Tag Archives: writing

God save Sam Seaborn

In the absence of compelling summer television and a firm disinterest in whomever The Bachelorette picks, we are engaged in a repeat viewing of the entire seven seasons of The West Wing.  Assaulted by news feeds of corporate-backed Tea Party lunacy and the fiscal axe falling on libraries, it’s good to step away for an hour or two each night into Aaron Sorkin’s erudite exploration of the virtues of public service and the triumph of liberalism.  When TWW was originally airing during the height of the Bush administration it was a welcome salve for wounded progressive hearts and a source of hope for better days ahead – showing what it could be like when the reins were held by people who genuinely believed in government as a meaningful force for good rather than some nebulous beast to be starved lest they not be able to buy another yacht.

No character better exemplified this than the Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn, played by Rob Lowe in an arguably career-defining role as a fast-talking, pure-hearted and paradoxically handsome nerd, able to translate his unassailable convictions into elegant turns of phrase for the President to deliver just as smoothly.  Where Toby Ziegler was the moral conscience of the senior staff, and Josh Lyman was the warrior determined to win at all costs, Sam was the idealist, the dreamer, a bottomless well of hope never tempered by politics as usual.  Originally intended to be the focus of the show – he was the first character to be introduced in the pilot episode – Sam began to fall off the radar as the seasons progressed, usurped at the center of the series’ main plots by Josh and Toby.  As a writer, it’s not difficult to see why this may have occurred for Sorkin – a character of such upstanding value and with so few apparent flaws as Sam is very hard to write.  Usually the approach is to test the limits of their values and morality by challenging it from every angle, daring the character to retain their hope against the creeping ennui of human failings.

We saw this articulated in Sam’s best episode, Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail.  Sam is struggling with the revelation that his father has been cheating on his mother for 28 years when he is asked to look into a pardon request for a man who had been accused of espionage for the Soviets during the Second World War.  Determined at the start to reverse what he feels is a mockery of justice, Sam ultimately discovers that his pet cause was, in fact, a traitor, the revelation of which combined with his father’s infidelities nearly crushes him.  In a touching scene where he breaks down in front of Donna Moss (Janel Moloney), he confesses the need he feels for certainties in life on which to hang his hope, like “longitude and latitude.”  And yet at the end Sam makes a difficult phone call to try and begin reconciliation with his father.  He has found his certainty – and his hope – again in the faces of his friends.

One always got the sense that Sam was driven to prove that hope could triumph cynicism.  After a soul-flattening career using his intelligence and skill with the law to protect oil companies from litigation, working at the White House was his chance to redeem those mistakes.  It would have been nice to see the hinted-at wounded part of his character explored in greater depth had he stayed a few seasons more.

Rob Lowe’s and Aaron Sorkin’s respective early departures from the series after its fourth season left a huge question in what the plans for Sam Seaborn ultimately would have been.  Yet a tease was dropped in the third-season episode Hartsfield’s Landing.  Discussing the intricacies of a standoff with the Chinese over a game of chess, President Bartlet comments to a stunned Sam, “You’re going to run for President one day.  Don’t be scared, you can do it.”  A flicker of reaction crosses Sam’s face, both sheer terror at an incredible notion that he might not have ever considered, replaced swiftly by a quiet confidence that if he has inspired that kind of hope in someone he admires so deeply, he might just succeed.  The currency of hope remains potent, and we are grateful that it is – making one agree with Toby’s final line to Sam as he walks out of the series in the fourth season episode Red Haven’s On Fire – “God save the United States of America… and Sam Seaborn.”

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Read it, don’t read it, it’s entirely up to you

Journalists and bloggers have been making plenty of noise since the verdict was handed down on whether or not Casey Anthony will get a book deal.  Naturally there’s been lots of accompanying outrage and moral indignation over the thought of this person raking in seven figures to spend a few hours chatting with a ghostwriter who’ll shape her verbiage into a tearful missive.  Frankly, I expect this as inevitable.  I suppose it’s no more egregious than any one of a hundred true crime authors who’ll be cashing in on the Casey Anthony media frenzy.  I could launch into a screed on how this is symbolic of the downfall of our culture and our preoccupation with all things celebrity, but I won’t, because I have hope.  And that hope has oddly come in the form of Snooki.

When it was announced early this year that the  Jersey Shore “star,” who had boasted of only ever reading one book in her entire life, had landed a deal with Simon & Schuster to write a novel, thousands of unpublished authors across North America (myself included) bashed their heads against the wall in unison.  Why, with such a glut of undiscovered talent out there busting their asses for the slightest bit of attention from mainstream publishers, were the big houses continuing to write big cheques to D-list celebs with no discernible writing talent whatsoever?  It reminds me of the fourth-rate movie production houses who regularly churn out zero-budget dreck like Snakes on a Train, apparently banking on that precious and heretofore-unexploited demographic of Snakes on a Plane fans afflicted with glaucoma.  Somewhere in an accountant’s backroom, the great gods of publishing have decided that a piece of crap written by a quasi-somebody will stand a better chance of selling than a potentially brilliant story written by a nobody.  So thousands of query letters go in the trash and semi-literate Snooki goes out on a massive publicity tour to pimp her opus A Shore Thing, hitting just about every morning and evening talk show on television (and the cover of Rolling Stone, much to the chagrin of Dr. Hook).  My personal favorite was her interview on Today, with a clearly embarrassed Matt Lauer asking her, “What’s a badonk?” – to which she replied with the William F. Buckley-esque “Your badonk is your butt.”  Yep, somewhere Hemingway was rolling over in his grave and reaching for another drink.

But then the book dropped.  And the heavens parted and a great light shone through from above and nobody bought it.  The more inclined of you can look it up, but I believe it moved about 10,000 copies worldwide.  Hardly “runaway bestseller” territory.  Those thousands of unpublished authors could now remove their heads from the wall and resume bashing it against their keyboards.

The sharp rise and crashing fall of Nicole Polizzi’s writing career proves to the more jaded of us that there still exists some semblance of taste in the appetite of the public.  Yes, Glenn Beck is still there ranting against all things Obama and Sarah Palin continues the world’s longest c***-tease of a possible presidential campaign.  And The Huffington Post still runs “Kim Kardashian Shows Off Her Curves” stories twice a week.  But dammit, we dashed Snooki’s pursuit of a Pulitzer!  And we did it in the easiest way imaginable – we just ignored her.  Which is what anyone who objects to a Casey Anthony book deal should do.

I say, let Casey Anthony’s book come out.  And let it sit on the shelves yellowing and collecting dust.  Ignore it the way you do Batboy and the latest “Who’s Gay in Hollywood!” in the aisle at the grocery checkout counter.  Eventually, publishers will get the message and maybe go back to that slush pile of queries – because the next somebody (who hasn’t been accused of murdering her daughter, or, acted stupid, drunk and skanky on television) with a great story is just waiting to be found.  It’s up to us to make that happen.

Or, buy the damn book.  But then don’t get indignant when the next reality show troglodyte rakes in a cool million for his thesis on boogers and how to use them to get laid.  It’s entirely up to you.  And I’m blaming you accordingly.