Archive for August 22nd, 2017

by Adam Ferenz

Few shows have ever shown us the White House-here occupied by Josiah Bartlett, Democrat from New Hampshire-in quite these colors. Many of the technical innovations, such as walking and talking in coridoors, have become almost a cliché, to the point that an episode of Mom, starring West Wing alum Allison Janney, and guest starring co-alum Richard Schiff, made fun of that. The series was by turns powerful, poignant and hilarious, pious and profane, profound, ludicrous and both overreaching and brilliantly daring. This was also the first series, since Homicide, to cast multiple actors at the same time who were known primarily for movie work, thus paving the way for the slate of network television in which people like Tim Roth, Kevin Bacon and Halle Berry would have regular roles on their own shows. It helped in getting shows like Fargo and True Detective their cast, by proving that television was just as good a medium as the movies, for finding meaningful work.

In its earlier days, the series had focused on mangaging the president and doing damage control, through characters like the harried but nearly indomitable-and always very human-Press Secretary C.J. Cregg and loyal, battle scarred White House Chief of Staff, Leo McGary. They were joined by a memorable group of men and women. These included Donna Moss, who was always just this side of capable, because she was typically too damn nice, and her direct supervisor, Josh, the Deputy Chief of Staff, with whom she has an unrequited, and mostly unstated, entanglement. There is also Abby Bartlett, a doctor who is the First Lady and who loses her license after keeping the truth of her hubsand’s Multiple Sclerosis hidden from public knowledge. Toby Ziegler and Charlie Young are the Communications Director and Personal Aide to the President. Through these characters, and others, we come to see the issues facing the administration. Because we care about these people, the series works. That they did not always get along was a pleasant wrinkle that added a layer of reality to the program.

It was through these characters that we got to deal with such stories as the ghost of McCarthyism, through the figure of Toby’s father. We were witness to the racism that is a built in part of the fabric of American society, in the response of white nationalists to Charlie’s romance with Bartlett’s daughter, Zoe, which results in the President being shot when the attempt on Charlie’s life goes wrong. We see the hypocrisy of Josh Lyman, who finds it hard to work with Republicans when their private lives do not match up with his concept of what a conservative should be like. As an audience, we are privy to the discussions of foreign policy, economics and civil and human rights that daily make up a large portion of the work of the staff in the West Wing of the White House. (more…)

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