Monday, April 6, 2015

It’s a Sorkin World After All By: C.P. Stringham

Sorkin's gift to humanity.
They say that you can get a pretty good idea of what an author’s personality is really like by reading their works. I’ve admitted to some of my readers that there’s a little of me in each of my characters. I like adding elements that reflect my likes and dislikes as well as personal experiences life has taken me through. My close friends could even tell you what some of those real elements are. I’ve also touched on social issues I feel strongly about. My books. My story. My right. Readers can either agree, disagree, or, if my story moves them enough, maybe they will end up agreeing with me by the end of the book.

Most of my readers wouldn’t need a degree in psychology to figure out that I’m a huge fan *cough-cough* stalker of actor Martin Sheen and, more specifically, his portrayal of fictional President Josiah Bartlet. In my book A Moment’s Rest, I gave Reverend Stephanie Talbot my Sheen crush as well as her love for his former NBC series The West Wing. Truth be told, I am a complete and unapologetic fan of writer Aaron Sorkin, creator of The American President, The West Wing, and The Newsroom among other notable works. Those particular three are my favorites. Family favorites, too. In fact, we love having marathons and our motto is: “The family that Sorkins together, stays together!”
Before I ever knew the name Aaron Sorkin, I was starting the second trimester of my first pregnancy and had entered into the nesting phase, never feeling much like venturing out—later into it, I was ordered to stay home on bed rest for a good portion of it when I was diagnosed with pregnancy induced hypertension. My husband and I found entertainment in stacks and stacks of VHS movie rentals. One Sunday, he brought home The American President. I recalled seeing trailers for it before it went to theaters and knew it starred Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, but that was about all. Fifteen minutes into it, the scene when Bening’s character, Sydney Ellen Wade, talks smack about the president, played by Michael Douglas, while not knowing he is standing right behind her, comes on and we instantly loved it. I realize it’s a chick flick, but the breakneck, witty dialog, touching storyline, and political drama make it a timeless classic—at least in our family. My husband and I liked it so much, we named our oldest daughter Sydney despite having already picked out another name for her months earlier.

Fast-forward to December 1999. Our youngest was four months old and well into sleeping through the night. It was a cold winter evening and both my husband and I had an unusual Wednesday night off together from our retail management jobs. We found ourselves flipping through TV stations when we came upon this show where a homeless man was found dead in a park. Figuring it was a cop drama, we left it on and settled in to watch. We soon learned it wasn’t a whodunit, but a political drama and it had us at rapt attention. In the episode, the DC police discover a business card inside the homeless man’s coat pocket they trace back to the White House Communications Director, Toby Zeigler. Toby tells the police that he donated the coat to charity and must have left the card in his pocket. The police explain about the man’s death and Toby looks into matters. It turns out the homeless man was a Korean War vet who suffered from mental illness. Toby is outraged that someone who served his country and returned with psychological problems was homeless and left to die on a park bench. Determined to give the veteran the funeral he deserves, Toby uses the President’s name to arrange a full Honor Guard ceremony with burial in Arlington National Cemetery. The episode was so moving and relevant, at the end of the show, we hit the info button on our satellite remote to see what the show was called: The West Wing and the episode was titled In Excelsis Deo. While writing this week’s blog, I was looking up quotes and came upon an interesting fact about this episode: "The Pentagon has been phenomenally friendly to us and very supportive of this show and what it has to say. They gave us the Arlington location and the Marines and set up the whole funeral for us because they had read Aaron's script and felt very touched by it and wanted to help in any way they could."- John Wells The West Wing Executive Producer (taken from the article The money is the message by John Allemang, January 22, 2000 The Globe and Mail.) Because of that very compelling episode, my husband and I tuned in thereafter for every show over the seven seasons it was on and now own the complete series on DVD and Aaron Sorkin became a household name. Richard Schiff’s portrayal of Toby made him my favorite character for the duration of the series. 

Toby: “A homeless man died last night. A Korean War veteran who was wearing a coat I gave to the Goodwill. It had my card in it.” President Bartlet: “Toby, you’re not responsible—,” Toby: “Took the ambulance an hour and twenty minutes to get there. A lance corporal in the U.S. Marines, Second of the Seventh. Guy got better treatment in Pan Moon Jong!” 

This episode won the Emmy Award for best writing. Sorkin and Rick Cleveland co-penned with the rest of the writing crew.

The West Wing is ridiculously special. If you haven’t watched it, I can’t begin to explain to you the changes that happen in your way of thinking when it comes to all things political. I have heard people call it a religious experience and, I guess, it is. No matter what your political party allegiance, you were guaranteed an Aha! moment during any given episode. Some leave you moved to tears or grinning from ear to ear while pumping your fist in victory or fueled with fire to seek social change over some injustice in the world. Every episode gives a civics lesson. And when President Bartlet has his way, you may even learn some obscure Latin phrases or the names of all of the National Parks and their locations. Among all of those admirable qualities lies some really great writing. The witty repartee between characters is incredible and gives them an endearing quality making them feel like your best friends while teaching you about American politics. Great guest stars made appearances and, in fact, another favorite episode titled The Supremes brought the uber talented Glen Close to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the first female nominee of Chief Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Sydney discovered The West Wing two years ago, but not until after watching a full season of HBO’s The Newsroom, Sorkin’s most recent drama series set behind the scenes of a cable TV news network. The series was the perfect vehicle for examining the world of politics and current events as seen through the staff of a newsroom fighting for ratings and sponsors. Unique to the series was the fact that Sorkin set the show a few years in the past and covered real events as if they were breaking news. Episode one of the first season, We Just Decided To, aired in June 2012, but was set in 2010 to relay the events of the newsroom covering the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and scooping the story. Probably my favorite episode of the series was 5/1 and covers the death of Osama Bin Laden. Three of the staff members are stuck inside a plane on a runway as their newsroom coworkers scramble to figure out why the President is planning on addressing the nation “on a matter of grave national security.” The ending provided one of those Aha! moments its predecessor was known for. I have to say the three seasons the show treated us to only left my family wanting more. And it had so much more to offer us. A show gone much too soon.

Today was Easter. Last week, I found myself tossing blog post ideas around not knowing what I would write about and then it just came to me. As we spent our holiday at home, family dinner and whatnot, we found ourselves having a Sorkin marathon. Two episodes of The Newsroom and three episodes of The West Wing. It never gets old. In all seriousness, if you have never watched, they provide the makings for the best binge-watching ever. Thank you, Aaron Sorkin for creating some of the best damn television ever. As President Bartlet liked to say, “What’s next?” How about a reunion movie for The West Wing?
On a side note, I think my next blog post, in two weeks, will come with my daughter's college decision. Will she choose Alfred University or Elmira College?! 

1 comment:

  1. Not sure how I missed this last week! I'm sorry! I've never seen any of these shows, but maybe the next time we can afford Netflix I'll look for them.