My mom and I have a tradition: when I come home for Christmas, we make it a point to watch two West Wing episodes: "In Excelsis Deo" and "Noel", from the first and second seasons, respectively. And the same thing happens at the end of each: we wind up with hands on our hearts, tissues dabbing at our eyes, and speechless for about ten seconds after end credits roll.
These episodes are brilliant (and I try not to overuse that word lest it becomes trite), a team effort -- every single piece, from lighting to music to props to actors to script, produces more of a cinematic event rather than a television episode.
For me, it starts with the story. In the first, White House communications director Toby Zeigler has been called to identify a homeless man who froze to death. Toby doesn't know him, but the man is wearing a coat that Toby donated, and it happened to have his business card in it. Toby further discovers that the deceased was a veteren, and spends the rest of the episode trying to find someone that knew him.
In the second, deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman, recent gunshot victim, spends a day with a trauma specialist (stellar perfromance by Adam Arkin) after some ununusal encounters. The story is the dramatic unraveling in search of an answer to a simple question: How did you cut your hand, Josh?
I've gushed enough about Aaron Sorkin on this blog, so I'll just leave you w/ those synopses, and if you haven't seen them, please do. If you have, rent the DVDs and watch the commentaries on them. Fascinating. Or just watch and enjoy them again.
3. When Harry Met Sally (Nora Ephron)
I really can't explain my attraction to this film, or to its story. But it's a theme that has recurred in my writing ever since. I have always been in love with the synchronicities of two people meeting and falling in love, and I am equally in love w/ the idea of marrying your best friend. When Harry Met Sally was a massive inspiration for Faking It -- in fact, I pitch it as When Harry Met Sally meets Sex and the City.
Just like The West Wing, a good film works because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (that's the expression, right?). No one but Billy Crystal could be Harry. No one but Meg Ryan could be Sally. Ditto for Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher. Add Rob Reiner's humor, Nora Ephron's humor (and their chemistry w/ Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby, etc.) and it all just works. But, like Nora Ephron's other films, Manhattan is also a character -- a very, very romantic character. I think that's why I love Nora Ephron's writing so much, because it's her love affair w/ NYC that is coming through. And I get that, because my other recurring theme is home. Interestingly enough, it's my mother's home, Sag Harbor, with which (whom?) I have the same kind of romance. But Long Island played a role in Faking It -- I don't know that I did it justice, but if Faking It was ever made into a movie (and I have the first draft of the screenplay written, folks), I would hope that Long Island was completely romanticized.
(pardon me while I digress: two nights before my last night visiting Long Island, I told my mom that perhaps I'd like to move back within the next year. The thought was an impulsive one, yet it sounded good at the time. The night before my last night, as I pulled into a parking lot and accidentally went in the wrong direction, a woman in her overbearing SUV honked, gave me the finger, and inaudibly yelled what I can only guess were obsceneties, her face squinched in ugly anger, all because I inconvenienced her for all of five seconds. I cursed her back, insanely angry, even knowing that my response was just as overblown as hers. I turned to mom: "well, that just killed it for me," I said. She laughed. I haven't thought about moving back since.)
4. Runner's up: This was a hard one, because there are soooo many to choose from. Ultimately these are about nostalgia as much as writing or the other elements, namely watching with my brothers.
- This is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner and company)
- Animal Crackers (The Marx Brothers)
- The Odd Couple (Neil Simon)
I should also note the Gilmore Girls marathon my mom and I instigated during my stay (and yet, that was partly the result of her not having cable...)