Inspiration is a flighty damsel, and with another election bearing down on us I’ve been getting in the political mood… along with watching West Wing on Netflix.
The idea has been perking in my head ever since, so a few days ago I quickly jotted down some thoughts for 13 one-hour “episodes” for the first “season.”
Episode 2: A Life Less Ordinary
A venerable US Senator, one of the wizened relics of the New Deal coalition, is walking to his office on a beautiful spring day in Washington. Out of nowhere, a desperate young man runs up to the Senator, pulls a gun and, surprisingly, grabs the Senator’s hand and places it on the handle. He forces the Senator to hold the gun to his head and pleads for him to pull the trigger, claiming that he would be better providing for his wife and kids as a life insurance policy than as an out-of-work failure. This man is not crazy, he is simply crushed. The experience leaves the senator shaken to his core, and not long after he announces his retirement to go into non-profit and charity work for people like that man.
This episode continues the flashback, and looks back on the rigors of campaigns and the stress it puts on a marriage. Missed dinners, abrupt phone conversations, et cetera. Being a grassroots candidate, the hero is still working an 8 hour day as well in unskilled labor. This plays well in campaign ads, but not as well at home. We see the wife worry about affairs with the husband being gone so much, but we later get a scene where the man angrily rebuffs a Gay Marriage critic, saying that “if I woke up tomorrow and someone in authority tried to tell me I couldn’t be married to my wife, I’d rip their throat out.” This causes a stir, of course, and gets him more attention, including some spotlight hungry bimbo who tries to throw herself at our hero, only to have him angrily rebuke her… and I mean ANGRILY. He mentions his wife’s family, a very conservative family with a lot of guns, who would be very angry if they heard some fame-chaser is trying to ruin their cousin’s marriage… and there’s no way he can control what they do. There’s nothing noble about this, until the end of the episode where he staggers in at 3am, bone weary, but still lays in bed, unable to sleep, staring at his wife in the bed next to him, stroking her hair, and smiling.
Our hero goes to work the next day, only to find out that they have made up a reason to fire him because his political work upsets the CEO. He returns home and it is revealed that his wife is pregnant.
Episode 3: Angry Young Man
Our hero goes on a tear, barnstorming across the state and drumming up public support. The media begins to catch on, but are confused as to what to do: he doesn’t look like a regular candidate, he doesn’t talk like a regular candidate, and he sure doesn’t act like one. He sings karaoke at local bars, he sleeps in his car between campaign stops, he gets in the ring at local pro wrestling events, he tears up at a local community theatre production of West Side Story, and his rhetoric is fiery against big business, corporate welfare, and fat cat CEOs. When one candidate finally says “I’m not beholden to the backers, so I don’t have to spend hours every day begging for money” the public really starts catching on and a groundswell starts up for the independent candidate. Late to the party, the establishment media tries to paint him as an “Angry Young Man” but local media seems to sing his praises. Eventually, their slick and soulless campaign against him a disaster, the state Democratic party approaches him about running for them. They send an inexperience young staffer to him, hoping to play on what they think he wants to see and hear, but the staffer is ill equipped to handle the Populist’s fire. He initially rebuffs them, but takes the matter into consideration, giving no quarter to the national party and demanding he will be nobody’s stooge. At the end of the episode, we have our hero and his wife debating the idea, with the wife getting increasingly tired and sick from the pregnancy. Knowing he needs to take care of her (but she doesn’t want him to jeopardize the campaign), our hero calls in the cavalry: his bizarre parents. With an aging hippie mother and a gruff, leathery farmer father, it’s easy to see where the independent streak came from. They begin to become his brain trust/home staff as he heads back out on the campaign trail.
Episode 4: Both Sides Now
The family connections get bigger as we are introduced to our hero’s brother, a GenX’er who seems a bit jealous of his kid brother’s newfound fame. We learn that it was actually he who was in West Side Story, and has been a role model for our hero from a young age. The brother begs our hero to take it easy, to lessen up on all of the anger in the campaign, but our hero goes off on him, saying that he had it easy, and he was able to have his life and no one came along to take it away. The brother suggests a gentler campaign, but our hero tells him he doesn’t understand what the world is like for his generation, and indeed for all sorts of people extant of any generation right now. The brother, convinced he is right, leaves saying his young brother has gotten arrogant and self-centered. Afterwards, Mom sits down with our hero and does mention that the brother does have some points to make, and he should try to think of winning all of the votes, not just the angry people. Just because they have had an easier go of it doesn’t mean they don’t want to make it better for others. Our hero debuts a gentler, but not less energetic, platform that starts to sway moderate voters as well, and again the national party comes calling. Our hero agrees this time, but it then bait-and-switched into winding up in a primary race against a clean cut favorite son candidate in a few months.
Episode 5: Battle Metal
After driving away three national party campaign managers, they give up and let our hero choose his own. He chooses his old college buddy, who is currently headlining a Black Metal band. Together the two of them wage an unorthodox but genuine campaign of brutal honesty that catches on as opposed to the primary opponent’s platitude-heavy, policy-light approach. This comes to a head at their only debate, where media claims the opponent walked away with it and our hero was a rabid dog. Frustrated further by a bill rammed through the state legislature demanding a closed primary, our hero can only sit and watch as he goes down in flames in the Democratic primary.
Episode 6: Bright Eyes
Our hero sinks into a depression, until family and friends can rally around him, including his brother, who tells off the Democratic candidate at a society dinner along the lines of “he’s my brother, and he can be a handful, but he still kicked your ass at that debate… and y’know what? He’s gonna kick your ass in the general!” with an influx of cash and spirit from his brother, our hero ends the episode deciding to run as an independent.
Episode 7: Minority
Our hero tries a unique tactic he remembered from job interviews: run like you don’t want to win. He begins to champion his platform by saying he’s not going to change it, and he doesn’t care if he wins or loses. This gets the attention of more voters, who admire the strength and he starts to poll better than the Democratic candidate, but both are splitting the vote with the Republican. The weirdness and homespun nature of his campaign make him a national icon, appearing on talk shows and so forth and further building his myth.
Episode 8: Some Days are Diamond, Some Days are Stone
Taking another bold step, our hero puts forward a conservative education plan developed by himself and his substitute teacher wife, which the Democrats had warned him against earlier. He sees his polls start to fall on the left, leading him to crisscross the state again to explain the plan simply and earnestly. He ends up stopping at his old high school, where he has a brief daydream about shouting down all of the problems and bullying he faced, but he realizes that sometimes you have to swallow your pride and put things behind you. He does the speech as normal, and his numbers return.
Episode 9: Holy Manna
Unfortunately, his personal coffers are beginning to run low again, and he is tempted by dipping into the campaign funds… but no. This means he’ll have to go to the only people he still knows that have enough money to help him: his in-laws. Fiercely Conservative even when they aren’t, he has to try to sway them into giving money to his and their daughter’s cause. Lots of “sons and your daughters are beyond your command” stuff.
Episode 10: Role Model
We learn how our hero got started in this to begin with. We flash even further back to him in high school, where a Social Studies teacher inspires him, only to fall to suicide years later while our hero is in college. Another fight with his brother (regarding the education plan) causes him to burn through another Role Model, realizing that the idealized picture of his brother wasn’t all he’d thought. However, toward the end of the episode he receives a mysterious phone call asking to meet at a local diner, where he meets in secret late at night with a former progressive Senator whom our hero idolizes. They have a talk about the old days and how to bring back the good, and the next day the elder statesman officially throws his weight behind our hero, snubbing the favorite son candidate.
Episode 11: Between the Wars
We pick up back at the first episode, where his comments about Watergate land our hero in trouble with the older vote. Despite the help from the elder Senator, Boomers are still skeptical, leading our hero to formulate a strategy calling upon the History and the achievements of the Boomers, calling into light their fall into iniquity. Thought painted as a scorner and a shamer, our hero sees his older voter numbers stabilize enough to have him still handily leading the favorite son.
Episode 12: Do You Hear the People Sing?
The state is nearly torn into three pieces in this fight, and things get ugly. Desperate to secure those last few swing voters, the favorite son and the Republican get dirty with their attacks on our hero, and the entire race disintegrates with the Republican coming out on top with >40% of the vote in polls. Now tarnished by scare tactics and exposed lies, the favorite son candidate finally agrees at the 11th hour to drop from the race, bringing it down to the Republican vs. the Independent for the US Senate seat in November.
Episode 13, Finale: Election Night
His wife extremely pregnant, our hero has a more than tense Election Night. Everyone is there who helped him through the season, and each story gets tied up nicely, including having the Black Metal band play at his Victory celebration… on the condition that he win. Our hero has to break from the campaign trail when a labor scare forces him into the hospital as his wife starts to have complications. We see again our hero, haggard and worn, stroking the face of his wife as she sleeps fitfully at 3am. It’s been a close race, unbelievably close, but our hero forbids anyone from telling him anything until it’s been called. As the season ends, we see that his wife has stabilized enough to be awake and talking to him, smiling about their “Life Less Ordinary” together. Finally, his campaign manager comes to get him, saying only “They’ve called it.” The wife squeezes our hero’s hand, tells him to go, and they get up and walk out of the hospital room as the season ends on a cliffhanger.