Thursday, February 22, 2007

But how's her casserole?

Since my degree from UT is in broadcasting, what most people call "watching the tube," I call "post-graduate work." There are a couple of programs that are "must-see TV": "30 Rock," a sitcom, and the endangered comedy-drama "Studio 60" (almost no one uses the full title "Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip"). Both are on NBC, both started the same season and each is about the backstage (and some onstage) goings-on around a fictional sketch show like "Saturday Night Live." Very odd already. The show-about-a-show thing has been hot since Shakespeare (when it was "play-within-a-play"), and still results in fun twists but also confusing conversation when talking about them, so try to keep up.

I've been a fan of SNL since the 70's, not counting several seasons in the 80's where I didn't watch much and have found via reruns how little I was missing. I also like behind-the-scenes stuff in general, as well as well-written dialogue. So both of these shows are made for me.

"Studio 60" is written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" fame (or as much fame as a writer gets). The dialogue in this show meets the "well-written" standard, other than being a little manic and self-consciously clever to the point of being cute (think "Gilmore Girls").

One character that is especially interesting is Harriet, the overtly Christian (Southern Baptist, even) player on the show-within-the-show. She has a romantic "history" with Matt, the head writer. The fact that he's Jewish has been a point of contention for obvious reasons, and now that he's her boss makes for even more potential for conflict (the basis of good storytelling).

Though I appreciate that hers has been more true-to-life than most portrayals of Christians on network TV, I've felt the references are clunky and obvious; kind of like someone using "cowboy boots" in a song title and thinking that makes it country.

I found out via a talk show she was on that actress/singer Kristin Chenoweth is the original role model for Harriet. She and Sorkin had a romance in real life, so there's a foundation of reality for the show. I always figured it was at least partially based on Victoria Jackson from the 80's SNL, and was happy to be proven right in this article:

It's an interview by The Door (a Christian satire magazine that cracks me up and offends me, alternately and occasionally at the same time) with Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 partner in success Thomas Schlamme, and with Sarah Paulson who plays the above-mentioned Harriet.

One thing the interview made me realize is that, instead of her portrayal of a Christian that is clunky, it may be the attitude that the character Matt has toward her on the show--which is apparently by design of the writers (Sorkin et al). Most of the cliches are in what he says, not in what she does or says.

Like most Christians, it bothers me even to see anyone, fictional or real, familiar or stranger, who professes to be a Christian but does not meet what I would consider the minimum standards of Christian thought and behavior (not that I'm even close to perfect myself, but we all apply standards to ourselves and others whether consciously or not); it's hard enough to find one that isn't portrayed as an idiot or a jerk. This is partly a genuine concern for other people--that they will make real-life bad decisions based on the images they see on screen. And there's the "p.r." concern; what will they think of us, is it accurate, etc. I'm also concerned about what they think of ME. On the one hand, I'm offended when Christians are slighted en masse; on the other hand, I can see why someone would want to slam Christianity if Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or the purple-haired ditz on TBN are all they have to go by. To the credit of Sorkin and crew, they try harder than most, with better results than most.

The show challenges me to reconsider whether all my standards are really as essential as I tend to believe, or are they too surface to matter anyway, compared to the one Essential himself. And it's debatable as to whether it really matters what is said on TV about Christians or anyone else. It doesn't change the facts, and at its worst it's keeping a very important issue in the viewer's mind, as well as confirming what the Bible says about the ongoing spiritual conflict we're all involved in, despite our tendency to ignore it (partially thanks to TV).

The weak point of "Studio 60," especially compared with a topic like the international politics of a "West Wing," is that it's hard not to want to say "lighten up, people, it's just a TV show." Well, maybe it is...and maybe it ain't.

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