Monday, November 16, 2009

Christmas TV Episode #10: "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"

10.) "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" 1.11 The Christmas Show (Watch it now.)

Is it really any wonder that Aaron Sorkin can write Christmas? Sorkin's work is known mostly for its fast-talking characters--the kinds with tortured, morally conscious psyches, and most people can identify Sorkin's work based on its particular propensity for smooth tracking shots down long hallways, during which these tortured souls have work-related conversations or trade advice about women. These things are all true. What Sorkin should be known for, however, is his ability to localize tragedy or romance or unity or Christmas time--things that are largely sentimentalized by lesser writers and that can become easily overwrought or drenched in schmultz when in the wrong hands--and to lend them credibility in the moment, keeping things honest while still retaining a good amount of gravity.

In The Christmas Show, Sorkin meditates on quite a few of his usual themes (off-kilter romance, benevolence, David vs. Goliath, there are more). It also talks a little shop. Like "The West Wing," "Studio 60" is about a work place. Personal dramas are rampant, but the premise (a show within a show) is never lost and is always reliable for pressurization. This episode is good. The stuff about the FCC fining the fictional NBS $325,000 because a marine uttered the word "fuck" on live TV after almost being blown up by a stray grenade is great, and it's classic Sorkin consciousness. We know who we're rooting for: the underdogs. This type of thing is always running vehement on "The West Wing." There is also a love triangle afoot in The Christmas Show, as well as an unexpected, off-stage kiss that lends itself to a pretty sweet, believable moment in which Harriet mistakenly calls herself "Matt" on live TV. Also there's a love confession. Like I said, the episode itself, as just any old episode, it's pretty fantastic, well-balanced and all, but it becomes great, it becomes a great Christmas episode, during its final scene.

So, Danny clears four minutes in the middle of the live broadcast of Studio 60 (the show within the show) to showcase a group of brass musicians whose homes were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. The segment is called simply "The City of New Orleans," and as the band plays (a heartbreaking rendition of O Holy Night), a slide show behind them displays photos of New Orleans in its post-disaster desuetude. It is a chilling, touching, truly terrifying scene, and the real gravity of the moment lies in the nature of its conception. You see, salaried musicians on NBS shows like Studio 60 and The Tonight Show called in sick earlier in the week so that these musicians, initially referred to as "subs," could fill in and be paid for their time. Danny gives them a spot on the show to get them union memberships and a chance at real employment. The moment in which he decides to do this is internal. Still, it's written well enough so that we don't know that this last scene is coming, but when it does, we're not entirely surprised.

That final scene in The Christmas Show is, essentially, triumphant in its recognition of Katrina as, not a media spectacle or the channel you change when you get home from work or a vessel through which to elicit a romanticized, sentimental reaction from an audience, but as a tragedy, something that affected real lives--so many real lives--and something that should be addressed honestly, not only in the media, but in entertainment and art, and in our homes as well. Here is the morally and socially conscious Aaron Sorkin that we met a long time ago. Here is the man who wrote the special episode Isaac and Ishmael for "The West Wing" season 3an episode that breaks continuity, and that is dedicated entirely to educating the public on and paying tribute to those directly affected by the September 11th terrorist attacks. Really, Aaron Sorkin is a pretty special writer. There's nobody like him. Nobody.

UP NEXT: What starts with a B and rhymes with uncouth?...

1 comment:

the Boy in the Window said...

I get tears in my eyes just thinking about that scene.