The Netflix Files: April 20, 2011

The Netflix Files works to find the hidden gems of Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature, the films and TV series that have gone largely unnoticed by the streaming community. It’s also very possible that the writer of this column is slowly losing his mind.

This week, Brown is hosting its annual Ivy Film Festival, which promises a slew of student screenings, guest panels and sneak previews of Sundance faves. James Franco might even show up. The keynote speech of the festival will be delivered on Saturday afternoon by Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin is one of our generation’s most revered screenwriters, having won an Academy Award earlier this year for The Social Network, an instant classic and a profound cultural commentary. The smart, quick-paced dialogue featured in the film’s opening sequence is a trademark of Sorkin’s, as any fan of The West Wing will tell you. He also scripted one of the best courtroom dramas ever made, A Few Good Men.

Everyone’s excited about Sorkin coming. For a writer, he’s pretty high-profile. He has a cameo appearance in The Social Network and also appears regularly on Entourage as a fictional portrayal of himself, one of Miller Gold’s many disgruntled clients. And most recently, he showed up on 30 Rock.

As Sorkin racks off his list of notable credits, Tina Fey mentions something called “Studio 60,” at which point Sorkin tells her to shut up. She is referring to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sorkin’s doomed follow-up to The West Wing. It was an ensemble show on NBC that depicted the inner workings of a sketch comedy program in the vein of SNL. Sound familiar?

At the 2006-2007 network upfronts, NBC announced plans to go ahead with two SNL-inspired series. One was to be a comedy by Tina Fey, the Mean Girls writer and former SNL regular. The other, which received infinitely more hype, was Sorkin’s drama.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip boasted a star-studded cast that included the likes of Matthew Perry (returning to NBC two years after Friends), Bradley Whitford (star of The West Wing), Amanda Peet, D.L. Hughley and Steven Weber. It promised to critique the showbiz industry in the way Sorkin’s last show examined The White House.

Yet it was 30 Rock that ultimately prevailed, and Studio 60 which was given the axe at the end of the season. Studio 60 faced a myriad of problems — most of which can be attributed to Sorkin. The focus became way too political, delving into plotlines about Iraq War soldiers and gay rights. The Studio 60 sketches were never actually funny enough to warrant our investment in the show-within-a-show. Sorkin created many of his characters to not-so-subtly lambast other industry professionals (his ex Kristin Chenoweth, writer Rick Cleveland).

But the fact remains that the Studio 60 pilot is incredible; it is instantly apparent why NBC had so much faith in this show. It opens with an impromptu Network-like rant about the mediocrity of television, and then works to set up an extremely promising series of story arcs. The characters, especially Perry and Whitford’s writing duo, are expertly written and possess Sorkin’s signature dialogue that won him an Oscar. The episode closes out with “Under Pressure” by David Bowie & Queen, kicking off a series that should have been as epic as the pilot.

Let’s be honest here; we’ve all seen The Social Network enough times to roll our eyes at any crack about Caribbean Night at AEPi. If you want to get another look at Sorkin’s talent before Saturday, check out the pilot on Watch Instantly. It’s totally worth watching. Bonus points if you read his original script for the episode as well.

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