Thursday, December 15, 2022

The West Wing

 The Beloved Spouse™ and I recently watched The West Wing start to finish. She saw the show in its original airing; I had seen only a handful of random episodes. The thoughts brought to mind could fill multiple posts if expanded on, so I’ll use bullets to cherry pick what sticks most with me. Please leave a comment if you’d like more of a discussion of any aspect, including things I do not mention here.


·       Let’s start with an acknowledgement: it’s network television at its best. I didn’t find it the mind-blowing event I remember hearing about at the time (two good friends named their dog Bartlet), but there are likely good reasons for that:

o   It’s been twenty years. We’ve seen a lot of groundbreaking stuff since then.

o   Much of the show aired during the presidency of George W. Bush. A lot of liberals thought Jed Bartlet was the president they deserved.

·       The acting is wonderful throughout. I can’t say who I thought did the best job. Even bit player guest stars were outstanding.

·       Much of that has to do with the words they were given to say. Even after Aaron Sorkin left the show and the plots weren’t always as tight, the dialog sparkled.

·       The production values were incredible. I don’t know what the West Wing actually looks like, but if it doesn’t look like this, it should.

·       Helen Santos was a wonderful character to show how an everywoman would react to being thrust into the spotlight, especially after she becomes First Lady-elect and sees the staff arrayed for her.

·       It was refreshing to see a character (Bartlet) faced with so many “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” scenarios and how he pulled his advisers together to find some sort of resolution, however imperfect or unpleasant.

·       In general, the show does a great job of not wasting time on conversations when the result is obvious. On the other hand, there were occasions where it looked like the missing scene would have been a bastard to write so the writer allowed your imagination to fill the gap.

·       It’s one of the most depressing shows I’ve ever seen.

o   So many things that were hot topics then still haven’t changed: gun control, abortion, magically curative tax cuts, etc.

o   Much of what has changed went the wrong direction: polarization, January 6, politics as blood sport.

o   Even the good guys, notably Josh and Toby, are less interested in doing good than they are in winning. Their arrogance can be stultifying. Sure, they’re fictional characters serving a dramatic narrative, but a lot of people with intimate knowledge of such things vouched for the show’s insider authenticity.

·       Jed Bartlet’s heart may be in the right place, but he’s a pedantic, often condescending know-it-all who doesn’t think rules should apply to him, and I don’t mean because he’s president; because he’s Josiah Bartlet.

·       The character that Abby Bartlet reminds me most of is Carmela Soprano. In Abby’s defense, she has led a remarkable life of her own with a sterling reputation as a doctor. On the other hand, no one elected her to anything. The level of fealty she expects from the White House staff is unbecoming, and she, too, doesn’t see why the rules everyone else lives by should apply to her.

·       The shows wander during the Santos-Vinick election campaign. The debate episode is a wasted hour that would have been far more interesting if we saw how the campaign staffs reacted off-stage in real time.


In the end, many of my complaints are quibbles, but the compliments are wholehearted and sincere. As we neared the end, part of me was ready to get to it, but another part couldn’t wait to see what happened and how they’d show it.


It’s too bad streaming services weren’t a big deal then. The Santos presidency and the problems faced by the first minority president would have made a great series, especially as it would have preceded the Obama Administration. (The final episode aired May 14, 2006.)

1 comment:

Elgin Bleecker said...

Agree with most of your comments, particularly that hot issues back then are still unresolved. But hell, there’s an old commercial on YouTube in which Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) advocates for equal pay for women. (Google Batgirl PSA).