As is my wont, I was browsing the YouTube thing and came across a video that reminded me of an article I had written seven years ago for the Huffington Post. May 25th, for those of you keeping notes.
It was somewhat of an offbeat piece. The background is that on a recent episode of Aaron Sorkin's show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Trip (about the people who put on a weekly live TV variety show, somewhat like Saturday Night Live), he brought in Allison Janney to guest star -- as the fake show's guest host that week. What made this noteworthy is that a regular on the this series was Timothy Busfield, who played the show's director. And for fans of The West Wing, this meant a re-teaming of Sorkin, Janney and Busfield -- the latter two who had just a joyously fun rapport in their dance-around-the-edges, would-be-but-never-quite romance. And the treat of the episode is that their wonderful rapport was still intact, and Sorkin played it for all it was worth. Even putting in a The West Wing reference -- which wasn't a stretch, since Allison Janney played a character named...Allison Janney.
I wish I could embed the full episode. It was a total treat, more of a comedy than usual, since it was about everything going wrong. But the good news is that I did find a 10-minute video that cut together much of Allison Janney's scenes -- which means that it includes much of the scenes with her and Timothy Busfield together. And that's the whole point here. The video doesn't do the episode justice -- or even do their scenes together justice, since you lose a bit of context. But you get a pretty good idea -- and with my original article below, you should have a better idea still. Just know this: in the episode, the prop department has gone on strike, and the question that Janney is concerned about during final dress rehearsal is whether the people with cue cards are part of the prop department. Busfield has kept assuring her before airtime that the cue cards are fine -- all to keep her calm. But the reality is...well, here's the article and then the video --
Hollywood’s New ‘It’ Couple in a Perfect World
May 25, 2011
Admittedly, this is a bit different. With the inauguration of the Huffington Post’s new design, however, it seems appropriate. A mere piffle to be sure, but some things far under the radar are too good to be allowed to pass without notice.
Last Thursday, NBC brought back Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, no doubt for its last hurrah. But whatever the reason, it was worthwhile because it gave the audience a chance to see one more re-teaming of what’s becoming a remarkable TV couple — Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield.
The two, of course, first overlapped on The West Wing as press secretary C.J. Cregg, and reporter Danny Concannon who was madly in love with her, but was perpetually rebuffed. Their rapport was always such a gem that it was allowed to flourish, to the point where the hapless Danny was allowed to win his heart’s desire at the end.
Janney isn’t a part of Studio 60, though Busfield is a regular, playing the director of the show-within-the-show. But Aaron Sorkin, who created both series, had the good sense to bring the actress in for a guest appearance, and made sure her character interacted with Busfield’s as much and as wonderfully as possible.
Whatever anybody thought of Studio 60, this one episode — titled “The Disaster Show” — made the whole series worth it. Okay, NBC might disagree, but they were footing the bill. (For my taste, I thought Studio 60 started out weakly, which killed it, but three or four weeks in, it found its voice and got absolutely terrific. But by then, it had lost its audience and was too late.)
But opinions of the full series aside, it was this single teaming of Janney and Busfield on Thursday that leaped out.
On the episode, Allison Janney portrayed a character named ... well, ‘Allison Janney.’ She played herself hosting the sketch show — on a night when the people who handle the cue cards go on strike moments before the live show is scheduled to begin.
The joy of the episode is that Busfield, as director, spends most of the show lying to Janney to keep her from panicking, and then charmingly apologizing the moment the problem comes to light. Such as when she steps on stage to do her opening monologue on live TV, only to discover to her horror that she has to ad-lib it. Busfield has given her an earpiece so that he can help guide her through the nightmare — but it’s her nightmare, because he appears to be having the time of her life. “Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention,” he coos warmly, with a twinkle, “there are no cue cards.”
Throughout the show, the two communicate intimately over the monitor, which is no easy feat for actors, as the studio audience is blissfully unaware of her private hell and thinking she’s talking to them alone. The funniest moment comes at the end, when she’s saying her live “goodnights” after the total disaster ... and then one more disaster occurs. As she desperately struggles on, even stumbling over her own credits, Busfield whispers into her earpiece, “‘The West Wing,’” and she finally screams out exasperated, uncaring that it’s live TV, “I know the name of the show I was on!!!!”
The whole episode was a hoot, but the joy was watching two consummate professionals having the time of their lives acting together, even when they usually weren’t in the same room together. As good as they were on “The West Wing,” they were even better here, like a pair of comfortable shoes that just feel perfect. Like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces fit exactly, and the result is a beautiful picture.
A friend referred to them as the new ‘Nick and Nora,’ alluding to the characters William Powell and Myrna Loy played impeccably ages ago in the classic Thin Man movies. The performances that Janney and Busfield give are completely different, but the sensibility is apt: smart, funny, loving and outspoken. What we get are two actors so gorgeously paired that they become something different entirely, something special. Their timing, their glances, their body language all took the clever dialogue of the episode to another level.
I don’t know what Aaron Sorkin is going to do next, but it should be sure to have the two of them in it. Actually, some network should be smart enough to team them up in a series. Maybe they work best as a supporting couple, I don’t know — but man, do they ever work great together.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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