Baseball Toaster Western Homes
Untimely Passings
2006-10-31 14:40
by Mark T.R. Donohue

While a diligent enough websurfer could uncover plenty of evidence still to the contrary, the tone and substance of recent "Studio 60" cancellation stories has me convinced. Well, the real giveaway is that NBC preempted last night's episode of the show to try and give "Friday Night Lights" a boost. I was sorely disappointed to flip on my TiVo this morning and find no new "Studio 60" episode but I'm sure that not many others had the same reaction. "Heroes" is an OK consolation prize, and I'm glad the show has emerged as NBC's breakout hit of the season, but it doesn't take a ratings genius to know that the pairing of "Heroes" and "Studio 60" isn't a natural combination. They ought to move "Studio 60" before they cancel it.

If the rumors are true, it's a shame. "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" was just rounding into form. The last episode aired, "The Wrap Party," was easily the series' best since its premiere and the first to give an inkling of how the show might work as a full-blown ensemble drama rather than the two-man showcase for Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford the pilot implied. Two of the subplots, one concerning Simon and Matt's discovery of a new writer at a local comedy club and the other involving Timothy Busfield's character Cal and a blacklisted former comedy writer, were so well-handled that I immediately had to watch those scenes again. I was very much looking forward to future episodes of equal quality. Aaron Sorkin found a way in the parallels between Hollywood in the blacklisted guy's day and Matt and Danny's current network battles to make subtle political points without resorting to tedious, didactic speechifying. Not everything about the episode worked. The thread with Tom's outrageously ignorant hick parents was neither credible nor original, and Steven Weber's character continues to be obnoxious beyond rational limits. However, "Studio 60" seemed from this viewer's perspective to be an ambitious show headed in the right direction. It's rare for a series with so many ideas to fire on all cylinders from the first hour. (One of the many reasons my heart still hurts for "Freaks and Geeks.")

In the grand scheme of things, it hurts more to lose a show in its prime than one still feeling its way around in the way "Studio 60" is or was. As big a Joss Whedon fan as I am, I'm mystified by the obsessiveness of "Firefly" fans. There are a couple of great episodes among the handful that aired, but there's so little really there on which to latch. I would almost feel worse for "Star Trek: Enterprise" fans, although that rather optimistically assumes that there were any. A better example perhaps is "Angel," which got the axe after its two best creative years and only a season after the addition of James Marsters completely electrified the cast dynamic. What's even more tragic about "Angel" ending before its time is the show got cancelled even after the creative team made enormous structural changes to meet network demands. The writers somehow overhauled the whole pace, setting, and storytelling pattern of the series between the fourth and fifth seasons without losing a beat in quality. In fact, they gave the show a new life which should have lasted it for two or three more years. Instead it was cancelled, forcing an abrupt and arbitrary ending to the story...and possibly driving Whedon out of TV for good.

It's always a bummer when a show with a major ongoing arc style to it bites the dust prematurely. Or is it? In a weird way, I kind of don't mind that "Carnivàle" never made it past a second season. The cast really seemed to lose steam before the story did, and the example of "Twin Peaks" has me almost convinced that my imagination is home to many better endings than whatever may actually have ended up on screen in due time. The's show's almost willful opaqueness benefits from the lack of any concrete conclusion. Once you kind of let go of the belief that any of your questions are ever going to be answered, the show's first season has a real elegant dreamlike ambiguity to it. I'm sort of watching "Lost" in the same expectation-free way these days. It hardly has hurt the sterling reputation of "The Prisoner" that that short series' finale raises more questions than it answers.

It's far more common that we see hit shows last a little longer than they should. (Or in the case of "The X-Files," way, way, way longer.) The last season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is an almost nonstop parade of formless, joyless placeholder episodes that give way to a finale that just isn't climactic enough after all the blah. "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine" both clearly suffered from weary writers in their seventh and final seasons. "Gilmore Girls" isn't officially dead yet but you can see the writing on the wall from the way its signature dialogue has completely lost its wit and pep. "Stargate SG-1" was never a particularly ambitious show to begin with, but the way its last few years have devolved into stale fantasy blandness makes you wonder why Kevin Sorbo never joined the cast. Don't even get my research department started on the topic of the long and precipitous decline of "The Simpsons." At least the recent episodes of that Fox show are still watchable. Once one of the funniest traditional sitcoms on TV, the last couple seasons of "That 70's Show" were complete unredeemable garbage.

The moral is be careful for what you wish. If the show lasted long enough to pile up more DVDs than you can reasonably watch in a weekend, be happy. As much as I might sometimes wish for just one more season of "Arrested Development" or "Home Movies" or "The Adventures of Pete & Pete," given the state of the vast majority of modern TV, it's a small marvel that any of these shows existed for as long as they did.

On a completely unrelated note, this piece passed on by my father regarding legal precedents for apostrophe placement deeply touched my writerly soul.

2006-10-31 17:13:28
1.   4444
I have completely come to terms (and even appreciate) that Arrested Development ended when it did. That is not to say I didn't have a touch of longing that wanted more (even during and after the 4-episode, 2-hr marathon series-ender), but it really helps the show stand tall as what it was: one of the best-written, best-acted, labyrinthine comedies I've ever had the joy of watching.
2006-11-01 17:03:48
2.   Benaiah
How can you say a show has gotten better when one of the central threads in the episode was by your admission was neither "credible or original" (I would add "watchable" to that list). I keep giving the show a chance, because I like the cast, I liked West Wing, and there are moments, but there hasn't been an episode yet that didn't have serious, glaring, poke your eye out flaws. I am a true softy, I always root for the romantic, but there is not a single character on that show that I care about. It is an unbelievable thing to assumble so much talent and ambition and arrive at something so mediocre.
2006-11-01 19:03:07
3.   Mark T.R. Donohue
3 It wasn't really a central thread, or at least it didn't come across as such. On the whole I was more impressed with what the show did right than the things it still hasn't perfected.

This may be my background in sci-fi speaking but I don't so much mind characters that I can't relate to. It's a nice bonus, but it's not a make-or-break thing. The characters on "Sports Night" were universally unlikable but they had interesting things to say, which made the show work for me.

2006-11-01 19:10:36
4.   Benaiah

Tonight's episode of Lost was bizarre and pointless. The introduction of a new hot blond girl and the removal of one of the best characters on the show, who also happens to be the last black man left in the regular rotation... well let's just say it doesn't leave me smiling and humming "The Circle of Life." I guess that the writers feel that the tension is heightened when characters actually might die, on the other hand, the deaths on Lost are never the consequence of long tense scenes, instead they usually are just sudden things that happen in the last five minutes of an episode. The revolving door of minor characters makes me want to give up on the show despite its virtues (Sawyer and Kate being chief among them). Unfortunately, I don't have anything better to do on Weds nights so I expect I will keep watching.


2006-11-01 19:26:22
5.   DXMachina
"As big a Joss Whedon fan as I am, I'm mystified by the obsessiveness of "Firefly" fans. There are a couple of great episodes among the handful that aired, but there's so little really there on which to latch."

I was a huge Firefly fan, even wrote a few postcards in support just before it was cancelled. I think what disappointed a lot of us was the way Fox seemed to be mishandling the show, showing episodes out of order, especially waiting until the end of the run to show what had been a terrific pilot, not doing a lot of promotion, things like that. I just thought that Fox frittered away a show that had tremendous potential. That said, I agree that a large chunk of the fandom went seriously off the deep end with the Firefly love. Fortunately, I hang out in a somewhat saner corner of Whedon fandom.

I was very sorry to see Angel go, but at least there we got five pretty good years. Plus, it wasn't quite the same after Tim Minear left to produce Wonderfalls (another great show that Fox mishandled).

2006-11-01 19:33:36
6.   DXMachina
4 - They killed Eko? Bastards!

"I guess that the writers feel that the tension is heightened when characters actually might die, on the other hand, the deaths on Lost are never the consequence of long tense scenes, instead they usually are just sudden things that happen in the last five minutes of an episode."

Since we were talking about Angel, one of the good things about the show was that you knew that favorite characters could die, and that their deaths would have some effect upon the overall story.

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