19 May 2006

Can you tell me how to get to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip?

An introductory primer on the finer points of Aaron Sorkin.

I love Aaron Sorkin. I love Sports Night. I love Dave. I love The West Wing. I love the play A Few Good Men, and I heard they even made a movie of it.

Spotting Aaron Sorkin's writing in the general television schedule is like spotting Hemingway on shelf full of Poe (which is a bizarre comparison, since I don't like Hemingway, and current television is as like Poe as farming the Yangtze River Valley is like Poe, which is to say one is underwater and impossible and one is a dead guy). But if you've somehow avoided that small sector of pop culture that is smart and funny and not overly simplistic and not British you may not recognize it out of hand. So as a public service, I offer my imaginary audience a guide to the writing, styles, obsessions and some rumours of Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin's writing is like great vaudeville patter: snappy, quick, repetetive (in a good way), and sharp. Jokes are circled, rather than pounced on, and the punchline is often the sort of stuff you smile at in real life. Characters repeat lines back to each other, like tennis players adding intonation like spin until "okay" is the funniest word you've ever heard.

The writing doesn't just mirror the good old days in speed and snap. Sorkin writes some of the best parts for smart tough women on the since Rosalind Russell graced the screen in His Girl Friday. Dana (Felicity Huffman in SN), Natalie (Sabrina Lloyd in SN), C.J. (Alllison Janney in WW) and Abbey (Stockard Channing) are the sort of capable, brilliant women who are unfazed even in the faces of emergencies. Even the more traditional romantic interests like Donna (Janel Moloney in WW) are smart. Donna's assistant/naif is far more competent than similar characters in one-hour dramas; women who are supposed to be doctors or lawyers, but who are basically the same girlish stereotypes over and over. But what else do we expect from a guy who's tough enough to date Maureen Dowd and survive?

My favorite thing about the Sorkin's characters is that everybody's a geek. Sports geeks, policy wonks, fact junkies, and information hoarders abound. Jeremy (Joshua Molina in SN) was a weather geek, Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe in WW) was a map geek, and everybody else is (in some reversal of a teenager's view of the world) smart as hell. And not merely smart, but passionate. These people's jobs are their lives. Anything that comes between their jobs and their lives (except for the minor possibility of children) will get put on back burners (or simply moved off the stove).

Aside from the absurd-to-life dialogue and people in their 30s comparing their SAT scores what do I predict we'll see in Studio 60?

Competent people struggling with addiction. Sorkin's comments on his past cocain addiction are as controversial as they are well-known, and I expect we'll see characters carrying on the battle.

Very tall women.

Guys who write to impress women.

Guys who do stupider things to impress women.

Idealists in a non-ideal world.

People who hide from their problems in work.

People who hide from relationships in work.

People who hide from each other in work.

People who work together becoming family.

Women who work in the sex industry.

Women who are smart and make active healthy choices and still work in the sex industry.

People who read books.

People who read books and talk about them with each other.

I guess basically we can expect another brilliant show about smart people who live in a funny tragic wacky world. People who care and are basically decent, but still have work/life balance issues and throw themselves into things when walking in might be warranted. And I can expect to have to find more shelf space in my Brooklyn apartment for the boxed DVD set.


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