Charlie Wilson's War
June 28, 2007 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip ends tonight, and Aaron Sorkin will be leaving television production for a while. His current project is Charlie Wilson's War, a movie starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, based on the late George Crile's excellent, funny nonfic book of the same name. The movie will trace "party animal" Congressman Charles "Good Time Charlie" Wilson's (D, TX) rise from a scandal (he was caught in "a hot tub tryst with two cocaine-sniffing showgirls in Las Vegas",) to his role in the 1980's covertly funding Afghanistan guerrillas so they could expand their war with the Soviet Union. Wilson's actions would eventually help collapse the Afghan PDPA government, a power vacuum which would be filled by the Taliban. Who would have thought ending the Cold War would be so easy?
posted by zarq (60 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and Sorkin's also hitting Broadway with "The Farnsworth Invention."
After the recent failure of "Studio 60," his seriocomic TV series about the workings of a sketch comedy show, Sorkin is hoping for better luck with this drama about the intrigue surrounding the invention of television itself. The play follows the real-life fight between young idealist Philo T. Farnsworth and RCA chairman David Sarnoff over invaluable patent rights. Mhmm... could Sorkin have been inspired by his own battles with the suits at NBC, once the crown jewel of the RCA empire?

posted by zarq at 8:07 AM on June 28, 2007

Well, after the crapitude of "Studio 60", I have a lot less faith in Mr. Sorkin.
posted by smackfu at 8:11 AM on June 28, 2007

I thought that show had been off for months. Were these last episodes first run? When I saw them on my Tivo last couple weeks, I had assumed they were repeats.

Truly, it was a terrible, self-indulgent exercise in lame insider jokes and pretentious banter. I don't know why it worked so well in the West Wing (and "the American President") and so poorly here. Maybe the idiom was just not right.
posted by psmealey at 8:13 AM on June 28, 2007

I think it's because we are more patient with people who are working in the Executive Branch lecturing us about good and evil and the state of the union, but to have a couple of hacks who run what appears to be the World's Most Unfunny Sketch Comedy Show do it, it is, well, idiotic.

God, that show sucked.
posted by mckenney at 8:18 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I tried to give Studio 60 a shot, but yea, as said above, it was just a bad show.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:23 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

NBC's burnt these episodes off just so they can recoup some of the budget and feel less of a pinch when it hits DVD.

Also: Sarah Paulson (who I was originally neutral towards) is now my least favorite actress ever because of that show, beating Meryl Streep. I had to put up with her in Diggers last night and wanted to scream.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 8:24 AM on June 28, 2007

There certainly is some truth to that. If I don't like the characters on a show, I give it a lot less slack, and I hated Sarah Paulson's character in every way. Compare to say Timothy Busfield, who was actually good in this show, if underused.
posted by smackfu at 8:27 AM on June 28, 2007

I'm at the point of being angry with Sorkin for fucking up a show with such potential. The pilot was phenominal and it just regressed into a spiral of crap ever since. Love triangles? Stuck on the roof? What the fuck?

In the last few episodes Sorkin's just proving he still wants to do The West Wing. I wish he was. Sigh.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:30 AM on June 28, 2007

Studio 60 was still running?
posted by cavalier at 8:31 AM on June 28, 2007

I was a West Wing addict, and I still think of Sports Night when I see something about Six Feet Under because it has Peter Krause in it. Studio 60 was terrible. I think he tried to apply the gravity of West Wing to an environment that didn't support it (a TV studio is not the White House).

Charlie Wilson's War was an excellent book, and despite Studio 60, I am very anxiously awaiting this movie. I have a copy of the book on my desk here at work. The amazing but true story has so much impact on the events of today that I think the story is something more people should know about. Sorkin definitely knows his politics, so this story suits him well. I always thought Studio 60 was purely a middle finger extended back at NBC for whatever happened behind the scenes at The West Wing. That it failed might somehow be poetic justice, who knows.
posted by ninjew at 8:37 AM on June 28, 2007

Sorkin's been pretty worthless since Sports Night ended.

OTOH, my stepfather will be psyched that Charlie Wilson's War is coming to the big screen.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:37 AM on June 28, 2007

Look on the bright side: having one character's brother being captured/kidnapped by the Taliban/Qaeda in Afghanistan meant the show did set a land speed record for jumping the shark.
posted by docgonzo at 8:39 AM on June 28, 2007

I enjoyed the first few episodes and then it just all turned to crap. These last few have just been awful. Yet, I still need to watch it through to the end.

The only good thing that came out of this show is it gave Tina Fey a few good joke opportunities on 30 Rock.

“Did we just go around in a circle? Good walk and talk!”
posted by bondcliff at 8:42 AM on June 28, 2007

I dunno.... I don't think it's Sorkin's best work, and the last few episodes have been weaker, but I really enjoyed it. The biggest problem for me was that I'm not sure they ever figured out exactly who to focus on, and some of the soap opera elements and relationship stuff could get in the way from time to time.

But overall, I saw a number of episodes of it smarter than most of what's on TV, frankly.
posted by MythMaker at 8:46 AM on June 28, 2007

Here are a few of the episodes. You have to drink every time somebody has a conversation while walking down a hallway.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:48 AM on June 28, 2007

You also have to drink every time someone sincerely spouts a ponderous soliloquy. You will get very, very, drunk.
posted by Optamystic at 8:55 AM on June 28, 2007

After seeing the first two episodes of Studio 60 and 30 Rock, I thought 30 Rock sucked and had no future. Woo, boy, I was wrong.

I thought Studio 60 had some great individual moments. But you'd think that Studio 60, being a show about sketch comedy and all, would have at least one knock-down, flat-out funny sketch featured in every episode.

Instead, we got Sarah Paulson showing her "range," which apparently was composed only of impressions of Holly Hunter, Juliette Lewis and Nancy Grace.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:05 AM on June 28, 2007

Sorkin shows are all about writers. Pontificating sports writers, pontificating speech writers, and pontificating comedy writers. It'll be interesting to see how he handles something new that's a little out of his standard bag of tricks.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:07 AM on June 28, 2007

Sorkin shows are all about writers... either with substance abuse problems or else in recovery.

I really wish he'd stop writing himself into one or two characters each show. It's getting boring.
posted by psmealey at 9:13 AM on June 28, 2007

Sorkin is the Warren Ellis of television.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:27 AM on June 28, 2007

Count me among the ten remaining fans of that show, but even I recognize how fatally flawed it was, and that comedy and self-importance just can't mix. SportsNight worked because it was essentially a comedy, that would occassionally break into self-righteousness for a moment when the story took it there, and then would move back for the laughs. The West Wing worked because it's subject matter was grand enough to sustain it, and most of the show was about petty squabbling over details, so satire could fit right in without missing a beat. Studio 60 chose to be self-important over a subject nobody cares about, and then when the numbers came in, tried to toss wacky comic relief in between all the dour diatribes about the honor of comedy.

Still, I like it, because I'll always like Matthew Perry and Brad Whitford in anything (See them together in the WW episodes "Evidence of Things Not Seen" and "Lifeon Mars" to know how well they can work off each other.) Sarah Paulson's character was one-note at best, but I think she did everything she could with it. Wow... even speaking in it's defense I find myself shit-talking the show.

I havent seen the episodes since the break. I have them on Tivo,nd the other night when my girlfriend and I were sitting down to eat in front of the TV, I mentioned them. She just respnded, "Oh... you haven'twatched those yet?"

We watched a re-run of Law and Order instead.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:33 AM on June 28, 2007

The dialog is occasionally quite good, many of the actors are good, and I like better than a lot of what's on. Not close the the expectations generated by Sports Night & West Wing.
posted by theora55 at 9:42 AM on June 28, 2007

Sorkin shows are all about writers... either with substance abuse problems or else in recovery ... and an complete inability to form meaningful intimate relationships.

posted by WolfDaddy at 9:57 AM on June 28, 2007

Go ahead and stone me, but I liked the show. But then I've always enjoyed Amanda Peet and Matthew Perry, and I will watch anything Sorkinesque.
posted by misha at 10:01 AM on June 28, 2007

Sorkin is doing Charlie Wilson's War?

Well, there went my hopes for the movie. I was hoping for something a little less about politics and a little more coy and ironic.

I guess I was hoping for Soderbergh.
posted by dw at 10:07 AM on June 28, 2007

I dug it if for no other reason than it wasn't about cops, lawyers, CSIs (really the same as cops), or set in Las Vegas and I thought it was funny. I'll second liking Perry and Whitford working off each other. When it wasn't getting bogged down in slightly depressing relationship stuff and/or drug addiction stuff I thought it was good. Another example of a show that would have worked better if it wasn't complicated.
posted by srw12 at 10:15 AM on June 28, 2007

Never had the chance to see Sports Night, had no desire to watch West Wing, loved (and still do love) Studio 60, so Sorkin's name holds no special magic for me. As for the movie, from the description it sounds like it has potential.

I hear people knocking Studio 60, and I just don't understand what they're not seeing. If they do a box set of it, I will buy it. Other than, well... a baseball game, once it's gone there's nothing else on right now that I'd watch.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:29 AM on June 28, 2007

Tina Fey at the Writers Guild Awards: "I hear Aaron Sorkin is in Los Angeles wearing the same dress - but longer, and not funny."

That made me love her even more.
posted by chupacabra at 10:38 AM on June 28, 2007

They yanked Studio 60 from the air in the nick of time. These most recent three new episodes (which they've been burning off the last 3 weeks) have stunk. It's a three-part all-in-one-evening arc, but nothing has happened in that three hours. It's like that show 24, except instead of too much happening in 3 hours, nothing's happening.
This burn-off of the remaining new episodes gives us a rare glimpse into the mindset of the network exec: I'm sure the network weasels checked the anemic, declining ratings, previewed this ultra-dull three-episode arc, and realized that the ratings had nowhere to go but down.
posted by Lord Kinbote at 10:42 AM on June 28, 2007

I got all worked up, after the pilot's about a producer who bemoans the industry, lacking either the courage or the connections to run a particular sketch.

And then the writer who either quit or was forced out -- I don't even remember -- over a similar issue, about a hilarious sketch that's just too offensive and will bother the advertisers.

And this builds up for weeks about how this show -- Studio 60 -- is going to be different, and edgy, and isn't afraid, and they're going to run the sketch.

Of course Sorkin doesn't show the sketch. And it's called "Crazy Christians" (wtf is that?!), and the "sketch" can't even live up to the inane title. Sorkin's sketch isn't a turd. It's vapor-turd.

That's irony, but not in a good self-aware artistic way.
posted by cotterpin at 10:58 AM on June 28, 2007

I liked it, as flawed as it was, although I lost patience with it about halfway through the season. I think Amanda Peet was terribly miscast, and the relationship between Perry and Paulson was little too roman à clef. I still miss Sports Night, and the good days of the West Wing.
posted by rtha at 11:08 AM on June 28, 2007

I think Amanda Peet was terribly miscast

I don't know much about her, but I saw her in Igby Goes Down, and thought she was crazy/sexy/scary. She definitely has some chops.
posted by psmealey at 11:25 AM on June 28, 2007

She definitely has some chops.

Of the plo variety?
posted by COBRA! at 11:47 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I really wanted to love the show, but it never really gelled. Towards the end Sorkin just said screw it and did West Wing episodes. Has there even been any of the show-within-a-show on in 2007?

I missed the one with Allison Janney.

Best thing from the show: the Tipitina Foundation's awesome all-horns version of "O Holy Night" [mp3] during "The Christmas Show."

Sarah Paulson was pretty good on Deadwood.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:57 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I missed the one with Allison Janney.

Arguably the best one, because it's rather self-contained, and ironically, the only one that doesn't feature Perry, Peet and Whitford.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:05 PM on June 28, 2007

Oh, one other great thing about the show was the set. Really an awesome piece of engineering and production organization.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2007

I missed the one with Allison Janney.

I'll recap. You missed a bunch of tired West Wing in jokes, and pretty much the entire cast outing themselves as effete losers in the face of a prop-workers strike. That's pretty much it.

I actually thought the guy from Wings did a pretty serviceable job as the corporate exec, and Ed Asner was at his scenery chewing best in at least one episode, and D.L. Hugley had a couple of decent moments, but was underwritten... which was a colossal waste of his tremendous screen presence and charisma. But, the rest of it was incredibly bland and unmemorable. I'm still not sure why people like Matthew Perry so much, as he was basically playing a more sullen version of his Friends character, and Bradley Whitford just did a reprise of the neurotic, egotistical, but ultimately gutless Josh Lyman.

I never really got the whole thing about the mousy pale, skinny guy being the break-out star of the show. That made no sense to me at all. That guy was also incredibly miscast.
posted by psmealey at 12:09 PM on June 28, 2007

Sarah Paulson was pretty good on Deadwood.

Oh, god, yes.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:13 PM on June 28, 2007

I agree with all the criticism above, but I still liked a lot of it. Matthew Perry is nothing short of fantastic in it, IMO.

It's true that there was a ton of terrible writing, (and internet bashing btw) I'm afraid I'm still a Sorkin fanatic because of Sports Night. Which my wife and I watch all of just about every year.

I also think that Paulson was great. And just as funny as she was supposed to be. I loved her obscure Holly Hunter impressions (when was the last time you heard someone quote a line from Broadcast News?).

I agree the last three eps were snoresville, save for a couple of moments.

Oh well. I'll watch the series finale tonight, and then put in the episode of Sports Night when Jeremy witnesses the "hunting incident" or when Isaac tells Dan not to compare himself to Rosa Parks and get weepy all over again.

I love how many sports night fans there are on MeFi. For all of you who haven't seen it. GO BUY IT NOW!

Also: after all the hubub about both Sorkin and Fey writing shows about a similar subject, I honestly think that 30 Rock is one of the funniest shows going. Often brilliant, and Alec Baldwin is amazing. I've watched that entire season at least twice now.

*(please note I'm often enthusiastic and given to hyperbole about things I like, but I'll still fight for all of my over-the-top opinions)
posted by asavage at 12:14 PM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I honestly think that 30 Rock is one of the funniest shows going.

Agreed. 100%
posted by psmealey at 12:16 PM on June 28, 2007

I didn't stay with the show long. In addition to the "Crazy Christians" bit (lame), there was this big build-up to an edgy piece which turned out to be . . . rewritten Gilbert & Sullivan? For me the basic problem wasn't the in-jokes or the soap opera stuff, but the fact that they were doing a sort-of-Saturday-Night-Live, and they forgot to bring the funny. If you do a play-within-a-play, and the inside frame really really sucks, you can't pretend that it's good theater.
posted by palancik at 12:33 PM on June 28, 2007

Oh, I forgot to mention, the movie will be released in December. :)
posted by zarq at 12:37 PM on June 28, 2007

I loved the ep with Allison Janney, but only because it made me all nostalgic for the Good Days of the West Wing. And the Christmas episode with the New Orleans musicians? Yeah, I cried.

As for Amanda Peet - I like her. I really do. She does have chops. But I thought the role was wrong for her, and I never bought her character.

I haven't seen 30 Rock - it never quite made it onto my radar - but I remember the reviews of 30 Rock and Studio 60 back when they'd first been announced/previewed to reviewers, and all the reviews I read said "30 Rock - meh" and instead got all snorgly over Studio 60. Tina Fey must be laughing her ass off. (And maybe I'll try to catch it in reruns or whatever this summer, although baseball season makes this difficult.)
posted by rtha at 12:55 PM on June 28, 2007

And the Christmas episode with the New Orleans musicians? Yeah, I cried.

Then, the show was definitely written for you. That's not intended either as a slam or a critique. The show was written in a very soft-focus kind of way that was intended to tug at your heart strings. The West Wing had that too, but they balanced it out with the more hard-boiled elements in John Spencer and Richard Schiff to give it a broader, and I hate to say it, but more masculine appeal. Without them, the West Wing would have been just as airy, talky and maudlin as Studio 60.

In the final analysis for me, Studio 60 needed more Asner.
posted by psmealey at 1:14 PM on June 28, 2007

who needs Studio 60 when you have Hidden Palms?
posted by matteo at 1:21 PM on June 28, 2007

I guess Hollywood really is like DC. Even if you're totally incompetent, people will keep throwing jobs at you if you know the right people.
posted by bardic at 1:58 PM on June 28, 2007

The show was written in a very soft-focus kind of way...

Yeah, absolutely. During the Christmas ep, I knew I was being manipulated, I knew it was all constructed to make me weepy. It kind of pissed me off, but in the end I went with it. What the hell - it was Xmas, you know?

He did tend to walk the line much more gracefully in the WW, and it's one of the things I miss about that show. There was emotion, but not sentimentality. (At least, when both he and Tommy Schlamme were on it.)

Re: Hidden Palms - caught the last 20 minutes or so last night. There was a guy alone in a house, drinking and watching a video. The camera pulls back so you can get a better look at the guy, and I yelled " Hey! It's Bayliss!" So the fact that it's got Kyle Secor in it is intriguing, and the bit I saw seemed over-the-top in a Twin Peaks kind of way, so I'll have to pay more attention to when it's on (although I guess the season is nearly over).
posted by rtha at 2:09 PM on June 28, 2007

Alvy Ampersand - What do you mean by "Sorkin is the Warren Ellis of television" ?
posted by thedaniel at 3:25 PM on June 28, 2007

when was the last time you heard someone quote a line from Broadcast News?

posted by kirkaracha at 3:31 PM on June 28, 2007

My 2 centavos:

Steven Weber is one or two roles away from brilliance. It's there, under the surface. There's a writer out there that can get it out. He was great on this show. Not great for him, great.

Timothy Busfield is the heart of the show, and Aaron Sorkin needed more time to show that. It's a shame he never will.

Matt Leblanc never convinced me that he was as funny as everyone suggested his character was. Yeah, if you're going to do a show about how hilarious this sketch show is...SHOW A FUCKING SKETCH at least once an episode. (Oh, and sweet god, make sure it's funny.)

Liked: the first time Sarah Paulson did Holly Hunter. After that, it was horse-flogging. And where was the hurt when the Christian community betrayed her?

Liked: Nathan Cordry--but his character should have been based on more of a whipsmart but fragile person like early Dana Carvey or David Spade. Make you think there was somebody who would actually have a following.

D.L. Hughley didn't aggravate me as much as I thought he would.

Couldn't have cared less about Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford and their "Every Breath You Take" relationship.

And: Maybe I'm too close to it to be objective, but the New Orleans episode (actually, just that storyline of that particular show) breaks my heart in ways that I can't even describe on this website without crying at home six months later.
posted by ColdChef at 3:57 PM on June 28, 2007

Oh, I do have to agree that the standout, bar none, was Steven Weber. Every time he was on screen, the show got 100% more awesome. Which is like, crazy, especially since I mostly just think of him as the guy who got the stiletto through the eyeball in Single White Female, but it's a real shame he had to consistently turn in amazing performances in such a preachy, mediocre assfest.

And Sports Night will remain the best thing Aaron Sorkin has ever done.
posted by mckenney at 3:59 PM on June 28, 2007

Oh, and "Sports Night" is one of the greatest shows in the history of shows in the history of television in the history of western culture in the history of popular entertainment in the history of recorded time in the history of the universe. I like a lot.
posted by ColdChef at 3:59 PM on June 28, 2007

Holy crap. I just realized I called Matthew Perry "Matt Leblanc."

Sorry to both men. (Really, really sorry to Matthew Perry)
posted by ColdChef at 4:03 PM on June 28, 2007

Steven Weber is one or two roles away from brilliance

He was pretty great in Jeffrey.
Although it's really all about Patrick Stewart. "Can I do this, or do I look like some sort of gay superhero?" [NOT FABULOUS-IST]
posted by kirkaracha at 6:09 PM on June 28, 2007

Just finished the final episode. All loose ends quickly secured. Blah. Four episodes about one single night and then all the happy endings in the last 15 minutes. Bah.
posted by ColdChef at 8:31 PM on June 28, 2007

Yes Sports Night and West Wing are better, yes Studio 60 got more self-indulgent after it was clear it wasn't doing well, but it wasn't rubbish. At times it was utterly brilliant. A lot of those times included Steven Weber, but don't forget that there was some terrific writing behind those moments.

"Fight me right now!"
posted by nthdegx at 3:39 AM on June 29, 2007

First seasons of Studio 60, West Wing and Sports Night all ended with an episode called What kind of day has it been.
posted by nthdegx at 3:43 AM on June 29, 2007

Man, I tried, but I just couldn't get through it. Too much melodrama crushing my head. I bailed after 25 minutes. I do have one question, however:

Did they play Enya during the final credits?
posted by psmealey at 4:55 AM on June 29, 2007

thedaniel: Both write with their tics on their sleeve, which their fans love but I find fairly self-indulgent and sort of lazy. I'm also irritated by the cultural and political pandering as well as the mawkishness that often colours both creators' works. I wouldn't go so far as to say they're overrated; Sorkin and Ellis are good writers, but I find they respectively draw from the same well far too often for my tastes.

(However, I've heard many good things about Thunderbolts lately so I may have to check it out and adjust my position on Ellis, at least.)
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:36 PM on June 29, 2007

Television being the vast wasteland that it is, this show was actually one of the best written. For what it's worth.

Which ain't much.
posted by Seamus at 6:54 PM on July 2, 2007

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