Your next box set: Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip

Esther Addley: Studio 60, set behind the scenes at a late-night comedy show, has all the sentimental ambition of its predecessor

Well, it's certainly not The West Wing. Aaron Sorkin, that show's creator, may have taken a handful of familiar WW faces with him when he set out in 2006 to do for TV what his White House drama had done for politics, but, well, you can't bottle magic.

Studio 60, set behind the scenes at a late-night comedy show not unlike Saturday Night Live, has all the sentimental ambition of its predecessor, but while WW offset its frequent cloying moralism with wit, deft plotting and an unrivalled ensemble cast, Studio 60 never quite pulled that off. It is a bit too self-consciously smart, a bit too preachy - and, accordingly, it was cancelled after just one season.

But most programmes would look a little shoddy lined up against WW, one of the best non-HBO programmes of the past two decades, and there is still plenty to admire in Studio 60. Sorkin might be a smartarse but he writes great dialogue and his cast is wonderful: Bradley Whitford (WW's Josh Lyman) as the drug-addicted producer; the much-underrated Amanda Peet as the network president, and Sarah Paulson (Deadwood's Miss Isringhausen) as an evangelical Christian comedian. Best of the lot, though, is Matthew Perry as the show's tortured head writer, who finally gets a dramatic role that is (almost) worthy of him - and which might, had it lasted, have exorcised at last the ghost of Chandler Bing from Friends.

Part of Sorkin's problem is that a fictional TV show is much better suited to farce (viz 30 Rock) than "ishoos". But for trying to make a TV version of Network, and for challenging head-on the questions of how satire fits in a post-9/11 America, or how to reconcile the country's cynical media elite with its Bible-believing heartland, you have to applaud his ambition. The best episode features Allison Janney playing herself - ie the actor who used to be ballsy press secretary CJ Cregg in The West Wing. Moments like that make you realise what Studio 60 could have been.


Esther Addley

The GuardianTramp

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