Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Season 1, Episode 11, “The Christmas Show”
Original airdate December 4, 2006
Today we finish our unofficial trilogy of Sorkin Christmas episodes with “The Christmas Show” from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. We go from a universally loved and lauded series to a show that after its pilot episode had everyone lining up to take a dump on, which I never quite understood. I think me, Jordan, @anotherfilmnerd on Twitter, Peter Sciretta at Slash Film and one other guy are the only people on Earth who liked the series. I actually preferred this over 30 Rock since it actually dealt with the behind the scenes of working on an SNL-esque sketch comedy series as opposed to being just another workplace sitcom, which The Office was already doing a great job at. Yeah the series might have had a few flaws (which I’ll discuss later), but I still think the show had potential to be something really great and did not deserve the shit kicking that it got from almost everyone.
While the episode spends more time on the holidays than the Sports Night episode did, the two episodes share a lot of similarities in terms of subplots and tone. The main plot is of Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) wanting to do a Christmas episode as their last episode of 2006 and is trying to get everyone into the Christmas spirit. Which is easier said than done as the bare bones writing staff and cast fall down the Internet rabbit hole debunking everything about the holidays, hundreds of coconuts have to be shaved to make fake snow since the warehouse they normally store it in is partially collapsed due to an earthquake and the Santa dummy is giving the “Heil Hitler” salute. But they do manage to pull it off, although the one Christmas themed sketch we do see (a To Catch A Predator sketch with Chris Hansen putting Santa on the spot) is pretty weak and incredibly outdated by now. The criticism the show got of the sketches within the show being out of date and not funny is one I can kinda agree with.
Elsewhere, Danny (Bradley Whitford) is accompanying Jordan (Amanda Peet) to her ultrasound and trying to work up the courage to tell her that he loves her. Jack Randolph (Steve Weber) is facing a 73 million dollar fine from the FCC over a live news story from Afghanistan where a marine said the f-word when said feed is interrupted by an RPG which apparently is enough to sink the network for some reason. Harriett (Sarah Paulson) is being courted by her ex to play Anita Poundberg in his Rolling Stones movie. And the trombone and trumpet player in the studio band are conspicuously MIA while their replacements are surprisingly good. This is later revealed to be happening on shows across the city where band players are taking sick days around the holidays so that musicians from New Orleans homeless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina can play and get their union card and a paycheck so that they can send money and gifts home. This leads to one of the best renditions of my favorite Christmas carol “O Holy Night” and why this episode belongs here.
Let’s get this out of the way. Having re-watched the episode now in 2014, like Sports Night, this episode is dated. But whereas the datedness of that show is minor and cosmetic, this one doesn’t stand the test of time despite being relatively newer. The plotline involving the 73 million dollar fine from the FCC that could potentially shut down the network reeks of late commentary on the infamous Janet Jackson Superbowl fiasco in 2004 and the collective freak-out we had over it. And the fact that the conflict is waved away by Ed Asner at the end of the episode makes it feel almost completely pointless. And while Whitford does his damndest to make Danny’s declaration of romantic intent work, it still comes off as stalkerish, which drags down the previously mentioned “O Holy Night” scene. Also, having Amanda Peet be constantly shoving food in her mouth throughout the episode and looking like a chipmunk only adds fuel to the now raging inferno that is the “Sorkin doesn’t know how to write women” criticism.
But even with these faults, I’ll still stick up for this series since this episode demonstrates the things that the show did do well. Like I said before, this series actually focuses on the behind the scenes of an SNL-type show and does a good job at portraying the hectic nature of the kind of show they’re putting on. As it pertains to the holidays, I love how it captures the frustration of being the only guy in the room trying to bring Christmas cheer to a room full of cynics who aren’t in the mood. And the final exchange between Perry and Whitford showed that these two had a great chemistry together. I’d almost argue that Perry has better chemistry with Whitford than he did with Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer on Friends. And the final moments of the New Orleans band with Matt and Danny bring a great sense of melancholy and relief to the episode. As if through music and the final exchange, the show was saying “Hey, we had a really brutal year. But we made it. So let’s celebrate the birth of Christ and the holiday spirit.” So for that, I feel that it belongs alongside “The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee Tech” and “In Excelsis Deo” as a problematic but worthy end to our Aaron Sorkin Christmas episode trilogy.