Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The West Wing

I was slow to realize what a great television show The West Wing is. I didn't watch it for the first time until several years into its run. Who wants to see a television show about a fairly liberal Democratic president while we're suffering through the Bush presidency in real life? But just an episode or two got me hooked and I'm pretty much caught up now after watching reruns on Bravo several times a day for quite a while. I doubt that there's more than a handful of shows I haven't seen now. I like ABC's Commander in Chief, but it's just a lukewarm substitute for the inner workings of the Bartlet Presidency.

Some memorable West Wing scenes and episodes:

The nightclub scene where Zoe Bartlet is kidnapped. Massive Attack's "Angel" starts as the techno music in the club and becomes the soundtrack, slowly building to its climax as we see Secret Service Agent Molly dead in the alley and Leo running to tell the president.

"What Kind of Day Has It Been," the Season One finale in which President Bartlet's conducts a town hall meeting with college students. The meeting/lecture is a good lesson in politics, but the show ends with shots fired at the president's entourage. Who's hit? Who's coming back for Season Two?

The first episode of Season Two, a two-parter called "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen." In the wake of the assassination attempt, as Josh and the president fight for life, flashbacks reveal how the Bartlet campaign team came together and won the nomination and the election.

"Two Cathedrals," the Season Two cliffhanging episode that's not much of a cliffhanger. President Bartlet deals with the death of his longtime secretary Delores Landingham and reveals to the nation that he has MS. He curses God in the National Cathedral after Mrs. Landingham's funeral, then goes to a press conference to answer questions, especially those concerning his political future. Will he run again? When he puts his hand in his pocket and looks away we know the answer. All the while, flashbacks reveal how a teenaged Jed first met Mrs. Landingham. Dire Strait's "Brothers in Arms" is a moody soundtrack to the final scenes.

C. J.'s pressroom outburst over the treatment of women in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Qumar.

"Posse Comitatus." Bartlet attends a Broadway play and finally greenlights a hit on the Qumari defense minister who has strong terrorist ties. C. J. Cregg's favorite secret service agent, Simon Donovan, is shot and killed when he walks in on an armed robbery at a convenience store. Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah" is the touching soundtrack.

"The Long Goodbye." C. J. returns home to Dayton for her 20th class reunion and comes face-to-face with her father's Alzheimer's.

First Lady Abby Bartlet on Sesame Street. C. J. waits in the hall with Big Bird (You had to be there.)

Toby gets personally involved when a homeless Korean War veteran dies while wearing his coat.

The president lectures a conservative talk show host on homosexuality and the Bible.

"Isaac and Ishmail." Various White House staffers, including the president, discuss terrorism with a group of high-school students in a special episode that aired less than a month after 9/11.

Josh explains the humanity of space exploration by recounting the life and death of Blind Willie Johnson. He died of penniless of pnemonia from sleeping on a wet mattress in his burned-out house, but his music (the song "Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)," which provides a soundtrack to the episode) left the Solar System on Voyager 1.

The live debate between Matt Santos and Arnie Vinick.

I could go on like this for a while, but I'll stop now.

There was a cast of hundreds, including some memorable guest stars. Mary-Louise Parker, Mary Matlin, Lily Tomlin, John Goodman, Gary Cole, Moira Kelly, Matthew Perry, Edward James Olmos, Glenn Close, Tim Matheson, Timothy Busfield, Ken Howard, Roger Rees, Oliver Platt, Ron Silver, Hal Holbrook, Emily Procter, Mark Harmon, James Brolin, John Larroquette, Felicity Huffman, Penn & Teller, Ed Begley Jr., Mary Kay Place, Matthew Modine, Gabrielle Union, William Fichtner, John Amos, Christian Slater, Teri Polo and many others have all contributed unforgettable characters to the show.

Yes, I'm a fan. A late-comer, but a fan nonetheless. So I was a more than a little upset when I heard that NBC had cancelled the show. The producers had gone into the season undercutting their price per episode to get it on the air, and NBC, with their weakest lineup in years, had shoved the show away in the forgotten nether reaches of Sunday night. I turned the TV on the Sunday night after I heard the news, but no West Wing. No West Wing the next week either. Damn! Had they just cancelled it right out? We wouldn't even get to see the winner of the Santo-Vinick election? I had already lived through ABC cancelling The Night Stalker in the middle of a two-part episode, but this was too much.

I was somewhat relieved to see this article at the TV Guide website, "How Will The West Wing Say Goodbye". The show will continue until the end of the season and answer a lot of unanswered questions. The most important ones are: Who will win the election? How will the show deal with the death of John Spencer? The election episodes will air on April 2 & 9 after a Winter Olympics hiatus. The final episode will air on May 14. We'll see the transition to the next presidency and find out what happens next for all our favorite castmates.

Are you a West Wing fan? Did I leave out your favorite episode or scene? Or favorite guest star? Discuss.


At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am a fan. And at fifty-four years old, I don't recall seeing a better show anywhere, anytime. Probably the best written show ever. Even after Sorkin left. You can also see his brilliance in The American President. Although I am Canadian, I was able to learn alot about government in general watching this show, but even more valuable were the life lessons taught in every episode. I miss my weekly fix of that incredible bunch of actors. Since it's ending I have not been able to find anything on TV that can meet the intellectual standards set by The West Wing. But I'm on my third time through all seven seasons on dvd. Your blog was very well written and you're right - you could go on forever.
Syd Turner, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

At 7:11 AM, Blogger Sonia said...

Nice posting about a nice show. Its really a better for everyone & its a great show for all time. I watch west wing episodes with full length as online. And now I have a great collection of all episodes.


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