"This Is Your Showrunner. This is Your Showrunner on Drugs. Any Questions?"Complications Ensue
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

We've been watching Season Four of THE WEST WING.

It's not as good as Season Two. We watched THE WEST WING's Season Two opener, "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen," the other day. That is about as good as television gets.

When we started Season Four, we skipped the two part "20 Hours in America" and went to ep. 4.03, "College Kids." And we were shocked just how bad it was -- more like someone's weak WEST WING spec that had accidentally been filmed. Story lines going every which way, scene buttons that didn't have anything to button. The episode was all over the place.

Season Four was not Aaron Sorkin's best year. This is the One With the Drug Arrest. It's possible that coke does not actually help you concentrate.

What was striking last night was watching 4.10, "Arctic Radar," last night. From the get-go, you can see Sorkin's got his A game back. The stories have themes. There's a mix of comedy and seriousness. There are those little touches for political junkies:

SAM: The President is giving a speech, and Toby needs help writing it.
WILL: When's the speech?
SAM: January 20th.
WILL: Is the President giving two speeches on that day?
SAM. No. Just the Inauguration.

It's a lovely Sorkin trick: give the minimum information so the in-the-know audience can gasp, thinking, "Oh my God! That's the Inauguration." Then follow it up with the explanation so the rest of the audience doesn't get lost. He does the same thing with the 25th Amendment. He has four or five characters refer to invoking the 25th before explaining that it is the Amendment that allows the President to "devolve" his duties upon the Vice President, or in the absence of a VP, on the next person in the line of succession.

Having got his A game back, Sorkin ends the ep with Toby worrying to Will Bailey that he's lost it. The magic isn't coming into the writing. He doesn't know where to look for it, because he never knew where it came from. "I thought I was one of those guys." Bailey reassures him that he is one of those guys, he's just exhausted.

Seven episodes after writing a crap episode, Sorkin writes a writer character wondering if he's lost his touch. And he does it with his regular (but no longer inevitable) brilliance.

I've asserted that "TV is not a medium for personal expression." In one sense it isn't. You can only write what belongs in the show you're writing. But the best writers are always writing from their heart. Sorkin isn't afraid to put his own fears onscreen. It makes for a strong ending for the show.

Always write from the heart, whether you're writing about moms or cops or demons from the maw of Hell. Find what moves you. Write your own fears. Write your flaws. That's how you become a star.

I'm starting a three-week writing room on Monday, breaking story on eps 1.04-1.10 of my pay cable series. We'll be doing our best to put our hearts into it. It's a blessing to have the chance to do it.



What are "scene buttons"?

By Blogger Matthew, at 1:43 PM  

Never mind, found it in the glossary.

By Blogger Matthew, at 2:20 PM  

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