Wesleyan ‘14 graduate Ben Florsheim was recently elected as the Mayor of Middletown, thanks to a successful grassroots campaign and good taste in white button-downs. Going up against former Middletown mayor Seb Giuliano, no one could have predicted Ben’s underdog win- no one, that is, except Ben Florsheim circa 2014.
In his senior thesis “The Trail: A Dramatic Series” (recently uncovered by Sophie Elwood ’20), Ben Florsheim created an entirely fictional television pilot about a Connecticut mayoral race, that bears no similarities whatsoever to actual events that happened just 5 years later. It should be said that “The Trail” is not like other girls. Florsheim decries The West Wing, Scandal, and Veep for being unrealistic, and instead wants to recreate the gritty realism of The Wire. Per Florsheim, “Its aims… are for grit over polish and for depth, breadth, and a clear link to reality over snappy, self-contained storylines.”
And, much like The Wire, The Trail features an all-white cast and takes place on the mean streets of Central Connecticut. Its protagonist is the entirely fictional “Dan Singer”, a 29-year-old Democratic candidate for mayor of the entirely fictional “Middleburgh, Connecticut”. Dan, a hardworking and ambitious graduate of Middleburgh’s “Olin University”, is the upstart in the race. He’s facing off against the cartoonishly boorish Pete Salafia (who is, hilariously, referred to throughout as “Mayor Pete”). Salafia is introduced by harassing his secretary, ignoring police misconduct and getting into a hit-and-run while drunk driving, demonstrating Florsheim’s Wire-like subtlety. Florsheim is inexperienced, but as detailed by it’s-not-racist-if-it’s-about-Italians sidekick Mike Corti (who speaks in his native language when he’s upset and is described as short, loud, and emotional), he’s all Middleburgh Democrats have got.
The rest of the pilot episode is essentially a lot of people saying “backdoor politics” and occasionally making fun of “Scandal” for being soapy and unrealistic. Scandal is soapy and unrealistic, but it’s also fun and engaging. Meanwhile, every character in “The Trail” talks like Nate Silver trying to be funny. An exchange between Dan and his wife Caitlin goes as follows:
CAMERA looks out the window as we hear moans of pleasure from
CAITLIN. PAN slowly to the bed, where DAN is going down on
her. After a few moments, she grabs his head and pulls him
A year from now, when you’re mayor,
you’re not going to be eating out
your 19-year-old interns, are you?
She’s just fucking with him. He parries.
I can’t promise you anything,
Caitlin. As the mayor it will be my
job to service the people.
I can honestly say this is the worst thing I’ve ever read.
Now, I don’t want to clown on this thesis too much. I have written two episodes of television in my life, and they are both significantly worse than “The Trail”. Florsheim worked in local Connecticut politics for many years, and he knows his stuff. I think that as mayor he will fight for the right things. That being said, the concerns raised about Florsheim’s careerism and commitment to Middletown, when viewed through the prism of “The Trail”, are entirely warranted. “Dan Singer” talks about the mayorship as a stepping stone towards senator and governor, and details his ambition and his lack of true values. He is even criticized by other characters by having no actual policies. Maybe Ben Florsheim is an ambitious careerist, much like the real Mayor Pete; maybe he’s just a psychic. Either way, stop making fun of Scandal. It’s a fun show! What did it ever do to you?