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New season of The West Wing

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2002

Our household was all abuzz last night for the season premiere of The West Wing. At two hours, the episode was a little long and not as neatly packaged as the show usually is. A bit disappointing, but still the best thing on network TV. My questions to you are: 1) what did you think?; and 2) where’s the best place online to discuss episodes after the fact? I’m normally not a big fan of the TV watercooler conversation, but The West Wing has enough going on that I wouldn’t mind a little post-episode discussion each week.

Reader comments

jkottkeSep 26, 2002 at 8:08AM

Oh, you probably shouldn’t read this thread if you haven’t seen last night’s episode yet as people may post spoilers or links to spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

TimSep 26, 2002 at 8:16AM

I agree, I didn’t find it the tightest storytelling or episode, but it was still great great great. I’m going to watch it again tonight.

I watched Sam being woken up by the shout in the answering machine about 10 times, and I love it and hate it because I still don’t know if Rob Lowe is continuing with the series.

Some people say it’s the writing that makes it so good, anyone could play it, but the entire ensemble is priceless to me.

M-JSep 26, 2002 at 8:19AM

Random musings:
1. Last night’s episode was less a contained narrative than a collection of scenes; there was the arc of Josh and co. getting lost in corn country, but the pipe-bomb attack came out of nowhere. I suppose this is how these things work, in reality — points for verisimillitude — but it was a bit jarring.
2. Maybe it’s me, or my ‘nuck sensibilities, but how the show presents black people makes me uncomfortable. Last night, the only black people with speaking roles were Charlie, the prez’s stepandfetchit, the diner owners, who might as well have come out eating watermelons, and the little brother, who did the whole “yo bitch, whatup dawg” routine.
3. Oops. Oh, and Fitzwilliams and the NSA head.
4. The West Wing is, ultimately, a US liberal fantasy; the prez is the idealized Clinton, Clinton minus the zipper probs and political pragmatism. Bringing in the Repub challenger as such an obvious dumb Bush only heightens that. No points for subtlety.

barlowSep 26, 2002 at 8:21AM

I wonder if “The West Wing” is the kind of show that only appeals to people who consider themselves left-leaning, or at least more sympathetic to democratic party concerns than republican concerns. For me, the show is preachy and hard to watch; it takes itself too seriously. NYPD Blue is still a good show, by contrast, and has a much more complicated approach to ethical situations without preaching. Push, Nevada was also a pleasant surprise.

TheBradSep 26, 2002 at 8:34AM

I don’t spend much time discussing TWW online, but I have found the forums/summaries at Television Without Pity (nee Mighty Big TV) to be entertaining reads.

It occurred to me last night that there’s very little on network television that actually makes me proud of the medium but, more than that, makes me want to be a better person. The characters on TWW are idealized, true, but represent ideals — of character and comportment, not necessarily politics — to which I aspire.

Bartlett’s erudition; Charlie’s loyalty and gallant acts; CJ’s humor, intelligence and professionalism; Josh’s political acumen; Donatella’s common-sense savvy and questioning curosity — all are aspects of my own personality I wish I could enhance.

jkottkeSep 26, 2002 at 9:35AM

I wonder if “The West Wing” is the kind of show that only appeals to people who consider themselves left-leaning, or at least more sympathetic to democratic party concerns than republican concerns.

I think that’s true to a certain extent, but Sorkin seems to think critically about partisanship as well. He deliberately made those whiny liberals annoying as hell in last night’s episode while trying to get them back to Washington. I wanted to kill them all.

Brad makes a good point. Politics aside, the characters on the show are good role models. They have good traits, but they’re also fallible. These characters would work well as liberals or conservatives. What I would love to see, as much as I enjoy the current ensemble, is for Bartlet to lose the election and for Sorkin to continue the show for 4 more years with a Republican president and staff.

CarolineSep 26, 2002 at 10:11AM

I prefer TWOP for most TV discussions, though the snark gets a bit too much at times. There’s also an Aaron Sorkin mailing list at Yahoo Groups. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AaronSorkin/

GregSep 26, 2002 at 11:55AM

I hope Al Gore and the Democrats were watching last night because the Josh and Toby (I work at the Whitehouse) subplot/dialogue was all about how Gore’s campaign was run against Bush.

I don’t believe the West Wing is a fantasy just for just liberals. I’m fairly conservative and every Wednesday night I ask my wife why we are stuck with Bush when even television can do a better job. Regardless, the West Wing makes me want to drop everything and start running for a political office.

Todd DomineySep 26, 2002 at 12:20PM

When TWW first aired, I was quite a fan. I watched it religiously for quite a long time. I can’t put my finger on when the show “jumped the shark,” but for me it did. I simply can’t take the show seriously anymore. Perhaps it was when skinheads tried to assasinate the President, or when Sorkin and his team of writers felt they needed to draft a “response” of sorts to 9/11. Or maybe it was when the show started winning tons of Emmys and the actors began prancing around like elected officials (Sheen appearing at Gore fundraisers and speaking in character). The show, I’ll admit, is one of the few well produced dramas left on network television, but then again I hardly watch network TV anymore. Why bother when you have HBO, IFC, Sundance, TLC, FoodTV, E!, History, and Bravo? As for the leftist thread, my parents are hard core Republicans and they love the show. Go figure.

MarcSep 26, 2002 at 12:46PM

TWW was the only show I was anticipating the start of the new season. As one without HBO, IFC, etc… the few and far between good network shows are a relief. TWW and CSI are the only shows I watch these days, besides my endless addiction to MTV/VH1 and the Food Network.

As for last night’s episode, I was actually excited to see Charlie show a little emotion. While I think the story line is a bit over played, successful black man slaps reality into troublesome black teen, I think it will play well.

I also like the characters of Josh and Toby. Their constant, quick bantering is entertaining. Finally, for the value of the show as a whole, I am just glad it is not a cop or hospital show. For F***-sake, can’t TV writers come up with more than just cops and doctors. But more seriously, I think that TWW actually brings some insight into the political cogs of washington no matter how sensationalized they make it.

ronvSep 26, 2002 at 2:23PM

to be honest, i didn’t catch the opening of the show, but what i did catch—

bartlett’s speech/ response to the pipe bombing—

was jawdropping.

as a literature/ public speaking teacher, i thought the writing, the diction, the presentation of that speech was perfection.

can reality get a president that eloquent, that articulate, please?

btw: does anyone know if there’s somewhere to d/load episodes?

DanSep 26, 2002 at 4:11PM

I don’t know if I saw it as not-so-much as needing a tighter fit, as it seemed though the producers (director) were allowing the characters to breath a little more compared to last season.

What we observed last night may have been a “one up” in its style and editing. We’ve seen them do this before in previous episodes, no? This time it looks as though a slightly new perspective was offered into each character, taking advantage of both extended time and editing.

One thing TWW is known for is trying new ideas, and often. That, is a good thing.

Do they vary the direction of various episodes, or is it always the same director and production team? I don’t recall the credits week to week.

daveSep 26, 2002 at 4:55PM

As someone who is interested in politics and policy, I watch TWW every week, always hoping it will be better than it is. But each episode is the same Sorkin soliloquy, composed with too little regard for characterization and realism.

Each week I just hear Sorkin’s voice, whether it’s channeled through Josh or the president or the waitress in the diner. They all speak with the same contrived, rapid-fire, chock-full-o-wit voice. And Sorkin won’t hesitate to make his characters momentarily stupid or naive (or stranded) so that he can keep talking:

C.J. is the primary spokesperson on White House policy, but she doesn’t quite understand what the census is (!), so Sorkin gets to explain it to her.

It doesn’t occur to Sam that the other party might leak an anti-Bartlet TV spot to the news for continuous free airplay. Sorkin explains.

Even Mark Harmon’s character (C.J.’s bodyguard) — an experienced secret service agent — turns idiot when he walks in on an armed robbery for the season finale.

But the show does have it’s wonderful moments, like last night’s answering machine scene. And White House Council Platt’s pounding of that dictaphone has me looking forward to syndication.

But most of the time, I wish the show were a little bit better, so I could watch it without frustration, or a little bit worse, so I could just turn it off.

RySep 26, 2002 at 5:07PM

Sorkin really attacked the issues of the day, saying:

(1) Washington isn’t connected with the working class and unless it listens to them, it never will be. Four years at Yale doesn’t give you any clue unless you’re taking issues on with your hands.

(2) Terrorism isn’t just some out-of-the-blue tragedy, it has causes, right or not.

(3) That politics shouldn’t be a candidate beating his opponent, but a candidate winning.

(4) Presidents should take responsibility for what they do, not pass the buck to prior adminstrations.

Of course all of this is looking into a TV show, while the country is dealing with all of these issues in reality. I wonder if we shouldn’t instead focus on that, for it seems the art here is but a plagerism of the life.

ScottishSep 26, 2002 at 7:29PM

—M-J wrote—
2. Maybe it’s me, or my ‘nuck sensibilities, but how the show presents black people makes me uncomfortable. Last night, the only black people with speaking roles were Charlie, the prez’s stepandfetchit, the diner owners, who might as well have come out eating watermelons, and the little brother, who did the whole “yo bitch, whatup dawg” routine.
3. Oops. Oh, and Fitzwilliams and the NSA head.
—/quote—

That’s a pretty broad spectrum there. I don’t think they particularly characterized all African Americans a certain way. You’ve got three distinct types all presented here, and you even named them for me. (a) The “ghetto” black, exemplified by the little brother. (b) The “let’s eat some fried chikin’, collard greens, and watermelon” black, portrayed by the diner owners. And (c) The smart, well-educated, articulate, respected black, as seen in Charlie, Fitz, and Nancy (it is Nancy, right?). I don’t see any unfair stereotyping going on. All of these people could easily be real. These types of people exist in America. (Although I was slightly dismayed that Indiana got full-blown hick treatment. I thought that was a little over-the-line, Mr. Sorkin.) But, yeah, these people exist. As a white person, I wouldn’t be offended to see a nerdish, pimple-ridden geek, or a mullet-wearing “trailer trash” character, because THESE PEOPLE EXIST. And I don’t think anyone should have to apologize for protraying life as it really is. (And maybe Indiana is that…rural. I suppose the only place in Indiana I’ve really seen is Indianapolis, the state’s largest and capitol city.)

But enough of that.


General thoughts on the show:
I’ve been a fan for the show’s whole run, and I must say, I’m not a full-blown liberal. What keeps me coming back is the quality of the writing and acting (and directing, when I remember to pay attention to it).

Who care’s if it’s preachy? Since when does anybody take their views—political, moral, or otherwise—from a TV show? Who cares? You don’t agree? So what. Enjoy the writing.

How can a show about THE WHITE HOUSE not address in some way the terrorist attacks? Especially only a couple weeks following. If they were to do it now, it would be a much different story. But the social climate of the country in those few weeks almost demanded it.

I find TWOP’s forums unbearably simplistic and technically…I don’t know…They’re not user friendly. Organization in particular is very poor. Would it be too hard to use a real message board system like vBulletin?

MecuriousSep 26, 2002 at 9:05PM

I’ve been watching West Wing since I stumbled upon the episode with the assasination attempt against Bartlett. I was struck by the perfect casting (Stockard Channing as the First Lady is as good as you can get) and the intelligent writing. I also liked that you DID get somewhat of an inside look at things (like the “special” phone in the hospital emergency room and the way they CLEARED it out when the President was arriving.

As far as last night’s program is concerned, yes it was a one hour episode stretched into two. There were fewer “payoff” moments than I had hoped. The two biggest were the Lily Tomlin interview with the president “I have incredible powers of deductive reasoning” “Does that come with a cape and tights?” “This interview is over” (ROFLMAO) and Charlies putting the disrespectful kid against the wall.

This is one of the only programs (West Wing) I have ever felt like discussing afterwards. I think the show is obviously democratically leaning, but not entirely so. The position it took on the War Crimes Act (forget what it’s called) was definitely Republican (keep out of the pact). Sorkin clearly is not above chastizing the Democrats as he did last night through the mouth of Donna to Josh and Toby. I think he is clearly articulating to Al Gore where he went WRONG in the last election.

I also think that Sorkin does a pretty good job of running story lines PARALLEL to actual events, so it is the issues that get looked at and not actual personalities. It is a very intelligent show that is also able to tweak the emotions in very powerful ways. Wednesday nights make life worth living again!

shannonSep 26, 2002 at 9:52PM

I think two things made the timing and sequencing a little different last night: (1) it was two hours, and this episode seemed to stretch its legs a little bit rather than sprint as the one-hour versions usually do, and (2) all of the Indiana scenes developed at, well, an Indiana-pace rather than the super-fast, super-charged speed-of-light pace that TWW usually adopts.

Yes, TWW is a liberal show with a liberal president, but I have to agree that it often does good job of showing both sides of the issue. The discussion that the President had in the Oval Office about faith-based programs is a good example. The President invoked the separation of church and state, and the woman pointed out that constitutionality or no, the only people in her state that were having any success in keeping kids in school and off drugs were the churches, synagogues and mosques. In fact, I think that one of TWW’s greatest virtues is that in most issue debates it shows the legitimacy of both sides, reminding us all that, in the words of Josh, “intelligent, principled people can disagree on important ideas”. A good lesson, I think.

While I’m at it, I put in my vote for my favorite part of the episode. I watched the show with a friend and classmate — we study international affairs — and we were howling at the scenes where the National Security Advisor and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs were trading insults. Her calling him “Admiral Sissy-pants” and him calling her “Dr. Strangelove”.

Tom WorkingSep 26, 2002 at 10:00PM

I’ve heard good things about West Wing. Haven’t seen a single episode. But oddly enough, I caught the tail end of an episode of “Dharma and Greg” the other night. It annoyed me like there’s no tomorrow.

patrickSep 27, 2002 at 6:43AM

I have never been able to get into TWW. For me, it’s preachy and melodramatic, and I just don’t give a crap about the characters. Strange, too, because I loved Sports Night and thought I would react similarly, but alas, no….

NickSep 27, 2002 at 6:50AM

I think it’s true that Sorkin does make an effort to present both sides of most of the issues raised on the show; in a lot of cases (definitely not all) that effort is hampered by his own bias. But he deserves kudos for the effort. In regard to the style of dialog, (“the same contrived, rapid-fire, chock-full-o-wit voice”) fair enough - I think that’s owed pretty much entirely to Sorkin (remember Sports Night?).

I agree with the earlier comments: the show presents a lot of idealized characters that demonstrate both what we would like our government to be and what we’d like to be ourselves. It reminds me of the reasons I’ve considered running for office so many times, as well of the arguments against it. Episodes like this week’s (and parts of many others) also serve to remind me of the importance of keeping your head down and just doing the best you can with what you’ve got - the nobility of plain folks, as it were. A useful reminder, I think.

“politics shouldn’t be a candidate beating his opponent, but a candidate winning.” - In a similar vein, I’ve wished for a long time that more elections gave me a choice of who to vote for, rather than who to vote against.

“Charlie never went to college.” — Are you sure? I seem to remember an episode in which everyone was giving him advice as to which classes to enroll in.

MariannSep 27, 2002 at 7:17AM

My husband and I watched TWW last night (thanks, Tivo!) and we both felt it was a compelling, touching, and humorous episode. Like many, we found the answering machine moment to be quite funny and Bartlet’s speech after the pipe-bombing to be quite moving. The performances were all wonderful, and I especially enjoyed the interview sequence with Debbie and how much she reminded Bartlet of a younger Mrs Landingham… sharp, witty, and not about to take the President’s nonsense.

We thought there were a few simplistic moments — for example, the father telling Toby all of his frustrations, compared to the discussion with the farmgirl at the beginnig… it’s like Sorkin feels it necessary at times to explain stuff to the audience, instead of letting us figure it out. Overall, though, we were pretty pleased, and we’ve saved the episode for re-watching.

AVERAGE JOESep 27, 2002 at 7:59AM

As a moderate Republican (no, really) I get put off by TWW quite often. I even referred to it as “The Left Wing” most of last season.

Too often, it paints Republicans as ultra-conservative (or the hated opposition out to get Bartlett) which frustrates me, because that’s certainly not who I am. I guess I have to get used to being the “bad guy.” :}

When the show isn’t preachy, it’s probably the best thing on network TV, hands down. It irritates me that such a well-written show with such an amazing cast trips over itself in that way.

Because I really think the strength of the show, its real spirit and verve, is making people feel good about the dedicated people who work so hard in Washington. It’s meant to lift our spirits and believe that things can work… so it’s a shame when Sorkin excludes the right side of the aisle.

To his credit, he claims that he’s toning that all down this year, and the first show seems to be heading that direction. I hope so. If the show can depict honest, respectful debate and collaboration, don’t we all win?

tamimSep 27, 2002 at 8:11AM

nick: “Charlie never went to college.” — Are you sure? I seem to remember an episode in which everyone was giving him advice as to which classes to enroll in.

This bit of TWW trivia is from the episode where Charlie was hired (ep. 3, season 1): “Charlie’s mother was killed in the line of duty five months ago as a Washington, D.C. police officer, and now the young man foregoes college in order to raise his younger sister.”

MecuriousSep 27, 2002 at 8:44AM

If I recall, Charlie has quite a few college credits from advanced classes he took in High School. Bartlett made the point in one episode that he needed Charlie to graduate from law school as quickly as possible. The point isn’t whether Charlie has graduated from college, but whether he is “well-educated”. In Charlie’s own words he’s “got game”.

JonathanSep 27, 2002 at 9:44AM

I have been impressed with TWW too, but am much more enamored by Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Spike is one of the few real tough guys in TV today.

shannonSep 27, 2002 at 9:50AM

In Charlie’s own words he’s “got game”.

Sam comes over to the Oval Office and asks Charlie if Jed’s back yet. He’s not. Sam asks Charlie if he’s decided yet. Charlie says, “Theology 201: Intro to Biblical Literature.” Sam: “Why?” Charlie: “So the President’ll stop bugging me. And English 201: Texts and Context.” Sam asks what happened to Molecular Biology. Charlie says it’s closed out for the summer season. Sam asks how many AP credits Charlie has from high school; Charlie replies, “I have six in English, six in Math and Calculus, three in European History, and three in French.” We don’t have the same system involving AP credits here in Canada, but I gather this is impressive. Sam says, “You’re telling me you’ve never been to college, and after taking two classes this summer, you’re going to be, like, a junior?” Charlie replies, “With a pretty decent GPA.” Sam, somewhat nervously: “Charlie, just how smart are you?” Charlie, honestly but with no arrogance at all: “I’ve got some game.” Ginger appears to summon Sam to a meeting. He excuses himself. .

It’s true that Charlie forwent college to raise his younger sister way back in the first season, but he’s in school now. And since I’m already showing my stripes as a West-Wing-junkie, I’ll mention that this week’s episode told us why he’s in school now — when CJ approaches him about taking on a Little Brother he declines, saying “I just got Deanna [his sister] off to school.”

tamimSep 27, 2002 at 10:16AM

Oh, Charlie has game alright. And then some. I think the revelation that Charlie never went to college came from his job interview with Josh who, looking over his resume and ACT scores, asked why he didn’t go to on to college. Charlie dropped the life interrupted bit on him.

I pointed out his lack of a paper from a college saying he took enough credits to have a degree was not to put him down, but show the contrast between him and the other two prominent black characters in the show. [Also, I can only count 24 credits; not enough to be a Jr. But of course requirements are different at Sorkin U.]

I think Sorkin’s point of having a young man, a young Black man, being responsible, caring (re. his sister), humble and as well grounded (he originally applied for a WH messenger job) as Charlie needed to have the Sorkinesque promising academic career (with temporary roadblocks put up by life). Even the personal page in Sorkin’s White House has higher ACT scores than most high officials in the real WH. Also, it’s the yin to Nobel laureate Bartlet’s yang.

padraiginSep 27, 2002 at 3:06PM

Of course, it was when Charlie was going over his registration documents to resume his college career that he ran across his family medical history disclosure form…and realized that someone would have had to sign one for the president’s daughter when she entered college as a minor, thus taking the whole “hiding the president’s MS” issue to another level.

Aaaaand…no more television for me. Good grief.

Tom WorkingSep 27, 2002 at 4:30PM

So, you all still watch television programs on television? That’s so… 1998.

The last several programs I’ve gotten into, I’ve watched from downloaded mpegs or avis of episodes. Entire past seasons of currently running shows I’ve seen this way.

Michelle Kinsey-ClintonSep 27, 2002 at 8:36PM

I don’t watch West Wing, but find Television Without Pity to be the best site around for after-show forum dissection, plus insanely detailed recaps of episodes of all the shows they follow, which are posted within a week after an episode’s air date.

Sorkin has even posted to their TWW forum (this kausfiles article refers to the site’s previous incarnation, Mighty Big TV; same thing different name). In addition, there was one episode that had a subplot about snarky, obsessive web-forum fans, widely accepted to be based on TWoP’s TWW community and what happened there after Sorkin showed up and started posting.

I know way too much about this for someone who doesn’t watch the show.

MecuriousSep 27, 2002 at 9:07PM

I miss Ainsley <sigh>

MecuriousSep 27, 2002 at 9:14PM

WoW
Check out “The West Wing UNofficial Continuity Guide”It appears that there is a WestWing Web Ring (say that three times fast). Check the bottom of the page.
Oh, and I gotsta get me a West Wing T-shirt (not that I’m obsessed or anything).

Paul WatsonSep 28, 2002 at 8:25AM

Not being American and not being even a little fan of politics, one would think TWW is the last show on earth I would watch.

But if you were to give me the ultimatum of only being allowed to pick one series that I could watch, ever, I would pick TWW. Goodbye Star Trek, goodbye Frasier, bye X-Files, bye Will & Grace, bye… well you get the picture.

Nothing comes close to TWW and even though half the time I am left behind wondering “who the hell is Mr. [insert American political figure name]” I watch and I am in awe.

The acting, the production, the script, the editing put most big budget movies to shame (and I mean that in a very good way.)

“In awe” sums up my feelings of TWW.

Virginia KleinhoffSep 29, 2002 at 10:17AM

I am an American and West Wing, you’ll forgive me, is drivel. As someone noted, it is left-leaning, but it also includes all of the clichés so prevalent among the Left. How can they espouse an ideology that is democratic and still aspire to royalty. And when the presidential palace is not as royal as they might like, they invent one—a perfect world in which everyone, including the underprivileged intern, is bright, witty, and well-dressed.

Face it, if you like the WW, you probably went to a large state university, vote democratic, maybe give a small part of your hard-earned pay check to Green Peace or to the SPLC. And instead of using your well-earned liberal guilt to try to change the world (which is a hopeless but admirable aim), you instead wallow in a fantasy soap opera that reinforces your fantasy view of a white, elite, but achingly thoughtful ruling class as though it were a box of Fanny Mays and you were a guilty middle-aged housewife who needs to take off a few pounds.

And as if that’s not enough, now you want to “chat” about it. Can anyone say narcotizing dysfunction?

MecuriousSep 29, 2002 at 5:41PM

WoW Virginia.
There is always someone who comes along in any discussion and posts flamebait. If you had actually read the posts above you would find that many Republicans admit to enjoying the show. (Personally, I am non-political).
I’m familiar with your sort however. You do not bother with facts. You attempt to find order in your universe by labeling others and fitting them into their own little compartment. That people from many different sorts of backgrounds might enjoy the same thing is apparently too complex for you to fathom. You also not only choose to dislike something (which is certainly your right) but beyond that want to paint anyone with a different view as somehow damaged or lacking. You take some sort of sadistic pleasure in raining on other’s parade. It’s not a stretch to see that you suffer from an abusive personality. In your world you are also the final arbiter of healthy topics of conversation.
You mean I’m enjoying a television show that is not 100% realistic? (SHOCK! HORROR!) Please send me a list of the programs that I am allowed to watch which are 100% free of propaganda, messages or spin.
Again, all I can say is “WoW”. My sympathies to those unfortunate enough to find themselves within your closed-minded controlling little world.

SandySep 30, 2002 at 4:57PM

I am french (!), living near Santa Cruz, CA.
Did it I miss it or nobody even mentionned the great great drama 24 ??
To me this show is TV…

Is it just because I’m french ?? pllleeassseee Nooooo !

;)

S.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.