27 February 2007


The difference between Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme's shows Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is that in a half hour sitcom, a depiction of workplace sexual harassment can be played as funny and charming, while in an hour drama it is just creepy and wrong.

On the original version of this post (now lost beneath the desert sands) my mother commented:

I have been a fan of both these programs, but for me “funny and charming” just does not apply when sexual harrassment is involved, even on a funny and charming half-hour sitcom.

Sorry, bucko!

I take the point.

But I do believe in a certain storytelling magic in the conventions of genre. When on Sports Night Jeremy and Natalie banter about the sex they had last night right there in the production booth, surrounded by their colleagues, I can accept it even though in the real world that would be creepy and wrong.

I accept it because it's taking place in a workplace sitcom and their banter is obeying the rules of the Workplace Sitcom Universe, which are different from the rules here on Planet Earth.

  • Everything should take place in the funniest way possible
  • When two characters are talking other characters get to chime in to make things funnier
  • Everything takes place at the workplace or That Bar Where Everybody Goes After Work
  • ... and so on ...

While watching we accept huge violations of the rules of reality to support these rules of genre. So we look over many things that would be impossible, absurd, immoral, or illegal in the real world. Characters in workplace sitcoms routinely lie, steal, seriously injure their clients and colleagues, light the workplaces on fire ... and sexually harass their customers and colleagues ... and we are untroubled because of the different rules of Workplace Sitcom Reality. This is just like how we accept that Lois Lane doesn't recognize that Clark Kent is Superman and how we retain our sympathy for the lying bastards who populate a farce.

I had thought that this misbehavior by the characters of Sports Night was just Sorkin playing the rules of genre, so I could accept it. But now that it's showing up in Studio 60, which is in a different genre, it is very disturbing ... and in fact poisons my enjoyment of his earlier shows.

No comments: