The West Wing S02E04: In This White House

Season-2-Banner

The themes of embracing the enemy and big pharma screwing the world are ambitious, and easy to trivialise.

Picking Emily Procter as the faux Southern Belle Republican who embarrassed Sam Seaborn on morning television almost failed at the outset. The dialogue she gets, and the scene in which she talks over Seaborn, make her seem less like a serious person than a spoilt brat with no manners rather than a serious rhetorical opponent. But maybe the ethic of talking louder and faster has always passed as impressive in American politics.

Continue reading “The West Wing S02E04: In This White House”

West Wing S02E03: The Midterms

Season-2-Banner

Series creator and principal writer Aaron Sorkin put a lot of kinetic energy into the episode to show us that things are back on track in the Bartlet White House after the chaos of the shootings.

Opening with CJ Cregg being barraged with interruptions and information thrown at her seconds from a press briefing, taking it all in her stride—all except remembering that people working on the grand unified theory are physicists, not psychics—is the definitive statement that she has found her equilibrium again after being the symbol of disarray in the previous two episodes.

Continue reading “West Wing S02E03: The Midterms”

The West Wing: S02E01&E02: In the Shadow of a Gunman

Season-2-Banner

If there is a ‘legend’ of The West Wing, these episodes are its bedrock, working emotional triggers and prompting the kind of sympathy for the characters normally reserved for the survivors of real and historic crisis situations. A mark of the writing and acting calibre is that these emotional triggers haven’t been eroded over time, despite the lacking surprise about the outcomes. Maybe because the kind of crisis we are presented with seems much more likely today than sixteen years ago, mainly because of Republican complicity with deregulating gun ownership.

Continue reading “The West Wing: S02E01&E02: In the Shadow of a Gunman”

The West Wing S01E22: What Kind of Day Has it Been

Season-1-Web-Banner

It feels like this episode is a long introduction for the next two. Padded out by playing the introduction as a fast-forward opening, and replaying it again at the end. An amicable ‘town-hall’ speaking engagement for the president in Rosslyn, Virginia. Its sole purpose: to set up a cliffhanger ending.

The word cliffhanger has a disputed parentage. There is a school of thought tracing it to a literal cliffhanging episode in 19th century literature. An equally devoted school of literalists insists that it came into common use in the USA in the early 20th century, albeit without specifying the original intent, beyond crude methods to ensure patronage for continuing serials.

Continue reading “The West Wing S01E22: What Kind of Day Has it Been”

West Wing S01E21: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Season-1-Web-Banner

There’s a return to focus in this episode. It’s on-message. Sorkin treats us to a conveniently cheeky stratagem to stack the electoral commission, some amusement to illustrate the tedious, nerve-wracking business of national polling, and the final instalment of the Sam Seaborn relationship with high class callgirl, and freshly minted law graduate, Laurie Rollins.

In its focus on electoral reform this episode shows its age. The game has entirely eclipsed the iniquities of the past to rise to new heights of partisan bastardry. For a long time, The West Wing was revered for proposing a Democrat agenda, should they ever reclaim the White House after Clinton’s less than glorious exit. It was part of the show’s lasting status as high quality television.

Continue reading “West Wing S01E21: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”

The West Wing S01E20: Mandatory Minimums

Season-1-Web-Banner

The course of history has overshadowed some of the enthusiastic optimism of the fictional Bartlet administration, and no more so than for this episode, which features policy examples that have all worsened rather than improved over time. On top of that historical scuffing of the gloss, the episode is less a coherent whole than a roll-over continuity play. More like glue rather than the pieces it holds together, or a pause in the ongoing narrative, like a breath between sentences. I suppose it is testament to the fact the show had ‘arrived’ that it did not seem out of place for this episode to be a loose collection of anecdotes, none strong enough to be a unifying core theme, but all necessary to lead into future episodes.

Continue reading “The West Wing S01E20: Mandatory Minimums”

Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993)

Wrestling-Ernest-Hemingway-450px

For a high school story, the conception wasn’t bad at all. Far more lyrical than anything I wrote until decades after leaving behind that wretched age of half-manhood. But as a drama it was too weightless.

Steve Conrad’s script might well have pleased Hemingway, but it was too eventless to draw me in. I found my attention wandering repeatedly during the Odd Couple routines of Frank (Richard Harris) and Walter (Robert Duvall) in matching their old guy loneliness to different ways of trying to recapture some sense of machismo.

More than death, I’m terrified of loss of faculty, and more than the gradual fading away of sex and fighting instincts, I am afraid of losing my mind. Neither Frank nor Walter seemed excessively burdened with thoughtfulness in their pre-histories, nor in the present of the story. That made me distant to the premiss.

Harris was 63, playing 75, and Duvall 62 going on 70. MacLaine seemed about right for her 59 years. There’s no question they all did fine jobs at evoking their characters. It was just that their characters were shallow and not sympathetic. I see no merit here in trying to force my tastes through contortions to appreciate an absence of what engages me.

Continue reading “Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993)”

The West Wing: S01E19 Let Bartlet Be Bartlet

Season-1-Web-Banner

For all the talk in fan sites and snippets of media coverage about the haphazard writing of the scripts, the opening summary of this episode clearly shows a deliberate breadcrumb trail of suggestions, in previous episodes, that the Bartlet presidency has stalled. That summary tells us this will be the main focus of the present instalment.

Continue reading “The West Wing: S01E19 Let Bartlet Be Bartlet”

The West Wing S01E18: Six Meetings Before Lunch

Season-1-Web-Banner

A legendary episode among afficionados, for Allison Janney’s lip-synching of ‘The Jackal’ (Ronny Jordan, The Quiet Revolution, 1993). An act so out of character for CJ Cregg, and yet so naturally Janney, that Sorkin wrote it into the script after seeing her do it on-set during down-time. It’s an ingenious device to build Cregg’s character without taxing Janney to adopt alien characteristics.

Continue reading “The West Wing S01E18: Six Meetings Before Lunch”

The West Wing S01E17: The White House Pro-Am

Season-1-Web-Banner

During the Clinton administration in the 1990s, the first lady was less passive than most since Eleanor Roosevelt. She had what is politely called ‘an agenda’. Meaning she arrogated to herself the privilege and power of a high but unelected state functionary. Hillary Clinton pursued ‘liberal’ causes that her husband thought too tough to fight in his own name. Her major project, the 1993 healthcare plan, failed to materialise. She is credited with playing a significant rôle in child health and welfare reforms. Subsequent to Bill Clinton’s presidency she did seek and win public office, in time losing the Democrat primary to Barack Obama, who made her his secretary of state.

Continue reading “The West Wing S01E17: The White House Pro-Am”