The West Wing

Mike GristBook / Movie Reviews Leave a Comment

I got done a few days ago watching my way through the whole of the West Wing. That’s 7 seasons, 22-24 episodes per season, 45-ish minutes per episode, so some 160 episodes, some 100-odd hours of TV.

That’s a lot of TV time. Imagine if I’d been writing all that time?!

Anyway- I really enjoyed it. It was like being with the crew of the Next Generation’s Enterprise again. The West Wing is the ship, the staff are the crew, and the adventures come to them in the same way the Enterprise went to the adventures. Politics, action, even military stuff, bad guys, tensions, a soap-opera edge with love interests and character development, with a liberal/enlightened world-view throughout.

Of course I loved TNG. I grew up watching it- I always figured I had more to learn from Jean-Luc than from hitting the streets outside. And recently, I felt much the same way about TWW (The West Wing). This, or be out in clubs/pubs/bars? Clubs are not nearly as interesting as TWW.

There was some fluctuation in the quality of the show, for sure. Seasons 1-4 were under the stewardship of the series creator- Aaron Sorkin. They were great, comfortable, generally warring against the religious right, and finding their feet.

Season 5, after Sorkin left, they took the crew/staff in the direction of incompetence and failure. It wasn’t fun. Josh made a severe mis-judgement that meant he was getting cut out of the loop, Leo had had a heart attack and was spending most of his time looking tiny and weak tucked up in bed, and Martin Sheen was dealing with bad MS. Everyone became weak and kind of useless.

That could be good- but it just lasted too long and was too endemic. One reason we like these characters is because they are good at what they do, they always pull it out of the hole- like Jack in 24. They’re one step ahead.

Not in season 5.

Season 6 pulls it back with presidential primaries, and season 7 rolled it home with the elections, with some great casting including Alan Alda and a lot of others- for a breath of fresh air.

Now I’m watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It feels like a re-tread of West Wing season 1 so far- the same battles against the religious right framing the shows premise, some of the same lines, the same pressures, the same scenes and set-ups. Still, it’s fun, though I can already see why it was canceled. It tries to take itself seriously with the show Studio 60 as a serious instrument for culture change- but it’s just a comedy show. Sure comedy has an impact- but not nearly as much as the agenda from the White House. So, it’s a step down in relevance/importance from TWW. Plus- it’s a re-tread.

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