Monday, 15 March 2010

The West Wing: Season One

It's occurred to me that I've hardly ever mentioned The West Wing on this blog. It is, after all, the Best Television Ever (along with something else). So how about a run through of every season? Yes. This'll be fun.

You can see the energy of the show from the first few minutes. Leo walks into the West Wing, the music starts up, and he roams around the offices talking to about three people at once. All done with with perfect timing and long Steadicam tracking shots. How do you speed up a show which is full of expository dialogue? Speed up the talking and have them walking around. And of course the dialogue has to be good. Aaron Sorkin (who wrote about 90% of the first four seasons) churns out the most witty, fast-paced, resonant dialogue you'll ever hear. It's difficult to get out of your head. The way phrases are repeated for rhythm and emphasis has heavily affected my own writing. Here characters run along corridors dropping conversations and picking up another without blinking. There's so much stuff in it that you won't ever get your head around it all. In the case of the pilot episode, it all builds up to the entrance of President Bartlet (who wasn't originally intended to be a main character). He strolls in, kicks some right-wing fanatics out of his building, then gives a nice speech to his staff.

The first season shows the characters as an ensemble. There're having a lot more fun than in the later seasons. Sorkin puts in games of poker, trips to bars, CJ singing The Jackal. It's a shame all this stuff got drowned out by the politics. There are whole episodes just devoted to comedy. The first Big Block of Cheese Day is a highlight, along with Celestial Navigation. You wouldn't get CJ speaking with cotton wool in her mouth in season 7. And, of course, Josh's press conference leads to this:

Much of the season shows the growing weariness of the staff as they realise they're stuck in political mud. Struggling to get anything done, they eventually decide to do nothing. Until, in 'Let Bartlet Be Bartlet', Leo produces one of his character's defining moments:
"We're gonna lose some of these battles. And we might even lose the White House. But we're not going to be threatened by issues: we're going to put 'em front and center. We're gonna raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy."
The staff agree with him. They're a family, and we see these relationships for the first time over these episodes. Leo and Josh are father and son. Toby and Sam bickering brothers. Bartlet and Leo some sort of presidential parents. CJ the sister. Mrs Landingham the grandmother. Charlie still the newcomer. Donna should maybe be left out of this analogy, because that would be weird. This just leaves the only irritation of season one to mention - Mandy. Originally intended to be Josh's love interest, but quickly usurped by Donna, she just lurks around the place moithering everybody with her annoying voice. She has no reason for existing, no proper storylines, no impact on the characters. No wonder Sorkin sent her into the Mandyville void. Which is, as much as I dislike Mandy, my only criticism with Sorkin's writing. He is quoted as saying that he doesn't 'properly' plan the seasons, he just goes along with it. Essentially just making things up as he goes along. This obviously produced brilliant results, but some things get sent to Mandyville without explanation. Sam and Mallory's relationship. Lionel Tribby (Cricket Bat Man). Eventually Sam himself. All sorely missed. Apart from Mandy.

And with 'What Kind of Day Has It Been', Sorkin shows his liking for season finales that involve guns. Spend twenty hours creating these lovely characters and then shoot at them. That's the way to do it.

1 comment:

  1. ::applause:::
    Yay! I just posted up clips on mine, but you did really well summing up the first season. I just got done re-watching it, literally, last night. I bought the complete series on DVD. It's the best thing I've ever done. It is strange going straight into Season 2 without mention of Mandy. I'm also sad nothing ever came of Danny and CJ - I wanted that to go places. I love Danny's character. The goldfish? Classic. I think in 2001 when the whole World Trade Center thing came about is when West Wing became more about politics and being a podium for more serious topics. (Less heartwarming comedy like the bar scene with Zoey in the beginning) I watch the clips from "Two Cathedrals" and it moves me everytime. God, I love this show! Awesome, awesome, awesome post, Chris. You officially rock the blog world today. Well done.