- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sorkin saves TV

Writer Aaron Sorkin presented his utopian view of politics with “The West Wing.” His Bartlet administration wasn’t perfect, but it sure was earnest in trying to create a better country and, by extension, a better world. It also provided a tonic for Democrats who found themselves adrift at the end of the Clinton presidency.

Now, Mr. Sorkin is out to do the same for broadcast television with “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” his new behind-the-scenes look at a sketch comedy show.

Sure, television is filled with fatuous billionaires, bug-eating game show contestants and content beneath the average pre-schooler. But, hope is always just a great writer/director team away.

“Studio 60,” debuting at 10 tonight on NBC, introduces us to two men who could save the flailing “Saturday Night Live”-esque show in question.

First, Mr. Sorkin’s drama stages its “Network” moment.

A grizzled network executive played by Judd Hirsch interrupts “Studio 60” one evening to protest the cancellation of an edgy sketch mocking Christianity. (Mr. Sorkin himself isn’t edgy enough to stage a sketch tweaking Islam).

Before Mr. Hirsch can say he’s as mad as heck and he’s not gonna take it anymore, the executive is fired and his stunt fires up a debate with show staffers.

New network President Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) decides to tackle the critique head on. She intends to hire the brilliant writing/directing team of Matt and Danny (Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford) to bring new life to “Studio 60.”

The only trouble is the pair were fired four years ago by Steven Weber, playing an unctuous executive eager to lay blame anywhere but in his office.

“Studio 60” bears the usual Sorkinisms. The dialogue is tart and spoken at a clip faster than any other show on the air, the religious right takes it on the chin and, thankfully, the show overall is as smart as it is compelling.

The biggest surprise may be just how far Mr. Perry buries his Chandler persona in his biggest post-“Friends” project to date. He’s funny in ways that don’t rely on the usual tics, and he’s also much darker than we’ve come to expect.

And credit Mr. Sorkin for writing a “Studio 60” regular with a deep faith in God, which could add dimension to his knee-jerk religious slams.

“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” won’t save television, but it should make Mondays a fine start to the broadcasting week.

Toddler TV

Hidden amid the big shows (like “Studio 60”) premiering this fall are some little shows — or at least shows for smaller people.

Two children’s television premieres of note, one a returning favorite and the other a promising new series, air this week. If the reaction of our test audience — a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old — is any indication, both shows will be a hit with kids this season.

“Barney & Friends” returns today with its first new dinosaur in 13 years. Cousin Riff is a 6-year-old hadrosaur; his musical abilities add a new dimension to the series that’s been on PBS for 14 years. In today’s premiere, which airs on MPT at 11 a.m., Barney explains to shy Riff that introducing yourself to others is the best way to make new friends.

Our 5-year-old critic says Riff’s funny voice made her laugh. She and her 2-year-old sister had fun dancing to the new dino’s tunes.

“Handy Manny” is a new animated show that premiered on the Disney Channel over the weekend. Two episodes of the half-hour show play on Disney every Saturday and Sunday starting at 10 a.m. One episode airs each weekday at 9 a.m.

Wilmer Valderrama of “That ‘70s Show” voices Manny, a handyman whose tools talk back to him. The show aimed at preschoolers is something of a cross between “Bob the Builder” and “Dora the Explorer” — Manny Garcia teaches kids some Spanish in between lessons on teamwork and friendship.

Its similarity to other shows doesn’t seem to bother kids. “I loved everything,” our 5-year-old critic gushed. The talking tools seemed to be a particular point of interest; their upbeat energy makes kids forget they’re learning something. With a theme song performed by Los Lobos, parents might not mind watching this one, either.

Compiled by Christian Toto and Kelly Jane Torrance from staff reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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