The West Wing

The West Wing is one of those shows that I had been meaning to get around to watching for a long time.  It has even sat on my hard drive for the best part of a year.  I’d always said that I probably needed to watch the whole thing from the start, having caught an episode and really enjoyed it, but figured that to continue watching was to jump in halfway.

I’ve decided that I’ll be blogging my viewing on and off, just to see how it goes, really.  I’m three episodes into Season 2 and seeing as I’m writing several years after the show has finished HERE BE SPOILERS.   I’ll mark the postings with spoilers as well.

I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to watching this show.  Well, apart from piling through stuff like Castle and The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.  And Elementary.  And The Wire.  OK, I do know why it took so long, but as someone with a healthy interest in politics, especially of the American kind, this show should have been at the top of my list.

I’ll not go too far into a recap, but it starts in the first year of the administration of Democrat President Jeb Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and focuses on the various issues, trials and tribulations that he and his team face.  These can be major geopolitical events (crisis in Pakistan threatening war, deciding a proportional response to the shooting down of a US military plane , to the personal (Chief of Staff Leo McGarry and his battle against alcoholism) and the minor (getting a Bill through Congress).

This is a show with talking.  Lots and lots of talking.  No gun play, no big explosions – just talking.  Or more appropriately, walking and talking.  The signature motif is the walk, where characters spit high quality fast paced dialogue at each other while wandering around the White House, seamlessly moving from one character to the next.  You have to pay attention to the plots and connect the dots to previous episodes (handily recapped at the start of the show).  The dialogue is not natural, in the way that the best dialogue isn’t.  It is just too intricate, too fast and too damned witty to be anything but rehearsed.  It is naturally delivered, but kind of like how everyone in Friends had a beautifully timed bon mot just waiting for the opportune moment.  There is a lot of repetition of words and phrases, not least between Josh and Donna but the show trusts its audience to keep up and doesn’t demand anything other than you pay attention for a bit.

I think that is why I love it so much.  Like the very best TV, it demands you treat it with respect, pay attention and trust the people behind it to entertain you.  I’ll write more about the issues raised, the characters and so on.  Suffice to say, when in the pilot episode one of the characters suggested that the President riding his bicycle into a tree should be described to the Press as “coming to a sudden arboreal stop” I instantly knew that I was in for the long haul.

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