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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The West Wing 1x01

"I am the Lord your God.  Thou shalt worship no God before me."

Oh, Mr. President, you charmer, you!

What we have here is a 57-page "Final Draft" written by Aaron Sorkin and dated February 6, 1998 (download here).  This thing comes complete with a teaser and four act, breaking down to: (5/16/9/13/14).

This script was actually a slow burn for me.  The teaser itself didn't do much to draw me in -- it was okay and had a decent act out, but I didn't find it all that enthralling.  Things got rolling pretty nicely in the first act however, once they introduced Josh and his off-the-cuff remark that inspired a righteous fit of umbrage from Mrs. Mary Marsh (uber-crazy-Christian-Elitist).  The call going out for Josh to lose his job -- and the fact that everyone was genuinely concerned that it could happen -- created the strongest 'story point' of the whole pilot.

There was a plot point about Cubans setting sail from Cuba, possibly getting caught in the middle of a storm... but it really didn't have much emotional impact.  It was interesting to see just how little everyone knew about this crisis... but still... I kept wanting the show to go back to Josh.

If there's one common thread in politics, no matter which side of the line you stand on and what time you live in, it's the idea that those who tell the brutal, honest truth tend to suffer.  If you rock the boat, then you get drowned.  Josh's part of the tale had the most stakes and as the skies darkened for this poor dude, I actually thought that he might end up being a one-off character. 

But his 'apology meeting' -- a last chance for him to save face and take back his comments from the offended Mrs. Marsh -- ended up being one of the strongest pieces of writing I've read in a while.  The pacing here, the fact that Mrs. Marsh not only refused to be satisfied but actually went even farther, becoming somewhat of a psycho herself.  As the tension continued to build, as it looked like it might get TRULY ugly, it set the stage for one of the best entrances of a character I've seen in a long time.

When President Bartlet entered, when the room silenced and jumped to its feet at recognition of him -- it was impressive.  When he then went about dressing down Mrs. Marsh and her collected crazy Christians it was, frankly, brilliant.  He tore them a new asshole, kicked them out of the White House and then, in one of the coolest bits, patted Josh on the shoulder and laughed with him about this comments (followed by a stern warning to 'never do that again').

What they do so well in this script is that they never reveal what the President is like as a person.  So when people start talking (and getting worried) about Josh having to be fired, you really get the feeling that the President might just be the kind of guy to give into that kind of political pressure.  But then you meet the man, see the kind of integrity he has -- his no bullshit approach -- and it completely flips your expectations on their head.

Brilliant.

All-in-all, I enjoyed this script... I definitely liked Josh's story far more than any of the others, but the others were decent enough.  Looking back at it, it really was all about that reveal -- every moment building towards the President walking into that tension-filled room and kicking ass.  For most it might be considered a bit of a gamble, to put so much weight onto that one moment but it paid off in spades.  It made me go 'hot damn, this guy is awesome... and I want to see more'.

Definitely worth a read!

Well, that's it, that's all.  30 days, 30 scripts... this last one sliding in just under the line thanks to one crazy freaking day... but we're done.

If you enjoyed this little romp, and would like to see more -- or have any suggestions for where to go from here, feel free to sound off in the comments.

Otherwise, have a great Canada Day folks!  Drive safe ;)

Cheers,
Brandon

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