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|Index||211 reviews in total|
As mentioned in a couple of episodes, Andrew Jackson kept a two-ton block
cheese in the foyer of the White House for the public. It was to remind
everybody that The White House belongs to the people, and that their voice
should always be heard and represented. Well, "West Wing" is a love poem
the ideals of a portion of America that has not had a voice in a long,
time. Be forewarned, this show is not a docudrama watered down or dumbed
down in order not to offend the sensibilities of the mainstream. It is
unabashedly - dare I say in these reactionary times - ultra-liberal and
proud of it. President Bartlet and his staff represent the spirit,
depth and imagination that many (but obviously not all) faithful Americans
feel this country was founded on: a spirit that they would like to see in
their political candidates, but rarely find anymore. It is the stuff of
dreams. Check that twice; this isn't reality TV so don't go ballistic if
certain "facts" about the official processes of White House machinery are
incorrect. The show isn't meant to provide documentation of life in the
west wing. It's meant to give us an idea of the complexities of the
political process, as well as a look at the dedication and personal
sacrifice most politicians and staffers have to endure. Most importantly
though, the show is meant to be a springboard for ideas and values. Is
President Bartlett in any way realistic? Hell, no! He's a wild composite
of every liberal politician and scholar that ever positively influenced
country, as well an authority on antiquated history, philosophy,
national parks, chess, and virtually every nation in the world. What makes
him especially endearing is that all of these qualities are rolled up in a
homespun charm that could make Garrison Keillor positively green with
Some people don't seem to get the joke: he has every single element that
been absent in politicians - Democrat and Republican alike - for a
time. The fact that he is so unreal is THE element of social satire that
this program propagates. Frankly, I find it thrilling because as much as
love other political satires like "Bob Roberts" and "Wag the Dog", it
wonderfully refreshing to see satire being directed from politicians
than at them. There will never be a real president like Jed Bartlet in
White House, but every American can get a healthy dose of inspiration from
fictional Jed Bartlet, 'man of the people'. [I'd include other
nationalities in that statement, but there's something about Bartlet that
quintessentially American. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I
visualize it along the lines of reading the Constitution while eating a
of chili. Other nationalities will have to come up with their own
particular mixture of homespun idealism.]. I should include his staff in
that statement too, since any of those in the West Wing (with the
of Ainsley Hayes, sweet as she is) would make a fantastic
As for the other elements of this show... On first watching it, I was very aware of the fact that the White House staff seemed to spend more time holding conversations while walking in corridors, than actually sitting in their offices. I was also aware of how the cameras twirled around them unceasingly. And I often found the dialogue in both quality and delivery to be something along the lines of Spalding Gray meets Gore Vidal; i.e. extremely quick, witty and brilliant, but how many people really talk that way? Well, by the third episode I became so attached to the fascinating qualities and idiosyncrasies of each character that in my ears, their dialogue seemed to flow quite naturally. By the forth episode I was tickled pink to follow them anywhere. And by the fifth episode, my inner gyroscope finally synched up with the show's steadicam. I'm hooked- what else can I say! All the characters/performers of "West Wing" are excellent, and the "what if" scenarios in each show cleverly cover situations that we're all familiar with, with just the right touch of emotional depth (or in some cases, levity. The show's humor is always delicious!).
`West Wing' is simply brilliant through and through. The only bad thing about it is when it's over, we all have to face reality once again. Damn!
I couldn't get into the West Wing when it began its run. The people spoke
too quickly, I didn't get most of the references, and where the heck were
they powerwalking to? I just didn't get it. After an episode or two, I
forgot about it.
On a recent weekend, though, I heard the pilot was being broadcast and thought I'd give it a try. Watching this show from the beginning - and being able to see episodes over again - makes all the difference. This time, I realized that I wasn't *supposed* to understand what they were referring to right out of the gate; it would be explained before the episode ended. After watching the pilot, I also realized that unlike most TV shows, The West Wing episodes are visual manifestations of great books. Both force the viewer to ask questions, challenging simple answers, refusing to provide easy, fixed-in-60-minutes situations, and providing sudden, unexpected plot twists.
As excellent as the actor's performances are, it's the writing that makes the show so good. It doesn't shy away from moral ambiguity, it rarely takes the easy way out, and it compels you to believe in your government despite all the reasons it gives you to despair of it.
Some might think that only jingoistic supernationalists enjoy the West Wing, but neither of those words describe me. I feel very comfortable questioning the decisions my government makes, and I appreciate how the West Wing has broadened my understanding of how it operates. For that reason alone, it deserves the accolades it receives. It's one of the best shows in the history of television.
I first caught "The West Wing" for two reasons: 1) our school was AGAIN
on strike and 2) I had a crush on Annabeth Gish from "The X-Files", and
I'd heard she was going to be in the Season 5 premiere. I watched a few
eps on Bravo to get a little background so I wouldn't come in
completely cold (my very first ep was "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet", which
is still in my top ten). It took me awhile to get used to Aaron
Sorkin's writing style, but by this point, it's my absolute favorite
I think that the idiot Republicans who b**** about the "liberal bias" are, well, idiots. The show is written by a very openly liberal guy, so why are you surprised? It's not like AS is a Republican, and NBC forced him to write a "liberal" show. THEN you might have a case for complaining. Besides, very few Republican characters are presented as "evil". Besides the obvious (Ainsley Hayes and Cliff Calley), most of the other guys are presented as against the president's agenda, which DOES NOT EQUATE WITH EVIL, unless maybe you are an intolerant far-right Republican who thinks people against the war in Iraq like Martin Sheen are "evil" and "un-American" (I was for the war personally, and I'm not saying ALL Republicans). There are a few guys, like John Diehl's Claypool, or the congressman from "Bartlet For America", or Bruce Weitz and Paul Provenza, who are portrayed as rather unlikeable, but they are an aberration on this show. And most Republican view points are given a fair airing, at least.
That said, there's not a whole lot I can say about this show that hasn't already been said a hundred times over. The writing, acting, and direction is arguably the best in television history, and I now prefer it to "The X-Files". Besides the marvelous starring cast (save Moira Kelly and Joshua Malina), there's also an excellent supporting cast as well, and fantastic guest casting. Tim Matheson is my favorite non-regular character as the egotistical, self-serving yet intelligent and likable Vice President Hoynes. Then there Timothy Busfield, Anna Deveare Smith, Marlee Matlin, Roger Rees, Emily Procter, and John Amos, and many other very memorable characters. My favorite one-shot guest star has to Karl Malden's Father Cavanaugh from "Take This Sabbath Day" (the death penalty episode).
I think that all of the main characters do outstanding jobs. Martin Sheen is really the glue that holds the show together, so I'm glad they decided to make him a regular. He isn't THE star, but he is simply wonderful, and his interaction with the cast is a focal point of the show.
The whole cast, indeed, provides us with one of the best ensembles in television history. Rob Lowe did a much better job than I expected he would with his role as Sam, the deputy communications director. Stockard Channing simply blows the doors off the place as the First Lady. Dule Hill never has a whole lot of screen time as Charlie, Bartlet's personal aide, but he usually injects a fun shot in the arm. Janel Moloney is really cute and side-splittingly hilarious as Donna, Josh eager-beaver assistant. Allison Janney as CJ, the press secretary, is a bit of a sore spot for me, however. In the first few seasons she was great, a character with intelligence and a great sense of humor. However, in recent years (and this I blame on the writing) her character has devolved into a whiny feminazi (see "The Women of Qumar"), just a notch above Mary-Louise Parker's Amy Gardner (a character I like, but most people don't). However, Janney is a talented enough actress to largely overcome this. Richard Schiff is fantastic as Toby Ziegler, the prickly, mumbly Communications Director. And then there's John Spencer as my favorite character, chief of staff Leo McGarry, a recovering alcholic, drug addict, and Vietnam vet who represses his emotions very well, but has a very deep sense of loyalty to all his friends and employees. Spencer gives a bravura performance week after week, and he is totally believable in the role. His greatest moments were his dialogue with the fired White House staffer in "Take Out The Trash Day", and the very end of "Bartlet For America" (of course). Wonderful actor. And then there's Bradley Whitford, as the egotistical but good-natured Josh Lyman, Leo's deputy, who is as every bit as loyalistic as Leo. (BTW, I hope that Josh and Donna NEVER get together; remember Mulder and Scully on "The X-Files", anyone?) Whitford starred one of the best episodes ever, "Noel", where he overcame his bout with PTSD. And of course, Martin Sheen I've already commented on. Moira Kelly and Joshua Malina are fine actors, but they were given rather poor characters to work with, and just didn't fit in to the fabric of the show.
As to the departure of Sorkin: certainly the show has declined in quality, is less humorous, and there have been a good amount of stinky episodes this past year ("Access", anyone?), but Season Five of "The West Wing" is still almost infinitely better than anything else on TV. "7A WF 83429", "The Stormy Present", "The Warfare of Genghis Khan", "An Khe", the rightfully well-loved, Sorkinesque "The Supremes", "Gaza", and "Memorial Day". BTW, quit ragging on Gary Cole as the new VPOTUS, guys, just because he was in "Office Space". Tim Matheson was Otter in "Animal House", and I didn't any of you bring that up when he first showed up.
My favorite episodes are "Take This Sabbath Day", "And It's Surely To Their Credit", "Lord John Marbury", "A Proportional Response", and "Noel". I'm sorry I didn't too much deeper, but really, what could I say about this show that everyone else here hasn't already.
A bazillion stars for the greatest show in television history IMO.
This is the finest show ever produced for TV. Each episode is a
triumph. The casting, the writing, the timing are all second to none.
This cast performs miracles.
The secret to this show is that it is, at heart, a comedy, even when tragic things are happening. That gives Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff et al. the room to work. And do they ever.
It works because it is deep, the characters are well-drawn. Early in the first season, CJ gets a root canal and walks around for the rest of the episode with cotton stuffed in her mouth, yelling things like" The Pwesident must be bweefed!" This has to be seen to be believed. It had me literally on the floor, laughing until I feared I would hurt myself. I don't know how many shows have tried cheap stunts like that and they are just that, cheap. On "The West Wing" it works because we know CJ, we know how unlike her, and yet like her, that moment is. And Toby's slow-burn reaction is pitch perfect.
This gem of a series really took me by surprise. Observing the world of
American politics and the lives of those working in the White House could
an extremely dull concept. But thanks to an outstanding script and the
wonderful skills of the experienced cast, The West Wing effortlessly draws
the viewer in and provides top quality drama in every action-packed
Following the trials and triumphs of those working behind-the-scenes in and around the Oval Office, this series perfectly portrays the shrewdness that the president and his staff require to do their jobs and the way they inter-relate in a manic environment to get those jobs done, while still managing to maintain a personal life. Combining a subtle mix of poignancy, humour and dramatic tension with varying degrees of pace, it is a joy to watch.
Each episode is relatively self-contained with running storylines developing throughout the series. The characters are perfectly rounded, the script continually sharp, and credit goes to the directors and editors who ensure such slick movement and spot-on timing on screen.
Singling out any particular member of the cast is difficult as each one of them is truly first-rate. However, Martin Sheen is excellent as President Bartlet, a fiercely intelligent and discerning man with a genuine passion for his job. Rob Lowe is a revelation as Sam Seaborn, the wise and witty deputy communications director, and Allison Janney, as the astute press secretary, CJ, is far removed from her almost unrecognisable role as Barbara Fitts in American Beauty.
Whether White House life is in reality as appealing as this remains to be seen. It would, however, be very reassuring to believe that those who actually do hold such influential positions are as unashamedly charming as The West Wing brilliantly depicts them.
Network: NBC; Genre: Drama; Content Rating: TV-PG; Available: DVD and
syndication; Perspective: Modern Classic (star range: 1- 5);
Seasons Reviewed: Complete Series (7 seasons)
Created out of the ashes of the tragic failure that ABC befell his neo-classic "Sports Night" (which I also highly recommend), Aaron Sorkin's next effort aims at nothing short of the most powerful office in the world. "The West Wing" takes us behind the scenes of the Bartlet (Martin Sheen) administration and his staff, which includes special counselor Leo (John Spencer), the dryly spunky Press Secretary C.J. (Allison Janney), Chief of Staff Josh (Bradley Whitford) and his model-like assistant Donna (Janel Moloney), morose Communications Director Toby (Richard Schiff), aid Charlie (Dule Hill) and Deputy Comm Director Will (Josh Malin, "Sports Night").
To best enjoy "Wing", with its occasionally maddening bouts of self indulgence and nose-in-the-air intellectual showboating, is to understand how purposefully different it is from just about anything else on TV. It lacks the kind of compelling situational drama you'd expect. Most of the real action occurs off screen, with us simply hearing that a crisis was solved. This show is about conversations, history and civics lessons and an ambitious deconstruction of wedge issues that you never heard spoken of so thoughtfully in entertainment television. "Wing's" vision of politics is an old-fashioned fantasy of a noble grass roots attempt, guided by history and the framers, where the political process is a necessary tool, o do what's right for the common man.
The political right has taken the show out to the woodshed for spouting liberal propaganda (every character is a vocal Democrat), but in my experience with it, it has been nothing but honest and fair with it's topics, unlike the blunt object beating we get from David E. Kelley and Dick Wolf shows. You have to be quick to catch inferences to tax cuts creating service cuts and women's lives being ruined by having a child and not an abortion. Free from a need to create simplistic sound-bytes or follow poll numbers of real-world politicians, Sorkin's world depicts the kind of well reasoned discourse lost in the modern, media-driven political climate.
Back to the dialog and the most important thing. This is a show that can be written with such lyrical beauty and directed with such cinematic majesty that it elevates it from a conceptually tedious concept and static stories. Sorkin brings back the snappy, lightening-fast "His Girl Friday" conversations of "Night". A man in love with his dialog (I can't fault him for that), he crams very syllable of every crisp monologue in the running time.
Satisfying the audience's desire to see behind these particular closed doors, "Wing" consciously maintains a fly-on-the-wall quality as we follow the White House staff through hallways and offices discussing everything from the most frivolous everyday annoyances and grammatical idiosyncrasies to weighty issues of domestic and foreign policy. It gives us the wonderful illusion we are seeing the real nit and grit behind the political process - from getting enough votes to pass a bill to keeping piece in the Middle East. This is C-SPAN stuff, packaged with beautiful, epic pageantry.
At series' end my initial reaction to the show still holds water. By comparison it doesn't have the heart or the laughs of "Sports Night". It has a rich look and feel but, for all its philosophizing and linguistic gymnastics, I still remain detached from the characters and any emotional core at all. Spencer is terrific and Janney and Whitford make TV stars of themselves with what are for the most part mechanical characters with just enough quirks to get them banging against each other nicely. That said, Whitford and Moloney have an engaging chemistry that draws us in and lets us root for them. A chemistry that the show takes a smart 7 years to pay off.
Sorkin and Sheen's president is a Frank Capra fantasy the melds together the most idealistic elements of politics and Americana into someone who can represent the best of his ideology and is still human enough to display the worst. Granted, this is Sorkin's fantasy so the latter is rare and Bartlet gets the last wise word most of the time.
After the 4th season, Sorkin leaves the show amid rumors of drug use and studio hack John Wells is brought on board. Wells is a network hack who took over "ER" when Michael Crichton stepped away and turned it into a soap opera, and then did the same with his own "Third Watch". The show slowly changes under Wells and while he resists his usual urge to sadistically kill of major characters, Sorkin's trademark dialog is slowed down and the show gets more traditionally exciting, but the intellectual substance remains and Wells gels with the show well.
I don't love "The West Wing" as much as others. Each episode starts strong and ends strong, but almost always looses steam in the long 2nd act. So goes entire seasons, which can bring us in and go out with an assassination, a kidnapping, terrorist attack or some other exciting peril for a main character and stall for entire hours in the winter.
Under Wells' control, the series ends with a spectacular bang. The final season brings an end to the Bartlet administration and follows the feverish presidential campaign of both parties race to win the election and instill their candidate - either Republican Senator Vinick (liberal He-man Alan Alda) or Democrat congressman Santos (Jimmy Smitts) - in as his successor. After 7 seasons the show goes out as rewarding and classy as it came in. A behind-the-scenes celebration of the American political process. It is an exceptional final season for a classy and classic show.
* * * * / 5
This is what all television used to be like, in the 'good old days'- well
written, well acted (even by Rob Lowe!) and beautifully directed.
The plots are thick and interesting and the people are smart and pretty and I just can't get enough of it. I wish Aaron Sorkin would write another movie (he wrote A Few Good Men) and also be as prolific as David E. Kelly- Sorkins work is by far the superiour, and I could watch it day in and day out. Tune in, you won't be disappointed.......
I just started watching this show 5 days ago. My family received the
first 3 seasons on DVD and I put it in and started watching. I'm on the
14th episode of the third season now, and having sat here for 36+ hours
watching, I must say this show is intelligent, witty, funny,
reasonable, has wonderful acting and actors, writing, and is a great
look into the White House and the government of this country.
I'm only on the 3rd season and I don't know how long it will take for the others to come out on DVD (as i won't be watching the show on TV, since i don't want to miss anything) but up to this point, I LOVE this show, the characters and will continue to watch it at any opportunity available to me.
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.
So much political reporting seems to be an attempt to fake a drama out
of little material. I missed the West Wing when it started, but am
catching up now, and find that it turns the specifics of politics into
gripping human drama with a fast pace.
The camera seems to move as quickly as the people, following one conversation, then picking up another as two corridors intersect, and going off after that conversation instead. It's a remarkably effective dramatic device, that helps generate a sense of many topics, issues and personalities all being constantly on the move in response to events.
The acting is uniformly good, and often not on screen, Martin Sheen's president remains a constant presence shaping every story.
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