Aaron Sorkin, the guy behind "SportsNight" and "West Wing," has a new hourlong show on NBC based around a fictional network's version of "Saturday Night Live." After the show's producer has a meltdown over a network-yanked sketch, two former show performers are brought back to revamp the show and bring some quality back to the network. It's a nice premise, and allows Sorkin to return to his better backstage "SportsNight" moments when the fictional producers and stars were fighting their network (while at the same time Sorkin was fighting with ABC over scheduling and format).
If you know either of his earlier shows, you'll notice a lot of familiar faces. The "West Wing" alums include CJ Craig's reporter fling, Leo's daughter and girlfriend lawyer, the male GOP White House lawyer, and Josh Lyman. Felicity Huffman cameos as herself, and she starred in "SportsNight." The pace and movement of the show scream Sorkin, and the pilot epsiode looks like it cost a kabillion dollars.
Just as in "West Wing," the first episode concerns a conflict with Christian activists. Whereas Josh faced heat for publicly slamming Christian lobbyists, here a sketch about "Crazy Christians" sparks all the turmoil. Shockingly, "Sunset" takes an explicit swing at Pat Robertson's 700 Club. But the move parallels the debate on the fake show. It suggests "Sunset" will do what the characters hope to with their show: Stand up for biting commentary and face the easily offended with stiff backs. If this is true, this could become the most talked-about show on network TV. Already, "Sunset" has the daring to attack its network's faded-glory comedy show and the network's blessing to do so.
Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford play the hotshot creators returning to the show, and they hit the ground running. Perry's character is whacked out on painkillers (mirroring Perry's own addiction), and both, like their characters, are coming back to a style of TV they departed. They were both on "West Wing" and know how to work with the scripts. They are the heart of the show along with Amanda Peet as the network president gambling on their comeback. There are even former "Saturday Night Live" people playing faux "Saturday Night Live" people.
The cast, so far, has no holes that I can see, and the hour breezed by in a hurry. And the show already has the curious task of presenting a funny fake show that's one meta-level removed from the viewers. I wanna see if the characters can do it, but that's just one of many reasons why I'm watching "Sunset."
If there's on standout so far, it's Perry. He's in full bloom here, playing someone much different than Chandler. I hope Bradley gets the same chance to distance himself from Josh.
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