When the erudite Democrat Josiah "Jed" Bartlet is elected U.S. president, he installs his administration. He places confidants from his electoral campaigns in the White House. Each of these people play a significant role in the Washington power game: the Chief of Staff (Leo McGarry), his deputy (Josh Lyman), Communications Director (Toby Ziegler), deputy (Sam Seaborn, and later, Will Bailey), and press secretary (CJ Cregg). Also in key positions are the assistants of each of the power players. We follow these people through many political battles, as well as some personal ones. Also playing roles are the First Lady (Abigail Bartlet), the President's daughters (Elizabeth, Eleanor, and Zoey), and the personal aide to the President (Charlie Young). All make this series, which supposedly follows the political events (often paraphrasing historical reality) almost day by day, more than merely a political soap. The demands of office on each character show the personal sacrifice and the ... Written by
Now that the last episode has been shown in Australia, and having very much enjoyed the show despite seeing it out of order in several different countries, I'd like to make a few general comments. Thankfully the ABC showed series six and seven weekly in blocks of two episodes without commercials; thus the pleasure was undiluted.
1. Whatever inaccuracies there may have been in the depiction of White House procedure (apparently Clinton adviser Dick Morris was not impressed) and however impossibly smart everybody seemed, "West Wing" caught the essential flavour of politics, US style, where a squillion issues, some great, others trivial, all compete for attention in a complex legalistic and ponderous system.
2. There is a lot of emphasis on the trappings of the "imperial presidency"- flitting around the countryside in Air Force One at a cost of about $10,000 an hour, the amazing White House protocol for almost everything, the veneration of the public for the office. Louis XIV never had it so good. But then I was brought up in a country where until recently the Prime Minister's phone number was in the phone book and he used to walk the 800 metres to work. Of course the security measures don't require much justification in the land of guns for all.
3. President Jed Bartlet is indeed the liberal ideal (the show could well be called "Left Wing") but he is also a patriot, and to those of us who have to put up with the US heaving its weight around abroad this is a problem, not a matter for praise.
4. The "walking heads" delivering rapid-fire dialogue are off-putting at first, but do give the show pace; compare "Commander in Chief" which is leadenly slow (and otherwise dire) by comparison. It no doubt helps to know something about how the US political system works but generally there is enough information provided to at least follow the story.
5. The internal politics of the White House are downplayed; Bartlet's team are portrayed as uniformly bright, keen and loyal, both to the president and each other, and not interested in internecine conflict. Lucky Jed.
6. The acting from the main players is all that one could ask for they emerge as real people, but then they get a lot of air time, sometimes with most of an episode to themselves. Some of the minor roles tended to be written and played as stereotypes. My favourite was Lily Tomlin as the Pres's secretary she acted as if she could do his job herself, although Allison Janney as CJ ran a close second.
7. It must have been a fun series to create and we must thank Aaron Sorkin for the effort he made in developing this show from his "The American President" which was a piece of fluff by comparison. He got away with what must be about the talkiest show on television. Alas, things did tail off a bit after he left (after the fourth series) but the show had enough momentum to make it entertaining right to the end of Bartlet's second term, though the last few shows were rather limp.
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