It’s no secret that Aaron Sorkin’s entire body of work—from the TV shows mentioned here to his movies like The Social Network—cater to a specific type of viewer: those who like fast and witty dialogue, those who like walk-and-talks and, well, those who identify as liberals.
Sorkin has never hid his before-their-time progressive views; by the end of Sorkin’s run on The West Wing, you could probably write Sorkin’s entire party platform.
The diverse nature of his television work gives us several different lens from which to inspect Sorkin’s views, and through all of them, we see Sorkin’s very positive ideas on marijuana (which, due to how influential his work is, could have had a hand in making the idea of legalization more mainstream).
Sports Night (1998 – 2000)
Sports Night was Aaron Sorkin’s first show for network television. Based on the ‘behind the scenes’ of a sports telecast, it starred tons of our favorites in (very) early roles: Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman and Joshua Malina.
The show was a comedy with dramatic elements and an awful laugh track for the first season that laughs at all the wrong times. (Sorkin fought against for it season two, thankfully.)
Our moment comes very early in the series—the second episode, in fact.
One of the characters argues for the decriminalization of marijuana in a sports magazine article, which led to a huge public outcry and intense pressure from the network for him to apologize. In the end, he does apologize—though not in the way the network wanted.
What’s interesting about this episode is that weed was still a pretty taboo subject in popular culture in 1998, and not only was the show basically advocating for legalization, all of the supporting characters were also very supportive of what Dan said. Especially considering the time period, it was nice to see people in a professional setting acknowledge that smoking is no big deal.
Both seasons of Sports Night are available for streaming on Hulu.
The West Wing (1999 – 2006)
Everyone has heard of The West Wing, but surprisingly few have watched it.
Premiering as Sports Night was heading off the air, the critically acclaimed show became a mouthpiece for Sorkin’s progressive values, as he wrote and directed most of the episodes in seasons one through four.
President Bartlett is a shining example of what America could be, tackling many of the same issues.
Echoing the story of Joycelyn Elders, the surgeon general removed by President Bill Clinton for her outspoken views on drug legalization, our fictional surgeon general suggested that marijuana should be decriminalized on an online chat. The backlash came immediately, with family values groups calling for her resignation; the administration, meanwhile, supported the SG, but quietly asked her to resign—which she wouldn’t do unless the president fired her.
Ultimately, the surgeon general turns in her resignation.
In true Sorkin fashion, however, where people are usually rewarded for saying what they believe is right, the president refuses to accept the resignation. After listening to the advice of his friends and family, President Bartlett realizes what the correct path is.
All 7 seasons of The West Wing are available for streaming on Netflix.
The Newsroom (2012 – 2014)
The Newsroom is definitely the weakest show on this list, mainly because it tackles real life issues with the value of hindsight. This is the ethical, “JOURNALISM OR DIE” type of news staff that we wish the entire country was, but that no one really is.
That said, the characters and dialogue are as great as ever, and there is something fascinating about watching the methodology of how to cover news. And, again, we get Sorkin’s omnipresent values (take the main character and anchor, Will, who is a registered Republican but agrees with Republicans on basically nothing).
The final two episodes of season one show Will eating two pot brownies and casually admitting he is a medical marijuana user. It’s pretty cool to make the most high-profile character on a high-profile show on a high-profile channel a responsible user, until they hear that Osama Bin Laden has been assassinated and Will must immediately go on the air.
This begins a two-parter, where Will gives the newscast high and a gossip journalist finds out. The fact that Will was largely able to make it through the newscast without being too weird speaks volumes for him (and for changing the idea that smoking immediately makes you comatose).
In the end, the evidence was obtained illegally, and Will’s bosses defend him to the end, saving his job and sweeping the scandal under the floor. It’s great to see upper management being chill—but, as we’re only in Aaron Sorkin’s dream work, the real life application of this situation would likely end up far, far different.
All 3 seasons of The Newsroom are available for streaming on HBO.
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