"Studio 60": Who Needs God When You've Got A God Complex?

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" has by now established itself as perhaps Aaron Sorkin's weakest work (well, except for Malice). But it's certainly the weakest of his TV series, falling well behind "Sports Night" and "The West Wing" in terms of character development, creativity, storylines, and everything else. Sorkin is even up to his old tricks when it comes to dropping storylines whenever they begin to bore him; wasn't the "Studio 60" set supposed to be redesigned, like, months ago?But the biggest change is perhaps in Sorkin's newfound cynicism for his characters that believe in God. Of course, Sorkin's distaste for zealots is hardly new; the pilot episode of "The West Wing" revolved around Josh almost getting fired for pissing off the religious right, and when the smug representatives of that movement came to the White House, the president smacked them down by quoting the Ten Commandments. This set two important precedents for the show: First, the religious right was going to be a pretty standard whipping boy for Sorkin's idealistic Bartlet administration. Second, Bartlet would be a man of well-reasoned, compassionate faith. Sorkin's diatribes against narrow-minded religious extremists first appeared on "Sports Night," as in (for one of many instances) Casey McCall's on-air insults aimed at Jerry Falwell. Attacking the right-wing nutbars that are destroying the public faith of a lot of Americans is fine and dandy, it really is. However, the important thing on "The West Wing" wasn't just Bartlet's strong stance against the religious right, but his balancing that with his own yearning, personal faith. In the show's mythology, Bartlet minored in theology at Notre Dame, and his struggle to reconcile his faith in God with the horrible choices he faces as president added tremendous depth to the first few seasons of "The West Wing." The first season's "Take This Sabbath Day" shows Bartlet's spiritual vulnerability as he debates the commutation of a convict's death sentence, decides to let the sentence stand, and ultimately talks to his boyhood priest and asks forgiveness for his acts. Bartlet's spiritual vulnerability came to a head in Season 2's "Two Cathedrals," in which Bartlet curses and shouts at God as he reels from the death of Mrs. Landingham. Bartlet's soliloquy in Latin is heartrending, but he's not abandoning his faith: He's reasoning with it. There's never a sense that Bartlet is turning his back on his beliefs. Which is what makes Sorkin's newfound bitterness toward Christianity in general so perplexing. He's got a track record of respecting characters of honest faith, yet Matt Albie is becoming an increasingly bitter spokesman for what one can only assume is Sorkin's developing animosity for people who believe in God. Entire episodes have revolved around the fact that Matt doesn't respect Harriet for having faith. The pilot episode revolved around a sketch called "Crazy Christians." And yes, both the sketch and Matt's mockery of Harriet are related to the religious right. But there is no Bartlet on "Studio 60," no man or woman who seems to represent the non-insane swath of believers out there. Sorkin keeps mounting attacks, but there's no one to respond with apologetics. I'd thought Sorkin respected people more than that, but I'm starting to think I was wrong. So I leave you with this: