Thursday, August 03, 2006

Episode Review: Pilot

Episode Rating: B+

Perhaps it's unfair of me to review this pilot under the circumstances in which I saw it. Only being able to see it via a computer screen obviously took away some of the mystical magic that only seeing it on the little silver screen can provide for you. Plus I had read the script months and months ago and thus already had some previously concieved notions about how it would look. Some things looked better on screen and some looked better in my head, but I suppose thats' to be expected. So, first let me run through the cast, character by character, actor by actor, and cover my thoughts on them all.

First, Danny Tripp as played by Bradley Whitford. For us who've seen his work on The West Wing, there is no doubting BW is a terrific actor and probably, on a strict matter of skill, the best of the bunch here. He does a good job in this one, because this is most assuredly not Josh Lyman. The characters are not 180 degrees from the other, but while Lyman and Tripp both have their demons and while both have a glib sarcastic edge to them, they seem to react to the world in different ways. To use a sports metaphor, Josh played offense while Danny stays on defense. Josh was verbose, histrionic and intense while Danny seems laid-back, casual and cool. Almost, however, too cool, I do think Whitford can take the intensity up a notch. Also something that bothered me is he seems to have given Danny some pretty bad posture, and I'm not sure what the reason for it is... but I keep wanting to tell Danny to stand up straight. Also, what's with the reading glasses? Unnecessary and weird.

Rounding off the dynamic duo, we have Matt Albie played by Matthew Perry. It's lucky that it's been two years since Friends went off the air and that Chandler isn't as ingrained into us as Josh is, because Albie does seem a lot like Chandler. Not that this is bad, because Chandler Bing was an hilarious character. But still, Matt isn't given a whole lot to do but be silly, funny and loyal to his best friend, all of which we saw in Chandler often. I like Matthew Perry as an actor, and I think he has a darkness about him that was so often unseen in Chandler and can easilly be seen in Matt. The problem isn't necessarilly in Perry, honestly because I've seen a lot of his other work I don't really see Chandler when I look at MP. It's just that the script calls for him to be silly, funny and loyal and Perry doesn't need to really stretch his acting muscles to play that anymore. I'm sure we'll see more shades to his character in time.

I will say, when I read the script Matt was my favorite of the two. After watching the episode, Danny is my favorite of the two.

Then we have Amanda Peet as Jordan McDeere. I know there were some who were wary of her casting, but she's absolutely excellent in this role. The perfect balance of a giddy sarcasm and a wry intellect make the character work. While Peet is sexy just by virtue of being sexy, she doesn't dump sexiness into this role, which is good. In the script I saw her as this femme fatale type and that didn't appeal to me, because I don't really dig those kind of characters. Peet plays Jordan a lot more down-to-earth, and I like this. I really can't find any problems with her performance so far.

Sarah Paulson as Harriet Hayes was someone I heard a lot of people complain about. And she isn't all over this episode but I sort of see the problem. This is a role Kristin Chenoweth was born to play (obviously, since Harriet's based on her.) but if not Chenoweth, you need someone Chenoweth-esque. Emily Procter for instance? I shouldn't keep suggesting The West Wing castmembers, but you know what I mean. Paulson seems too mature (personality-wise, not age-wise since obviously she's younger than both Procter and Chenoweth) and, I'll be frank, too intelligent to play this part. Not that I think Harriet's dumb, I don't at all. But I think Harriet needs to have a good-natured naivete, especially with her traditional Christian values, that I don't see in Paulson. Paulson just isn't convincing as a conservative, I guess the problem is. Now, I say this as someone who can not stand conservatives, Paulson should probably feel honored by this but I just am not sure she was right for this role.

Not much to say about D.L. Hughley as Simon Stiles. He's not in this much. I will say at first I didn't like the idea of him in the role. Now I do. He did a very good job and I'm excited to see what Simon's going to bring to the table.

Also, Nate Corddry knocked Tom Jeter out of the park. Absolutely excellent. He just seems like a wide-eyed little kid and that's exactly who Jeter, the baby of the gang, seems to be. Just as with Simon, there's no complaints I have for Tom. Only that I'd like to see more of them. Speaking of who else needs to be seen more of...

Timothy Busfield, beloved the Sorkin world over as brilliant, bearded, Flamingo-smitten Danny Concannon, completely sheds his Danny skin to play Cal Shanley. Cal isn't anything like Danny C. to be honest. He's older, more mature and definitely brings the gravitas. I absolutely adore this character and his role needs to be intensified, although I get that this was an episode for Danny, Matt, Jordan and Jack.

Finally we have Steven Weber as Jack Rudolph. I go back and forth with him. He's excellent in his scenes with Jordan (they have a great, although completely unromantic in its feeling, chemistry) yet some of the time (The "We're running a show here." "Shut up." bit in particular) he seems kinda ridiculous. Weber's a great actor, but I'm not sure if Jack shouldn't have been played by someone a little older? Jack's character seems like this guy who can't stand these punk kids are coming back when he only looks like he's, what, a couple years older than them? My other problem is, I can't see where his role is going. He's the Chairman of the Network, and our thought process is he's going to be hanging around the show? I can see the use for one network suit in Jordan, especially since she's taking a special interest in the show because her reputation is now staked on Danny and Matt. But two? While I can see why Jack would be a big role in the pilot and in the subsequent few episodes... what on Earth is he going to do after that? It would seem to me that all he can do is tell Matt and Danny to do something, not do something, because it's too controversial, and Matt and Danny will either stand up to him or they won't, and it will turn out they were right all along. Which would be a very lame role for him. I am afraid he'll be Mandy version 2.0

The mood and the feel was good although maybe a tad bit too dark. Good writing although it felt like their could have been a bit more, but maybe it's because I had read all this before and so it didn't pop at me. Definitely a strong beginning with room for improvement. I know some people have claimed that it wasn't funny and get all bothered by that, even though it's a drama... but Sorkin writes dramedy's, and usually, I'll admit, they are funnier than this.

I thought Amanda Peet was the weak link. She needs to step it up BIG TIME. Contrastly, I thought Weber was fantastic. I agree with you on the "I thought it would be funnier" part. But I think half of that is the people who aren't used to speaking Sorkinese (Peet, Paulsen, whoever) didn't say the funny bits like they should have been said. But I think it'll only get better from here. Nothing will ever be the perfection that is West Wing, so let's just enjoy Sorkin for what he gives us.
Timothy Busfield's WW character was Danny QUINCANNON, not Danny CONCANNON.

Where did you hear that Harriet Hayes is based on Kristin Chenoweth? That's interesting. Chenoweth would be perfect in the part.
Ummm... Danny CONCANNON is right... check any West Wing site for the correct spelling... check your facts

Personally I loved what was leaked for what it IS. A pretty incomplete preview of the episode. (it is a full 2.5 minutes short of TV epidsode length..) Still thought it was fantastic, although I of course am biased. If we don't let the hype influence us, I think it will go very well as a first run.

And one technical note, you can't say "a tad bit" they are the same thing, although it is a common colloquial mistake.

Yeah, seriously... Quincannon? Definitely Concannon. I read somewhere once about someone who thought it was Danny Buchanan. Weird. Anyways, yeah, Danny Concannon.

Kristin Chenoweth and Aaron Sorkin used to date, and rumor was their breakup was due to a similair incident. That coupled with Harriet being almost exactly like Kristin, what with Kristin's ardent christianity and yet also non-conservative views on things.

I agree with 6FWGiaDKD, I think the lack of knowledge of Sorkinese did hinder some performances. However, both Whitford and Perry, two people with Sorkin experience (especially Whitford) said the lines seemingly wrong too. Watch the episode again and listen to Whitford say "'Cause he doesn't want to be your ex-boyfriend anymore." He says it oddly and not at ALL the way I thought the line woulda/shoulda been said. Also Matt's "Stop talking now? You bet." wasn't delievered all that humorously, especially since that's a great line.
Couple of things. The episode is absolutely not shorter than what it will be on TV. The average episode length is around 42 minutes while this was 45 minutes.

I don't think it's fair to say Paulson isn't convincing as a conservative as we have no idea whether or not she is a conservative. Not all Christians are conservative. She could be as liberal as any of The West Wing staffers. I'm also not sure why Harriet should have a 'good natured naivete' due to her traditional Christian values.

Whitford has gone a long time without speaking Sorkin dialogue. It's a rhythm that you fall into and it'll probably even take him a few episodes to get back into the swing of things. I enjoyed the character but he didn't have a lot to do. Arguably his best scene from the script was cut (the one with Martha). He'll come into his own soon (having read the sides for the next episode he does improve)

I thought Perry was great, he and Weber stole the show for me. Both seemed in their element. I'd be surprised if Matt Perry doesn't get nominated for Best Actor at the Emmys next year (yes I'm already thinking that far ahead!). I'm not too worried about how they'll fit Weber in. Just because he's a series regular doesn't mean he'll be in every episode (think of this past season of TWW). I'm confident that Sorkin knows what he's doing with the character and won't force him into episodes for no reason.

No problems with Hughley or Corddry either. Both looked good but had very little screentime.

Hirsch was amazing!

I agree that the mood was too dark, but what has just happened to these people is pretty disastrous. The mood will lift once regular episodes commence and we're seeing the day to day running of Studio 60.
I think it was fairly good for a pilot. Pilots are usually fairly weak cause u have to introduce the characters, concepts etc. I would have at least given it an A but I think u guys by overanlysing the whole pilot episode since the script was released was expecting some excellent that was just not going to happen.
The Big Three were largely disappointing, I felt, in that they didn't come across as genuinely funny people and that's something I expected. Especially Hayes.

But I can't fault anything else. Just wish I could make it to Edinburgh.
Several things...

"Whitford has gone a long time without speaking Sorkin dialogue."

Has he? Granted, my memory isn't the best, but I had thought that he filmed this while filming the last few episodes of WW. He was supposed to direct (or write...I can't remember) an episode, and cut it short because he signed onto this.

As for the pilot,

I loved, loved, LOVED, Stephen Weber. But, I agree, Chris, I'm not entirely sure where they can go with him. He seemed to fall into the Sorkinese pretty well (minus the 'shut up' line), and he was great at being slimly. His scenes with Amanda Peet were my favorite of hers (and his), but, it really feels like he should have been given a different role.

The big three were great, and I can't wait to see more of them. In a way, I think it's going to be hard to balance the relationship between Matt and Danny, and the big three, because they've all been set up as being really close-knit. I'm just afraid it's going to get cliqueish, if anyone gets my meaning.

Amanda Peet was the weak link for me. Jamie had such great lines in the script, and Peet seemed to be having a hard time making the transition to Sorkinese. They just weren't as crisp as I was hoping they might be. To be, she could be the Mandy of S60.

I don't have much to say on Danny, or Matt. They were both great, and have good chemistry together. So, let's see some more!
Check the "West Wing Script Book" -- both volumes. It's spelled "QUINCANNON."
Well yeah, it's been 3 years since Whitford has performed in anything written by Sorkin. So he may not be used to the pace of it.
Nathan... not sure what you're smoking. I own both. It's definitely printed as "Concannon." Not to mention the fact that, well, people say CON-CANNON on the show. Never once pronounced with a QUIN- beginning.
Nathan, I have no idea why that would be. In all the episodes, and in anything that you look at that Tim Busfield is biographied in, and indeed anywhere EXCEPT these script book you talk about, it is Concannon. It is not unheard of for a book to be incorrect. As a matter of fact, here are several links to refer back to:
Also in the special features on the West Wing DVD itself, there's interviews with several cast members including Busfield, and it includes Danny's full name there too, complete with "Con"
Chris - I just stumbled across your blog and one bit of Sorkin dialogue immediately came to mind:

Josh Lyman : I’m a fan. I’m a sports fan, I’m a music fan, and I’m a Star Trek fan. All of them but here’s what I don’t do. Tell me if any of this sounds familiar. Let’s list our 10 favorite episodes. Let’s list our least favorite episodes. Let’s list our favorite galaxies. Let’s make a chart and see how often our favorite galaxies appear on our favorite episodes. What Romulan would you most like to see coupled with a Cardassian, and why? Let’s spend a weekend talking about Romulans falling in love with Cardassians and then let’s do it again? That’s not being a fan. That’s having a fetish.

Sound a little familiar?

good review. Only one thing about the B+ for watching it on a computer screen.

Now you can see, what we in germany have to deal with for years, if we wanted to watch the west wing or other great series, because the executives of german television are too afraid of loosing money instead of buying great series.

So, I watched the Pilot of Studio 60 on my laptop. And, for a long, long time I was really happy again. Sorkin is back!

Greetings from good old germany!

Let me correct what I said about the episode length... what I meant to say was that it was a full 2.5 min LONG for an episode... I stand corrected...

It's Aaron Sorkin, which means it's going to be a terrific show. The man is a sage, he knows what he's doing. Bradley Whitford, Timothy Busfield, Amanda Peet, Matthew Perry...I can't see this show being anything less than spectular. They can speak the sorkin dialect almost as well as anyone on the West Wing. Plus, anything that reminds me of the West Wing makes me happy. I miss Toby though.
I agree with those who said they found Amanda Peet to be the weak link in the show so far. I think she's a great actress, I just have a hard time accepting her in the role she's in -- she just isn't very convincing. She wore a goofy grin for most of the show which I found pretty distracting from the dialogue. Overall, though, I think the episode was pretty good for a pilot.
Personally, i think the casting is right where it is now.

Amanda Peet is execellent, so is Sarah Paulson, no way Chenoweth could pull of the part.

D.L Hughley and Nate Corddry are probably the best casting.
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