Saturday, October 4, 2008

jay tarseses throughout the decades, pt. 2: the 1990s

read "pt. 1: the 1980s"

The Jay Tarses of the 1990s
Aaron Sorkin. From the godawful script of A Few Good Men (I guess between Nicholson's rendition of the "you can't handle the truth!" speech, which is constantly replayed on TV as a "classic scene," and Pacino finally winning the Oscar for Scent of a Woman, the moral of the story is that scenery chewing pays!), to his self-righteous White House posturing (The American President and TV's The West Wing), Sorkin continually sounds clever, while not actually being so. A specialist in the category of "dialogue no actual human would ever say," Sorkin's barrage of verbiage and many wise casting choices have beguiled critics, who really ought to be able to discern how second-rate and hollow his material actually is.

The only Sorkin creation I could stomach longer than five minutes was the first season of Sports Night. But in retrospect, I think that had more to do with an extraordinarily gifted cast - Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Josh Malina, and especially Felicity Huffman - transcending the torrent of words, and less to do with Sorkin's words themselves. Quality control on the second season fell off dramatically (Dan's sudden Jewishness being the most egregious "wtf?" example), so I went right back to hating Sorkin again.

Like Sports Night, The West Wing also featured a pretty darn talented cast, and I'll always be grateful that the show gave veteran character actor John Spencer his long-overdue day in the sun. But here we not only got the Dialogue No Actual Human Would Ever Say, but it came in deadly combination with Heavy-Handed Moral Posturing (see also Sorkin's script for A Few Good Men). I'm not against tackling tough moral issues on TV; heck, favorites like Homicide and the new Battlestar Galactica sometimes cover six such dilemmas before the opening titles. But Sorkin doesn't seem to know how to do such things subtly and naturally like the aforementioned shows did; instead, every "important" plot might as well have a flashing red light attached, screaming at the audience "IMPORTANT! HEY, OVER HERE! WE'RE DEALING WITH REAL ISSUES HERE! HEY!" Sheesh, it makes me tired just thinking about watching that show. No wonder that I watched the sublimely silly Drew Carey Show instead.

While The West Wing straddles the 1990s and 2000s, I'm not going to let a technicality like that deprive Mr. Sorkin of this much-deserved honor. So Aaron Sorkin, congratulations! You are the Jay Tarses of the 1990s! Don't spend that Arby's gift certificate on something I wouldn't!

Tomorrow: we reveal the Jay Tarses of the 2000s! Plus honorable mentions!

6 comments:

mnevillg said...

my huzzbinn talks alot and are smarter then me. (hiccup)

Flasshe said...

A little devil's advocate here. If all "Dialogue No Actual Human Would Ever Say" were excised from all movies and TV shows, I'm not sure we'd have any movies or TV shows. Have you ever listened to actual humans talk without a script? It rarely makes sense and there's usually a lot of stammering and false starts and random divergences and such. I'm not sure I want that in my entertainment. I'll take the Alternate Reality Hollywood Earth any day.

So I assume you don't like David Mamet either?

Miles said...

The Dialogue No Actual Human Would Ever Say is not by itself a show-killer for me. I generally like Mamet, Perry's huge chunks of dialogue on Scrubs, and Shakespeare for that matter. For me, Sorkin's dialogue leaves a bad taste in my mouth and seems plain showoffy rather than as naturally-occurring erudition. Couple that with his self-righteous streak and it's a bad, bad combination for me. I also think that the other writers I namechecked (ok, it's admittedly no fair to start comparing folks to Shakespeare) bring more to the table for me than Sorkin does.

Rog, if you don't want your dialogue realistic, how do you feel about Pinter? He's always been about the stops and starts and stammers.

Actually, back in my college drama class, Pinter and Stoppard were presented as the opposite poles of effective stage dialogue. I suppose the authors of the textbook could have easily substituted Mamet for Stoppard, but I'm thinking Mamet's penchant for expletives kept him out of the textbook. (Stoppard also keeps it UK '80s apples-to-apples.)

Flasshe said...

I generally like Mamet, Perry's huge chunks of dialogue on Scrubs, and Shakespeare for that matter.

I'm glad you brought that up, because the Scrubs stuff (at least) seems like the kind of thing you're railing against.

if you don't want your dialogue realistic, how do you feel about Pinter? He's always been about the stops and starts and stammers.

I'm an engineer. The only Pinter I know is a Pint 'er beer, and the only Stoppard I know is a cork in a bottle of Night Train, unlike you elitist liberal arts types. Doesn't sound like I'd be into that feller though.

Miles said...

I'm glad you brought that up, because the Scrubs stuff (at least) seems like the kind of thing you're railing against.

I'm a sucker for silly and zany, what can I say? That's a show that's never jumped the shark, though I thought a couple of seasons ago they went through a down period by their standards.

I'm an engineer. The only Pinter I know is a Pint 'er beer, and the only Stoppard I know is a cork in a bottle of Night Train, unlike you elitist liberal arts types.

I think you're the liberal - wine with a cork? You too good for Mad Dog 20/20?

Flasshe said...

I think you're the liberal - wine with a cork? You too good for Mad Dog 20/20?

Come to think of it, I think Night Train is twist-off.