I’ve begun watching a show on Hotstar called The Newsroom. It’s a really cool TV show, with some of the best writing I’ve ever seen. It finds a new story in every episode, while still being connected to one over-arching story. Not a lot of TV shows can do this well. Crime shows try, but often fail. Newsroom succeeds. Another show that succeeds — and when I say ‘succeeds,’ I mean, ‘blows it out of the damn park’ — is The West Wing. These two shows have one thing in common. They’re both written by the best screenwriter in the business, Aaron Sorkin. I want to talk about Sorkin. There’s one thing he does that I find beautiful.
It’s the politics. Of course it’s the politics. It’s not the politics, though, it’s how Sorkin addresses Politics. He knows how awesome a political story can be. You can see it in The West Wing, most prominently, but it was Newsroom that brought my attention to it. I want to talk about the ease with which he talks about it. Most people are scared to talk about politics. They’re scared that their viewers will rain fire on them, and they’ll get less money because of it. Here’s the thing about Sorkin, though. He does not care.
Sorkin knows exactly how divisive politics is. In fact, this is what he calls attention to. He shows you how divisive politics can be. He shows you every possible fact, and then beats you over the head with it.
A common trap such shows fall into when trying this, is that they declare a side. They tell you that one side of the conversation is wrong. It is very difficult to show every side of a political conversation without completely alienating at least half your fan-base. Sorkin, however, does it.
I think it’s in the diversity of his characters. They’re different people. They’ve all got their own opinion on every subject. Sorkin puts all his characters into one room, and then goes HAM.
The most important part is the talking. People talk. The beauty of every situation is in the talking. People don’t understand this. When they see a scene where people are just talking, they groan and roll their eyes. To take a slight detour into another show, Game of Thrones has a couple of scenes where the talking is awesome. (Actually, the more I think about it now, the more I feel like if they asked Sorkin to write some of the episodes of Thrones, it would literally be a perfect show.) Sorkin shows you the beauty in talking. He understands it, and shows us the music in people’s words. I did his course on Screenwriting on MasterClass.com, and in it, he says “that’s not how people talk.” Yeah, it isn’t. That’s not the point, though. The point is this: that’s how such matters should be discussed. My father says, based on a quote often used by one of his friends, “A story should be told as it should have occurred.” Never has a truer sentence been spoken. Sorkin tells the story as it should have occurred.
His best scenes are when five smart people are in a room, and they begin talking about a really scary topic like gay marriage or abortion. He shows you every aspect of the debate, while not looking like a complete ass, staying true to the characters and what they believe, staying true to human nature, and at the same time, telling a story that blows your mind.
Yeah, he’s telling stories, but he’s also talking directly to the government. “This is where you’re going wrong.” he says, “You’re not talking enough. You’re jumping to conclusions. You need to talk.” Talking can solve problems. Almost every episode of The West Wing ends in a problem being solved by talking. Talking is a step towards world peace. Yeah, we can’t talk world peace into existence, but talking can get us closer.
It isn’t what Aaron says. It’s how he says it, and the fact that he says it at all. At the bottom of everything, there is one message. Talking solves more problems than shooting or blowing something up ever will. And that is a beautiful statement. That could take us one step closer to making the world a safer place for our children.