Monday, November 26, 2007
The West Wing
On Sunday evening, I watched the 154th episode of The West Wing, the finale to the best television series I have ever watched.
Aaron Sorkin, its creator and primary writer for the first four seasons, creates scripts that are intelligent, inventive, challenging and entertaining. The dialogue is sharp, informed and involving, moving you through issues that impact millions of people as it chronicles fictional, but believable days in the life of the White House administration.
The actors are perfectly cast, and they are obviously enjoying living out their characters. And the interaction between them is so dynamic that I often found myself replaying sequences of dialogue in a similar way to which I might re-read a particularly complex, or enjoyable, section of a novel.
Martin Sheen plays the charismatic polymathic Democrat, President Josiah Bartlet (think of a hybrid of John Kennedy and Bill Clinton). Stockard Channing (remember Betty Rizzo in Grease?) plays his equally brilliant, sparky and headstrong doctor wife.
Equality between males and females is assumed. Sexuality is acknowledged but not exploited. Individual's strengths are recognised and rewarded, and weaknesses acknowledged but kept in perspective and rarely despised.
In a single episode you can find yourself laughing out loud, marvelling at the complexity of the American political system, wrestling with a massive military dilemma before bursting into floods of tears at a random act of kindness.
As Sorkin moves away from the writing, the mood of the series does change, with a harder and more negative edge becoming evident. But this never degenerates into 'soap-opera', there is always plenty of respect for honourable behaviour and examples of careful handling of 'real-world' dichotomies and decisions.
If you're thinking of a 'watching project' for next year, why not treat yourself to Series 1 on DVD (available from amazon.co.uk for under £18.00 including delivery). Or if you're feeling rich, the complete DVD box set for £121. That's 154 episodes (112 hours of viewing), on over 44 discs. That's less than a £1 per episode. And you get a bucketful of other stuff thrown in, if you're interested in 'extras'.
If you rationed yourself to 3 episodes a week beginning 1 January that would keep you going through 2008 - although my guess is that you'll have watched the last episode before June is out!