Eight years ago, Kevin Porter posted a video entitled “Sorkinisms – A Supercut”. Over 1.5 million people have watched this video which features different Aaron Sorkin-penned characters uttering the same set of exclamations and retorts. Sorkin designs worlds where everyone speaks with the impenetrable confidence of those guys who sit in the student union bar explaining Brexit and the cadence of actors in a 50’s screwball comedy.

This unique conversational rhythm, perfectly pieced together in Porter’s video, is divisive. The result is either a thrilling cacophony of musical dialogue or an unnatural mimicry of human interaction, depending on your taste. Is Sorkin’s self-plagiarism evidence of a unique style, or is it just grating? Is he annoying or exciting? Exacting or brilliant?

To parse out the extent to which these tropes and trends are successful, we need a thorough understanding of his tendencies. Aaron Sorkin is generally interested in bright people who want to be the best version of themselves, whatever that may be. His cast of characters are always thrust forward by a deep-seated ambition, an all-encompassing sense of purpose. Colleagues are usually bound together by a dependable moral compass. Snarky quips slip into waxing lyrical on the state of American society.

West Wing

Courtesy of: Warner Bros.

This formula has had mixed results. The West Wing is potentially Sorkin’s best-known product. The show built on his success with A Few Good Men and further compounded the aforementioned Sorkin blueprint. In fact, Sorkin was inspired to write The West Wing after reflecting on the success of his film The American President. These projects both captured the familial relationships between liberal White House staffers. It rebuffed the post-Monica Lewinsky pessimism that had coloured many Americans views on politics. Instead it depicted Washington DC as a city sprawling with people trying to do good. The four seasons Sorkin wrote of The West Wing are, with a few major exceptions, very good.

But in many ways The West Wing’s overwhelming success imbued Sorkin with a confidence that would encourage him to write things that were less good. His show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was an infamous flop, cancelled after one season. Studio 60 follows the cast of a comedy sketch show. These actors and writers were hell bent on delivering lifeless comedy to late night audiences. It is a bizarre watch. Sorkin twists the sense of purpose that pervades the hallowed halls of Bartlet’s White House to fit the more mundane lives of comedy actors. In one of the final episodes a cast member is left reeling from the knowledge that his brother, a soldier in Afghanistan, is being held hostage. It was abundantly clear that Sorkin’s narrow definition of intelligence demanded a high stakes working world.

In 2010, Sorkin reframed his own legacy with the release of The Social Network. The film carefully deconstructs the underdog narrative and mocks the internet’s alleged power to connect people. What truly separates The Social Network from his other ventures is the protagonist’s disinterest in what is right and wrong. Mark Zuckerberg is smart and determined but he is not empowered by the inherent morality of other Sorkin characters. Ultimately, the film’s pessimism is what makes it eternally rewatchable.

Social Network

Courtesy of: Sony

The next chapter of Sorkin’s career would, perhaps unintentionally, adopt this same pessimism. While there are a handful of fun moments in The Newsroom, the main takeaway was that Sorkin’s once refreshing optimism had subsided into an uncomfortable dismissal of anyone younger than him. Heartfelt conversations were now interspersed with characters’ rambling about lazy millennials, social media and why lazy millennials used social media. The over-long sermons that these journalists launched into were undercut by an all-encompassing disdain for the next generation.

What separates The Newsroom and The Social Network is how carefully David Fincher, the director of the latter, guides the audience’s focus. The viewers are clear about their relationship to Mark; we are there to observe him, there to quietly determine his motives. While Sorkin wants us to root for the protagonists in The Newsroom, despite using them as puppets to purport his scepticism, he wants us to examine the characters in The Social Network as delegates for over-arching systems of privilege.

Fincher’s ability to rein in Sorkin’s emotional grandiosity has been keenly felt ever since the release of Molly’s Game. This was Sorkin’s first time directing, (but not his last; Netflix is releasing The Trial of the Chicago 7 this month.) While, Molly’s Game is somewhat effective, the film epitomises all of his worst qualities. His choice to incorporate a voice over only affirms his tendency to patronise his audience. And perhaps most egregiously, all of Molly’s problems can be traced back to her relationship with a man. Those problems are also conveniently solved by that man, in the deeply frustrating, final confrontation between Molly and her father.

Molly's Game

Courtesy of: STX Entertainment

There is something strangely cathartic about watching that scene from a meta perspective. Sorkin’s female characters have always been reliant on men; forced to build them up, celebrate them, make them the men they are supposed to be. Even the most engaging women in a Sorkin project (CJ Cregg, Abbey Bartlet,) exist in the shadow of great men. This disregard for female autonomy was hidden behind the veneer of feminine strength, but it was laid bare in the last 30 minutes of Molly’s Game; these women were only as interesting as the men they were tethered to.

Furthermore, it is unclear to what extent Sorkin is aware of these shortcomings. At one point in The West Wing, the deputy chief of staff engages in an online fight with contributors to a site called ‘lemonlyman’. The story was based on a real fight Sorkin had with the Television Without Pity forum. The plotline is evidence of Sorkin’s dismissal of critique, the women posting are labelled as “hysterical” and “dictatorial”, but Josh’s obsessive need to defend his actions is equally as illogical. So is it evidence of Sorkin’s self-awareness or further proof of his disdain for criticism?

Aaron Sorkin Oscar

Courtesy of: AP

Regardless, there are other pressing problems that plague all of Sorkin’s writing. His definition of intelligence covers only Ivy League graduates and his casts are always predominantly white. I suspect if you were to tally the things, I do not like about Sorkin’s writing it would outnumber the things I do like about his writing.

And yet, I always enjoy myself. Sometimes it is against my better judgement, but I am always entranced by his propensity for well-timed, snide comments. I am always swept up by his rousing defence of what is right or good or just. Everything that I have seemingly condemned through this article, I would watch again (some more reluctantly than others).

Another exchange The West Wing might be illuminating here. The President asks his head speech writer, “Did you mean what you said? My demons were shouting down the better angels in my brain?”. Perhaps that’s Sorkin’s question too.