I've decided to do something new: re-watch The West Wing in its entirety and blog about the episodes as I finish them. I thought this would be something fun and different -- a bit of change from talking about books exclusively (though books will always be my main love and blog focus). The West Wing is one of my favorite shows and will definitely make for interesting discussion. We'll see. Each episode has so much material worth talking about, so let's dive in!
But . . . wait. I think it's time for a bit of prefatory matters. For those not in the know, The West Wing is about fictitious president Josiah "Jed" Bartlett (as played by Martin Sheen), his senior staff, and the everyday happenings in the White House -- from worldwide crises to dealing with Congress. If it's possible for a political dramedy to cover it, The West Wing covers it. Elections, government shut downs, refugees, terrorism, political assassination -- it all (and then even more) is covered over the span of the show's seven seasons, which cover Jed Bartett's second year in office to his last day in office. The viewer comes to truly know and love the cast, which isn't shocking -- the cast is absolutely perfect (Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe, and Stockard Channing are only a few of the cast members) and whoever cast them in their respective roles should forever be proud.
I've seen the pilot of The West Wing more than any other episode, but that still isn't much compared to some aficionados of the show I know -- this viewing was only the fifth time. I know some folks who have seen it upwards of ten times, and I'll probably get there one day. Despite this being the fifth time I've seen this episode, I wasn't for the briefest moment bored or anything less than completely involved in the plots -- the Cuban refugee crisis (echoes of today's headlines, much?), White House Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn -- as played by Rob Lowe -- accidentally sleeping with a hooker, and White House Deputy Chief of StaffJoshua Lyman -- as played by Bradley Whitford--possible getting fired due to snapping off at the host of a Christian TV show while live on the air. Riveting stuff.
The first group scene -- discussion of the refugee crisis -- is a good indication of what's to come from the rest of the series: a definite drama but with a good helping of comedy thrown in for good measure. The dialogue is smart, snappy, and witty -- a pure joy to listen to again and again. Part of the value of re-watching this show is the fact that information is conveyed so quickly that it is, frankly, impossible to catch it all in only one viewing. Multiple viewings are necessary to get all that is possible to get out of The West Wing. There is always something new to uncover when watching this show.
In an episode filled with great scenes and lines, one of my favorites is when Josh and Sam have just finished meeting with Leo McGarry (Chief of Staff, played by John Spencer) and are standing in a crowded White House corridor. It's clear to see from the energy behind them that the White House is always busy, always moving, with so many parts (i.e. people) that keep it going. It's a hectic place. Sam turns to Josh and says 'Is that the suit you wore yesterday?" After a moment's hesitation, Josh says "Yeah, you?" Sam nods and says yes, and the two go off to do their jobs. It's a testament to show-writer Aaron Sorkin's brilliance -- he's able to convey the business and grandiosity of working in the White House while making sure the people who actually work in it are down-to-Earth and relatable to the viewing audience. It's a small scene and, admittedly, fades to the background of the viewer's mind once President Bartlett is given his entrance, but I like it just the same.
And . . . that brings us to President Bartlett's introduction, which is quite brilliant and oh so memorable. Three representatives of the religious right are having a discussion with Josh, White House Chief of Communications Toby Ziegler -- as played by Richard Schiff -- and White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg -- as played by Allison Janney. The discussion is about Josh's rude comment ("Your God is too busy being indicted for tax fraud!") on the Mary Marsh show, and Mary is one of the three in the meeting. An argument ensues and in enters President Bartlett, immediately stealing the scene and commanding respect. I won't go into too much detail here because I would hate to spoil it for those who have never watched this show (or episode) before . . . but let it be known that it's just . . . wonderful.
That's really it for the pilot of The West Wing. It's, arguably, the finest pilot of any show because it hits all the right notes and gets the series off to a running start in a way no other TV pilot I've seen before does. There are no mistakes here. Everything just works. It lets the viewer immediately witness the magic this show is more than capable of and just beckons one to go on to episode two, then three, and so on . . .
However, there are a couple of things about this episode that I don't really love I must point out. These things are not necessarily detrimental to the episode as a whole, but they are little things I feel must be (let's be real-- nitpicked) mentioned.
First off: Sam's line "These things look exactly alike" is a way-too-obvious foreshadowing of the swapping pagers plot-line. It's just not needed.
Why would the religious right get the commandments wrong? Who thinks "Honor thy mother and father" is the first commandment? Seriously?! Whatever. It makes for President Bartlett's excellent introductory line (which I'm NOT SPOILING - no matter how much you beg, gentle readers!!!), so it's fine. I guess.
. . . and, that's it. Really. This episode is excellent in every way, and is an absolutely outstanding introduction to one of the finest series to ever hit television. Now it's time for episode two . . .