Introduction

The Aaron Sorkin Rewatch Project is a longitudinal study of the work of one of the most prominent and successful film & television writers: Aaron Sorkin.

Over the past three decades, he has written hundreds of hours of scripts and teleplays, creating an enduring legacy of compelling characters and stories. Many of Sorkin’s projects share common themes of duty & passion, of reason, wisdom and excessive erudition, of being frustrated by the apathy or outright foolishness of others, but still wanting to do some good in the world. 

All of the films & shows that we will watch also share the element of getting a behind-the-scenes look at places the average person normally is not usually able to see. Whether it is the White House or a TV studio, Sorkin endeavors to explore that which is normally kept from view. In this process, he attempts to humanize cultural archetypes typically seen as two dimensional, or evaluated only from a certain point of view; what goes on in the mind of a news anchor, a military officer, or the President of the United States, when no one else is around?

We will proceed through these various projects in roughly chronologically order by original release date, beginning with Sorkin’s first feature, A Few Good Men, in 1992, and culminating with his most recent projects. Along the way, we will analyze the persistent themes, storytelling elements, regular contributors, and the flawed and emotional characters that populate Sorkin’s fictional worlds. These write-ups will be comprised of brief summaries, commentary and analysis, and may contain some intermittent spoilers.

Featured Segments

Sorkinisms

As many other people have noticed, Aaron Sorkin has a tendency to recycle key turns of phrase.   We could come up with our own list of examples, but luckily Kevin Porter else already has, and made a couple of great videos showcasing them. We'll be examining these and many more along the way through Sorkin's various projects.

"Edited by Kevin Porter (Twitter: @KevinTPorter) This video is a tribute to the work of Aaron Sorkin: the recycled dialogue, recurring phrases, and familiar plot lines. This is not intended as a critique but rather a playful excursion through Sorkin's wonderful world of words."

"A note on this supercut: Here it is, now with 100% more Newsroom! Includes scenes from: Malice, A Few Good Men, The American President, Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Charlie Wilson's War, The Social Network, and The Newsroom!"

The Mighty Sorkin Players

Over the years, many people, both in front of and behind the camera, have worked on multiple projects Sorkin has created: Martin Sheen, Thomas Schlamme, and of course, Joshua Malina, to name just a few. We're going to sort through the recurrences and the cameos, and see who's done what in the last two decades.  

Additionally, Sorkin tends to use the same character names over and over as well, so we'll be keeping a running tally of the "Jeds" and the "Andys" and everyone whose name starts with "Mc."

Dynamic Duo

The cast of almost every project contains a pair of characters at the center of the ensemble: the two best friends. They came up together, they're partners in crime, they always have each other's backs no matter what. Danny & Sam; Dan & Casey; Josh & Sam; Matt & Danny:  what do all these relationships have in common? What is Sorkin exploring through the inclusion of these paired characters?  Does their inclusion or absence help or hurt a Sorkin script?  We'll find the answers along the way...

Like Father, like Son

Many of Aaron Sorkin's stories, from A Few Good Men all the way through Steve Jobs, revolve around the relationships between fathers and sons. Often these are literal, biological relationships, and sometimes, looser and more metaphorical dynamics, such as in the case of The West Wing's Josiah Bartlett: both pater patriae and child of abuse.

I Go Home When You Go Home

Aaron Sorkin seems to have a great appreciation for people who work as assistants or secretaries, or other nominally subordinate positions. Every single project contains a character whose dedication to their job is matched only by their devotion to their boss. It's an persistent relationship worthy of examination

A Few Good Men

Adapted from Sorkin’s stage play of the same name, this film showcases Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson at the very height of their respective games in the climactic courtroom sequence. Demi Moore gives a nuanced performance that fluctuates between trepidation and overconfidence, protagonist and antagonist. A powerful supporting cast includes Kevin Pollack, Kevin Bacon, and Kiefer Sutherland.

Directed by Rob Reiner, this military courtroom drama earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, which it unjustly lost to Unforgiven. This film includes many of the elements that would define some of later projects, including the quick, clever dialogue, the protagonists whose personal lives are fraught with emotional complications, and the exploration of devotion to a duty or higher cause outside one’s self.


Malice

Sorkin co-wrote the script for this piece with Scott Frank, author of Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report, The Lookout (which he also directed) and The Wolverine. Malice is a super-twisty-turny ‘90s psycho-thriller about a professor at a small New England college (Bill Pullman) who gets caught up in a serial murder case while experiencing some marital issues with his former-student-turned-wife played by Nicole KidmanAlec Baldwin kicks names and takes ass as a textbook arrogant/narcissist surgeon, who literally goes around correcting people’s grammar on his day off. 

Also starring Bebe Neuworth’s awkwar Boston accent, with brief but potent appearances by Peter Gallagher (of American Beauty and The O.C.) and Gwyneth Paltrow.


The American President

Sorkin’s initial foray into the realm of ideological governance, this film follows widower President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) as he struggles to deal with his blossoming relationship with Lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) in the face of dwindling public support and legislative obstacles. The second of Sorkin’s screenplays to be directed by Rob Reiner, it features strong showings from the supporting cast, including future President on The West Wing Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox–who delivers the first of two classic soaring Sorkin monologues at the end of the film–and the inimitable Richard Dreyfuss as the film’s principle antagonist. 

Despite a rather informal relationship with the legislative process (and the role of the 3 branches of government) the film is the quintessential Washington love story–and not the usual kind, between a politician and the sound of their own voice.


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Sports Night

Originally aired from 1998-2000, Sports Night isn't really about sports; like Aaron Sorkin's many other projects, this show is about people and relationships. The walk-and-talk was born here, in a plucky and network-maligned show that ended far before its time. 

The show is set in the New York offices of a fictional nightly cable sports show, also called Sports Night.  It follows the personal and professional trials of the people who work there, as they try to put together the best programming possible–while fending off the unwelcome meddling by their network, Continental Sports Channel (CSC), and owner, Continental Corp. 

Many of the cast members have gone on to acclaimed and award-winning projects, including Josh Charles (Dead Poets SocietyThe Good Wife), Peter Krause (Six Feet Under, Parenthood), Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives, Transamerica), Joshua Malina (The West Wing, Scandal), along with the tragically under-appreciated Sabrina Lloyd (previously known for her work on Sliders), and the legendary Robert Guillame

Production of the second season overlapped with the first season of Sorkin’s next project The West Wing, which partially contributed to its premature cancellation.

SEASON TWO

Episode 24 – Special Powers

Episode 25 – When Something Wicked This Way Comes

Episode 26 – Cliff Gardener

Episode 27 – Louise Revisited

Episode 28 – Kafelnikov

Episode 29 – Shane

Episode 30 – Kyle Whitaker's Got Two Sacks

Episode 31 – The Reunion

Episode 32 –  A Girl Named Pixley

Episode 33 – The Giants Win the Pennant, The Giants Win the Pennant

Episode 34 – The Cut Man Cometh

Episode 35 – The Sweet Smell of Air

Episode 36 – Dana Get Your Gun

Episode 37 – And the Crowd Goes Wild

Episode 38 – Celebrities

Episode 39 – The Local Weather

Episode 40 – Draft Day Part I: It Can't Rain at Indian Wells

Episode 41 – Draft Day Part II: The Fall of Ryan O'Brian

Episode 42 – April is the Cruelest Month

Episode 43 – Bells and a Siren

Episode 44 – La Forza Del Destino

Episode 45 – Quo Vadimus

SEASON ONE

Episode 1 – Pilot

Episode 2 – The Apology

Episode 3 – The Hungry and the Hunted

Episode 4 – Intellectual Property

Episode 5 – Mary Pat Shelby

Episode 6 – The Head Coach, Dinner and the Morning Mail

Episode 7 – Dear Louise

Episode 8 – Thespis

Episode 9 – The Quality of Mercury at 29K

Episode 10 – Shoe Money Tonight

Episode 11 – The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee

Episode 12 – Smoky

Episode 13 – Small Town

Episode 14 – Rebecca

Episode 15 – Dana and the Deep Blue Sea

Episode 16 – Sally

Episode 17 – How Are Things in Glocca Morra?

Episode 18 – The Sword of Orion

Episode 19 – Eli's Coming

Episode 20 – Ordinance Tactics

Episode 21 – Ten Wickets

Episode 22 – Napoleon's Battle Plan

Episode 23 – What Kind of Day Has It Been?

SPECIAL FEATURE SEGMENTS

For these installments in The Aaron Sorkin Rewatch Project, we will be making a couple of changes to the list of regular feature categories:

  • The Magnificent Bickersons: Firstly, "I Go Home When You Go Home," where we've started recording the recurring assistant characters, will be replaced with this new but somewhat related category. The phrase comes directly from an episode of the 1990s television show NewsRadio, where it was used to describe two characters who argued constantly... and was itself a reference to the even older program, named The Bickersons.  In Sports Night, we'll be documenting the perpetual squabbling of associate producers Eliot (Greg Baker) & Kim (Kayle Blake), and control room technicians Chris (Timothy Davis-Reed), Will (Ron Ostrow – already a Sorkin veteran) & Dave (Jeff Mooring).
  • Writers Bloc: A new category that will carry through to our examination of The West Wing and Studio 60 as well, examining the role of writing and the creative process in these episodes.
  • Network Notes: There are many subplots throughout the run of Sports Night that revolve around clashes between the intrepid staff of the show and the various heartless suits that represent the interests of Continental Sports Channel, their network, and Continental Corp., their parent company.
  • Special Powers: Lastly, we have the category that will focus on the myriad inventive ways the characters find to screw up their romantic lives.

In addition, in an attempt to avoid clutter, we’re only going to include the categories that apply to each episode in the write-ups. When nobody has issues with their dad, for example, we’ll simply skip “Like Father, Like Son” rather than say, “nothing to report.”


THE WEST WING

Sorkin’s flagship project, and inarguably one of the best TV shows of all time. Over its seven seasons, the ensemble included the President, his family, and his staff at the White House, as well as other political figures. The initial primary cast started off with Rob Lowe, Moira Kelly, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, and Martin Sheen, and later grew to include Dulé Hill, Janel Moloney, Stockard Channing, Joshua Malina, Mary McCormack, Kristin Chenoweth, Jimmy Smits, and Alan Alda.

The universe of The West Wing grew over time, with repeat performances from major guest stars over the span of the show, lending tremendous depth of world-building. Viewers were rewarded for remembering even the smallest details about which Midwestern Congressman voted for which legislation, or which journalists sat where in the press room. The show’s verisimilitude and attention to detail helped it earn accolades from denizens of the actual White House throughout its 155-episode run from 1999 to 2006.

 
 

 
 
 

SPECIAL FEATURE SEGMENTS

For these installments in The Aaron Sorkin Rewatch Project, we will be making a couple of changes to the list of regular feature categories:

  • Writers Bloc: A category that also will be used in our examination of Sports Night and Studio 60 as well, examining the role of writing and the creative process in these episodes.
  • Special Powers: The category that will focus on the myriad inventive ways the characters find to screw up their romantic lives.

Additionally, in an attempt to avoid clutter we’re only going to include the categories that apply to each episode in the write-ups. When nobody has issues with their dad, for example, we’ll simply skip “Like Father, Like Son” rather than say, “nothing to report.”


STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP

S60 is essentially Sports Night meets SNL, as Sorkin takes us behind the scenes of a Friday night, LA-based, sketch comedy show. Bradley Whitford is back with Sorkin, this time alongside Matthew Perry as his creative partner: the new Dan & Casey. Amanda Peet is brilliant (in all senses of the word) as Jordan McDeere, President of the fictional National Broadcasting System. Sarah Paulson, D.L. Hughley and Nate Corddry lead the show-within-a-show’s comedy ensemble, with Steven Weber and longtime Sorkin collaborator Timothy Busfield rounding out the lineup. They are joined in a supporting role by 2013 Best Emmy Award Recipient Speech winner Merritt Weaver.

Studio 60 had potential, but ultimately fell prey to its overlarge budget and inconstant tone, failing to deliver the weekly ratings its network parent required. All 22 of the single season’s episodes were eventually aired, including the final bloc of four, which took a major turn away from the dramedic, featuring a U.S. serviceman in harm’s way and a pregnancy in distress

SPECIAL FEATURE SEGMENTS

For these installments in The Aaron Sorkin Rewatch Project, we will be making a couple of changes to the list of regular feature categories:

  • Writers Bloc: A new category that will carry through to our examination of The West Wing and Sports Night as well, examining the role of writing and the creative process in these episodes.
  • Network Notes: There are many subplots throughout the run of Studio 60 that revolve around clashes between the intrepid staff of the show and the various heartless suits that represent the interests of National Broadcasting System.
  • Special Powers: Lastly, we have the category that will focus on the myriad inventive ways the characters find to screw up their romantic lives.

In addition, in an attempt to avoid clutter, we’re only going to include the categories that apply to each episode in the write-ups. When nobody has issues with their dad, for example, we’ll simply skip “Like Father, Like Son” rather than say, “nothing to report.”


Charlie Wilson's War

This film is based on the true story of covert U.S. intervention in the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, in which Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson shepherded a staggering budgetary increase and forged an unlikely international arms coalition. Tom Hanks turns the charm up to 11, and Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates as an under-appreciated Company Man in desperate need of his own series. Atlanta native Julia Roberts gets to take her southern dialect out for a walk as a woman of both sophistication, and religious & jingoistic zealotry. 

In the third act we're treated to a visit from the Hindsight Fairy, as Charlie attempts to appropriate a (relative) mere one million dollars for school construction in Afghanistan. His fellow committee members, naturally, don't give a crap anymore, now that the Russians have been defeated.

The overqualified supporting cast includes the outstanding Amy Adams, Rachel Nichols, star of the time-bending Canadian show Continuum, Mad Men’s John Slattery, the incredible Emily Blunt, and Faran Tahrir of Iron Man & Star Trek fame.


The Social Network

A controversial and award-winning film directed by David Fincher, the story centers around two separate lawsuits filed against Mark Zuckerberg concerning the origins of Facebook. Jesse Eisenberg portrayal of Zuckerberg merited dozens of award wins and nominations–including international film societies, the Academy and SAG. Andrew Garfield co-stars as Eduardo Saverin, Facebook co-founder and eventual plaintiff in half of the aforementioned litigation. The other suit comes from the Wiklevoss twins, both of whom are portrayed by Armie Hammer, who effortlessly moves through the complicated blocking required to sell such onscreen depictions. Justin Timberlake ably portrays the frenetic Sean Parker, and the film also contains a nice cameo by the incomparable Rashida Jones.

Of all the protagonists in Sorkin’s work, Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is one of the most complicated, and one of the most difficult to like. Brilliant and emotionally distant, the Zuckerberg of the film is revealed to be a socially awkward raw nerve distinct from characters like Andrew Shepherd or Sam Seaborne (aside from the eloquence and biting wit nearly all of Sorkin’s creations share.) Absent from this work is the sense of higher calling pervasive throughout Sorkin’s other projects.


Moneyball

The film centers on the management of the Oakland A’s baseball club in their attempt to revitalize their team using a revolutionary approach to scouting new players using statistics. The screenplay was co-written with Academy-Award-winner Steven Zaillian, author of a number of other great films including, Schindler’s List (1993), Clear and Present Danger (1994), Mission: Impossible (1996), Gangs of New York (2002), and American Gangster (2007).

Directed by Bennett Miller, Moneyball features Brad Pitt as the A’s GM, Billy Beane, Jonah Hill as a composite character who is roughly based on Beane’s top assistant, and Philip Seymour Hoffman who portrays the team manager.


THE NEWSROOM

Jeff Daniels storms onto the television landscape with his Emmy-winning performance as the ardent and erudite Will McAvoy, lead anchor of the fictional Atlantic Cable News. The Newsroom continues Sorkin’s penchant for exploring behind-the-scenes, but is his first television project not to be aired by a broadcast network, instead put out by HBO. The staff of the New York-based ACN are portrayed by a unique group of stage and screen players, including the accomplished Emily Mortimer, Tony Award winner John Gallagher, Jr., Alison Pill of The Pillars of the Earth & Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, experienced theatre actor Thomas Sadoski, Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame, the peerless Olivia Munn, and “Hang ‘Em High McCoy” himself, Law & Order veteran Sam Watterston

In its three seasons, The Newsroom presents recent world events through the prism of its ensemble, with each season being set in the previous calendar year to that in which it airs. As in Sports Night and Studio 60, the strongest episodes contain storylines that focus more on the relationships between the characters, and only use the news to create a kaleidoscopic backdrop.

SPECIAL FEATURE SEGMENTS

For these installments in The Aaron Sorkin Rewatch Project, we will be making a couple of changes to the list of regular feature categories:

  • Network Notes: There are many subplots throughout the run of The Newsroom that revolve around clashes between the intrepid staff of the show and the various heartless suits that represent the interests of their network, Atlantis Cable News, and their parent company, Atlantis World Media.
  • Special Powers: Lastly, we have the category that will focus on the myriad inventive ways the characters find to screw up their romantic lives.

In addition, in an attempt to avoid clutter, we’re only going to include the categories that apply to each episode in the write-ups. When nobody has issues with their dad, for example, we’ll simply skip “Like Father, Like Son” rather than say, “nothing to report.”


STEVE JOBS

In this 2016 film, Aaron Sorkin continues his twenty-first century penchant for telling biographical stories. Steve Jobs is one of several biopics to be made in the wake of the death of technology icon; it was was directed by Danny Boyle, and features Michael Fassbender in the titular role

Rather than a cradle-to-grave style biopic that covers every aspect of its subject's life, Steve Jobs concentrates principally on three moments in time: before product launch events in 1984, 1988, and 1998. Jobs grapples with finding balance between his personal issues and professional endeavors. 

Katherine Waterston plays Chrisann Brennan, Steve's ex-girlfriend, and the mother of his daughter Lisa Brennan-JobsSeth Rogen plays Jobs' longtime collaborator and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, alongside Jeff Daniels, Kate Winslet, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Sarah Snook in crucial supporting roles.


Molly's Game

Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut is Molly's Game, which he also wrote for the screen, based on the book Molly's Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom.

Jessica Chastain stars as Molly, alongside Idris Elba and Kevin Costner, among others.