The West Wing S01E16: 20 Hours in LA


This one’s my favourite episode for season one, but for reasons that have changed a little bit over time. Initially it was the Zoey Bartlet secret service bodyguard Gina Toscano interview on Air Force One, and the private Ted Marcus conversation at the fundraiser. Today it is probably more the almost-reconciliation between Bartlet and Hoynes over the ethanol tax credit nonsense, and the dig at producers delivered by the MBA-type hustlers at Ted Marcus’s party, who are unable to explain what Hollywood ‘developers’ actually do, and what ‘development’ actually involves. Not that the other events aren’t also important for the overall impact of the show.

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The West Wing S01E13: Take Out the Trash Day


Although the news cycle frequently referred to in The West Wing, and on which many of CJ’s dilemmas are based, no longer exists in its 1990s form, the title of the episode is still topical. It refers to the practice of burying information no one wants to see too much of again on a day, and at a time, which ensures minimal press coverage. Friday afternoon is still a preferred time slot for this practice. As Josh Lyman explains to Donna Moss – and the audience – there are only so many column centimetres ‘above the fold’ of a broadsheet newspaper (meaning attention-grabbing headlines immediately on display). If important news is mixed in with potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable news, the bet is that no one will spend too much time investigating the discomforting items, and even if they do, ‘no one reads the papers on Saturday’.

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The West Wing S01E08: Enemies


On the first pass I hadn’t noticed it as much as later on. Episode eight seemed a little like a caricature of what Sorkin had written before. All the lines and characters were less subtle. Because Sorkin didn’t write this episode. Time Matheson and Dulé Hill were cited in an online TV guide that no longer exists to the effect that the script was unusually late. I wondered whether that meant Sorkin had problems. Maybe arising from drug abuse, which was a real problem for him in those years. I can’t find any evidence to that effect in print, but a year or so later he was busted and apologised to the cast and crew for the embarrassment he had caused the show. What a crock. All that hypocrisy about drugs in an industry laced with, at a time the entire country was awash in cocaine, and with coke dollars.

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The West Wing S01E06: Mr Willis of Ohio


Finally the anthemic opening score has been bedded down by Snuffy Waldren: the show no longer begins like an ad or ends like a cartoon filler.
With the other elements of the show hitting their stride a couple of episodes back, this is now the package I remember expecting for each episode.

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The lens of insanity

When I talk about or write literary critique, the most common response is not ‘wow, that’s interesting’, but ‘you’re mad’, or ‘what the hell are you talking about’. That’s more or less what happened last year when I embarked on a joint writing project to pick apart the political and cultural references in the once popular TV series The West Wing. In this venture, it was like my confederate and I were watching completely different episodes.


The reason for such diversity of explanation is that I was trained in Western literary critique as part of my undergraduate degree, and I worked for a time as a journalist, in which that training paid off. It may strike many people as unnecessary or contrived to read meanings beyond the literal or pedestrian interpretations, but it is unavoidable that artists and writers, even script-writers for TV shows, often do know some literary or cultural theory, and embed messages in their scripts that are lost without some similar knowledge in their audiences.

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