps not 100% of it.
I hadn't contemplated it that deeply, but after last week's episode, when I was trying to think of what was different between this and the previous series, and what came to mind first was: it's not funny. It's well-written, well-acted, well-directed, but for a show ostensibly about a comedy, it is alarmingly short on levity. That was part of what I liked about WW: it was a drama, certainly, but the repartee between the characters injected moments that were humorous (without being heavy-handed about it), albeit only inspiring a chuckle or perhaps a smirk. S60 has repartee, sure, but it's not the same, somehow; the show should be funnier, but it's just not quite working. Maybe I haven't gotten invested in the characters enough, or maybe they need to establish the milieu better first, but that's the sense I get.
Then I see how last week's Entertainment Weekly (which had already hyped it in the pre-season preview) was pushing it again, as one of the "5 Shows You Should Be Watching" and I thought:
Okay, now they're compensating.
Was NBC thinking a semi-erudite show about a television show would garner the ratings of a Lost or American Idol? Of course not, I assume.
Then by the weekend I saw two separate things that made me realize I wasn't alone (although apparently if I kept up better with reviews I would have seen this before).
The first was the hilarious "op-ed" piece (see link below) in the latest printed version of The Onion, where the writer reflects on how S60 used to be so relevant, for its first ten minutes, but after that has become formulaic.
The second was a bit on Friday's Best Week Ever episode where they also took the series to task for not being that funny, given that it's about a comedy show.
With that thought more or less validated (not that I require such things, but I'll take it when it comes on its own), I could move on. Or rather, move back.
I cannot help but wonder whether I went in a bit more ignorant about S60 as I had with WW, without the overwhelming publicity machine trying to convince me it was great, I might be perfectly happy with it being pretty good rather than being slightly disappointed.
I'll never know, however.
Next year I'll lock myself in a cave over the summer, just to be on the safe side.
(In the meantime, I'll concede tonight's episode, while still not that funny, had some decent drama.)