As NBC burns off the penultimate episode of Studio 60 tonight, its seems right to take a few minutes and focus on all the good things the show's creator Aaron Sorkin has given us over the years, rather than dogpiling on the guy for one semi-failure in an otherwise spectacular career. So I'm put on my Pollyanna outfit, which totally makes me look fat, and am ready to tally up a few of the Sorkin moments for which I am grateful. Um, all of them are from Sports Night and The West Wing. Sorry, Studio 60.
What Sorkin Has Given Us:
A new appreciation of ESPN
Sports Night ruined ESPN's Sports Center for me forever but in a really good way by showing how much damn fun its fictional co-hosts Dan and Casey were having during those commercial breaks. Dan and Casey were Version 1.0 of the "your co-workers are your friends and your friends are like family" motif that would perfected in The West Wing. Dan and Casey were good guys, good friends and the purveyors of sports-themed lunacy. You can't ask for much more than that. And because of Sports Night, I'll always picture Kenny Mayne as a prettier, crazier Peter Krause, and I'm okay with that.
A president so good he couldn't possibly be real
Every president and presidential candidate since The West Wing debuted must just shake their fists in fury at the gods of fictional characters, ruing the creation of Jed Bartlet. He had that Nobel Prize under his belt. He could yell at God in Latin. He loved his wife. He always tried to do the right thing, not just the easy thing. And best of all, he wasn't above calling the Butterball Hotline every now and then. From his unforgettable entrance in the pilot -- "I am the Lord your God" -- to his very last scene flying home to New Hampshire on Air Force One, Bartlet made millions of Americans wish for a leader like him.
Josh and Donna sittin' in a tree
I'm just gonna come right out and say it. Josh and Donna were probably my favorite TV couple of all time. Yeah, he was a cocky, know-it-all egomaniac and she was Exposition Girl way too often, but you'd be hard-pressed to name another fictional couple more devoted to each other than those two crazy kids. And that whole "I wouldn't stop for red lights" speech in 17 People? Pure romantic gold.
Workplace friendships to envy
Sorkin and Joss Whedon share one writerly fetish: the notion that friends make better family than those actual blood relative types. Sorkin took this to new heights with The West Wing. In part, it worked because of the workplace in question: a White House filled with people so dedicated they slept head down on their desks, drooling over top secret documents. You had to believe these guys were like family or, well, it would just seem sad. With father figures Jed and Leo, mom Abbey, squabbling siblings Josh, Sam and CJ, favorite son Charlie, cranky uncle Toby and that pleasant but spacy cousin Donna, they were so close-knit and loving that it made you wish you were sitting with them at your own Thanksgiving table rather than with that uncle who won't stop pulling weird things from your ear.
The greatest ensemble ever to act on TV
Hands down, The West Wing featured the best ensemble of actors ever assembled for a TV show. There were no weak links in the chain, from veterans like Martin Sheen and the late John Spencer to those who'd worked forever but never gained recognition like Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff and Allison Janney to relative neophytes like Dule Hill and Janel Moloney. Even former Brat Packer Rob Lowe had a chance to shine like never before. Each and every actor took Sorkin's words and ran with them without ever looking back.
Reasons to cry like small, depressive infants
Man oh man, Sorkin had a way with the heartbreaking moments. When Toby meets his newborn twins after a night of worrying he wouldn't love them, greeting them with the words, "I didn't realize babies come with hats. You guys crack me up," it's hard to imagine a more tender parent-child moment. I rank the entire scene second only to Leo's monologue to Josh in Noel:
I'll mail you some Kleenex.
Robert Guillaume in something way better than Benson
Forget Felicity Huffman. Forget Peter Krause and Josh Charles. Robert Guillaume was the real draw on Sports Night. He was the gentle center in the midst of a weekly storm of fast-paced dialogue, off-the-wall situations and general hubbubery. The man held it all together, even after his stroke. Any episode he wasn't it suffered from his absence. That's the sign of a good actor. Plus, hey, he played The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. Top that, Krause!
A painful understanding of writer's block
This is a personal thing for me. No one has ever shown the misery and stupid humor of writer's block better than Sorkin. I always looked forward to those state of the union speech episodes of West Wing because I knew I'd see speechwriters Toby and Sam torment themselves over crafting perfection. There was Toby lighting his drafts on fire and wandering the halls, silent and in search of pie. There was Sam pounding his fist on the desk and working all night to get a 25-word presidential birthday greeting "just right." Sorkin showed a love of the written word that bordered on reverie. You don't see that too often in this world and that's a shame.
A belief in public service
So, how many of those young people interning in Washington and slaving away on all those presidential campaigns do you think got inspired by The West Wing? Based on no statistical evidence at all, I'm guessing there's a lot of 'em, although few would probably admit it. It would be nice to believe that maybe there's a generation of public servants out there influenced by The West Wing's storybook notion that there's no more worthy mission in life than doing good for the common good. Can't think of a better legacy for a TV show than that.
Now it's your turn to tell me why you're grateful to The Sorkin. Or we could just talk about not liking Studio 60....