Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC. Eight episodes into the first season.
I don’t like Aaron Sorkin, perhaps the most overrated writer working on television. I don’t like his self-conscious banter. I don’t like the condescension with which he writes women. I don’t like the way most of his male characters are obvious stand-ins for Sorkin himself. I don’t like his idealization of political naiveté or his self-righteous Luddism or his shameless grandstanding.
That pomposity was more tolerable (and Sorkin’s other weaknesses somewhat less pronounced) on The West Wing, where the presidential subject matter made grandiosity excusable, even appropriate on occasion. I’m not immune, for example, to the power of the second season’s Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes, which earn their emotional punch with truly thoughtful, beautiful writing. More often, however, Sorkin’s trademark rapid-fire dialogue (not to mention the fine actors delivering it) disguises shallow reasoning and inconsistently drawn characters. Is it more interesting that much of the drivel on TV? Well, yes, but that doesn’t make Sorkin the screenwriting god that some make him out to be.
Sorkin’s triumphant return to television (after being fired from The West Wing for—apparently—one too many tardy scripts) is Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, an embarrassingly masturbatory, self-congratulatory show about just how Challenging and Consequential and Socially Significant writing for television is. Sorkin has become so arrogant, so lacking in self-awareness, that in the pilot, when the Heroic Writer sweeps in to revive a sketch comedy show that has lapsed into mediocrity, a tremulous little production assistant actually asks, “Are you coming to save us?” How can you not roll your eyes at that? Sorkin thinks he’s single-handedly saving us from cultural decay, and he’s doing so by giving us this ham-handed excuse for a drama.