For a while, it looked promising. Episode 2 of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip got off its high horse and got down and dirty, with people acting like real indviduals of various functionality instead of self-righteous missionaries. There were some flat moments, but they were effulgently countered by some genuinely rousing ones, and somewhat to my surprise, I can see as clear as day an Emmy nomination drifting toward one Matthew Perry.
And then it came. The show within the show began. The cold open that was to end all cold opens, the one that we are told kicked off the rockinest dress rehearsal ever. And what we find is flattest piece of junk since, well, the last episode of Saturday Night Live you saw.
I admired the spirit behind the idea to parody "The Major General's Song" from The Pirates of Penzance, the idea to try to go high-class to win back the faith of an audience in purgatory. But the parody was awful, just awful. A couple of cheap jokes in three minutes of colorless singing, singing that was neither good nor amusingly bad.
And although the idea was portrayed as a bolt of inspired lightning, I can't help thinking that it's exactly what Saturday Night Live would have done - and has done, over and over again, sometimes well, sometimes not.
At the end of the number, Danny (Bradley Whitford) is happy. Matt (Perry) is concerned - but only because he has to start writing the next show right away. As far as the cold opening goes, they couldn't be more satisfied.
Meanwhile, on any realistic level, 90 percent of the NBS Studio 60 critics and audiences spent the aftermath inventing new synonyms for failure to describe Matt and Danny's return to the show.
A great follow to this episode would be for that reaction to come out - for Danny and Matt's initial instincts to be proven wrong and for them to deal with the ramifications of that. It would make their eventual redemption that much more hard-fought and earned.
But I don't see that coming. Studio 60 showrunner Aaron Sorkin seems to believe his team has reinvented the wheel, when it has actually been run over by it.
Perry and Whitford will keep me watching into Week Three, but NBC's Studio 60 has problems. Perhaps the most serious is its ongoing insistence that Harriet (Sarah Paulson) is this generation's Gilda Radner, Jan Hooks or who have you. Harriet's religious faith is supposed to be a counterpoint to her intrinsic hilarity, but the woman couldn't be more white-bread as a comedienne. Matt tries to tell us that she has many fans, but few who understand her true greatness, and maybe that's supposed to buy us time to appeciate her. In the meantime, she's never funny, and her ensemble-leading performance in the cold open was without any charisma of any kind. I can see Harriet perhaps filling the Jane Curtin mold, which would be dandy enough, but unlike Curtin, it would be the writers completely carrying her.
Deconstruct Studio 60, and you have yourself the tragedy of the decline of Saturday Night Live. You have a show that wants to be great, yearns to be great, bleeds to be great, but just doesn't know how.