Sunday, September 22, 2013

Love Letter to Aaron Sorkin


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I am an admitted TV junkie.  I watch ALOT.  But not all that I watch is good let alone great.  In my book, some of the greatest TV is created by a master — Aaron Sorkin.  About ten years younger (and far more successful) than I am, Sorkin writes screenplays and television series that always deliver.   This is a special talent that should be recognized beyond the entertainment industry.  Sorkin is so good at what he does that he may as well have a crystal ball. His genius series The West Wing forecasts the phenomenon of Barack Obama on the political scene.  

Barack Obama is elected to the U.S. Senate on November 2, 2004.  Eight days later on November 10 (in the episode, ) West-Wing viewers are introduced to Matthew Santos — a Latino-Texan Congressman who wants to get out of the House because he can't get anything done.  With Josh nipping at his heels, this barely known, improbable underdog candidate travels a rocky road through the primaries and the election, and two seasons later, in April of 2006, amazingly — Matt Santos is elected President of the United States.  Less than a year later, Barack Obama announces his candidacy for President of the United States and, against all odds, wins the election in 2008.  Life imitating art...created by Aaron Sorkin.  But let's go back to Aaron Sorkin's beginnings as entertainer/educator extraordinaire.

Aaron starts out in the movies with 
A Few Good Men and Malice and then, then he does The American President — a smart-talking fast-paced dramedy that takes us inside the inner workings of the White House and shows us how a president and his staff navigate politics, the presidency, and all the personalities that create the operational infrastructure it takes to legislate and move the party’s agenda.  Complicate this with competing special interests, power-grabs, and a young handsome president (Michael Douglas) recently widowed with a young daughter to raise amidst the chaos and scrutiny of the non-stop demands of holding the highest office in the United States.  Add to that a romantic entanglement with an environmental lobbyist (Annette Benning) and you’ve got classic Sorkin — a contemporary story  loaded with engaging, entertaining characters.

Sorkin's first TV series Sports Night, was an ensemble "about a fictional sports news show. It focuses on the friendships, pitfalls, and ethical issues the creative talent of the program face while trying to produce a good show under constant network pressure."  His initial offering to the TV audience only makes it for 45 episodes between 1998-2000.  It wins some awards over its short run, but this award sums it up:  2000 Winner of the TV Guide Award — category? — Best Show You're Not Watching.

But before he's dead on the tube, lucky for us, Aaron Sorkin is already at work on what will be his most exceptional, most wonderful, most engaging and entertaining work — The West Wing. 

I love, love, love The West Wing.  My thoughtful family gave me the complete series for Mother's Day one year and it's still one of the best presents.  This work resonates with me because Sorkin plumbs the depths of everyday ethical dilemmas in whatever context he places his stories in.  When I originally wrote about this series it was to show how teachers and parents could use television (quality television) to explore ethics and character.  I even sent a copy of the piece with a letter telling Sorkin was a great educational tool the show was, but (sad for me) my letter got returned — unopened.  [Maybe they thought I was pitching my own show without an agent?]


The West Wing with its fast-talking, wise-cracking, power-walking the halls of the White House, goes on for seven seasons and 154 episodes.  And season after season, I'm left wanting more.

So when it finally comes to an end (with Jimmy Smits as our unlikely-but-wonderful President) Sorkin follows this up with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip a funny (short-lived) series about the making of a Saturday-Night-Live-type comedy show and again we are behind the scenes to see the people, the politics, and the pranks of life while producing television.  Though the show didn’t run more than one season, Aaron quickly follows its demise with two films:  Charlie Wilson's War in 2007 and The Social Network in 2010.
Though both were entertaining movies, I can't say either really did it for me but then, then in 2011 Sorkin comes through with a film I’m completely nuts over — Moneyball — and my entertainment hero's back in the game.   Moneyball is a movie about baseball, about a baseball manager to be exact and his quest to develop a winning team with the lowest budget imaginable.  Starring Brad Pitt as the real-life Oakland A's manager Billy Beane, this film is incredibly rich, entertaining, warm and whenever it's on TV — I stop changing channels and watch.  And I don't even like baseball! Credit Aaron Sorkin.

Before last week, we didn't have HBO, but after seeing Season One of The Newsroom on DVD, we signed up and got on board.  It's classic Sorkin — sharp, witty, sarcastic, contemporary and compelling.  News Anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and Executive Producer former-fiancee Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer-we share the same birthday!) have managed to survive meltdowns and mistakes, stay at the network without completely crucifying each other over their broken relationship — and now we get to see if they maintain their jobs, ratings, and their newly revived engagement.  Thank God!  [As Will says after Mac accepts his proposal of marriage.  Can you tell how happy Sorkin's TV makes me?]

Given his track record maybe it’s time I check out Sports Night cause when the credits say "Created by Aaron Sorkin" — in my book, you just know it's gonna be good.

4 comments:

  1. No argument here. We're big fans, too, having watched TWW with Madeleine first and now again with Miranda. As one who doesn't watch much TV, I'd love to hear other recommendations--like your top 5 or 10 TV series of the last 20 years.

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    1. I'm writing about My All-Time Favorites...coming soon! Thanks Marge!

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  2. I love Sorkin and The West Wing and Newsroom, but I didn't know about his earliest works and I am very excited to learn of them. I hope they are on Netflix! Thanks so much!

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