Sunday, October 08, 2006

Someone get Aaron Sorkin a script doctor

I don't know much about screen writing and can't really do it myself but it seems like an obvious rule that if you want to have a prolific career you are aloud to write characters that are like you, but to give contrast, you need to be add at least a few characters that aren't like you.

I recently watched one of Woody Allen's movies and just got a little tired of it because he's just made too many movies for someone with his lack of range. He is very innovative, no question, and he mixes things up (Sweet and Lowdown didn't seem much like a Woody Allen film, for example), so it's kind of up in the air, but most of Woody Allen's characters, however, are the same. They're usually engaged in some creative industry, Jewish, from New York, self-possessed, self-aware, incapable of taking relationships and not making them more complicated than they are, etc.Aaron Sorkin suffers from that same problem immensely. I really didn't like Sports Night because it just seemed really phony and the clich├ęs started growing and growing until, after enough viewing, every bit of dialogue could be predicted a mile away.

I didn't bother with West Wing but because I have an interest in Saturday Night Live and the comic industry (I've read two books on the behind-the-scenes workings of Saturday Night Live), I've tuned into this one, and there's no doubt it has some great stuff in it. The characters are really great and it really has a keen eye for its topic. From the first to the second episode, however, my annoyance with the dialogue grew and I'm worried that like Sports Night that is going to increase with each episode, to the point where I'm not willing to take the good with the bad and I'll just be forced to ditch the show. Like Sports Night, the characters:
-All have ADD, they can't discuss less than 3 topics at once
-They all complete each other's sentences like married couples (Robert Altman did this a lot in films like MASH and was considered a revolutionary for it, but Sorkin pushes it to annoying extremes)
-They are all highly intelligent but at the same time they all have really bad tact every once in a while and bring up the wrong thing to say at the wrong time
-They usually have some conflict with someone else, and often are entangled in some work-related relationship which they can't discuss in a conversation without discussing 2 or 3 things at a time with them.

Just for the heck of it, could Aaron Sorkin have thrown in a big, slow guy who will just say "huh" in response to what the other characters are saying?

Worst of all, the characters have the same sense of humor, a kind of witty and unapolagetically smart irony. This is really bad for a dramatic portrayal of a comedy show. While you don't need to necessarily be funny for an hour drama show, you need to realistically portray funny people. Watch the show and ask yourself are Nathan Corddroy, Sarah Paulsen, D.L. Hughley, and Matthew Perry's characters actually funny? Even when they're performing in the show-within-a-show scenario, are they even remotely making you laugh? Sarah Paulsen's character, a born-again Christian, who's just-ended relationship with Matthew Perry is very much at the center of the drama. She's self-deprecating about her religion and slightly whimsical but beyond that, she's not remotely convincing as a funny person, and has yet to say or do anything funny except to provide a light-hearted moment to ease the mood in the way that dramas like Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing might do.

Perhaps, the point of the pilot was to show that they, in fact, weren't funny, but the drama is that hopefully the two new writers will make the show funny. Still, that sets the bar pretty high for Sorkin and company to make us laugh and I'm not sure if he can reach it. I can't imagine it being that hard considering D.L. Hughley is an acclaimed stand-up comedian and Matthew Perry was already successful at being funny on a TV sitcom. This show has great potential but Aaron Sorkin needs to get someone else involved in the writing process who can provide a slightly different voice to his scripts, preferably a funny one, so when we watch it at home, we'll
have the feeling that we're watching more than one character.

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