Saturday, January 4, 2014

The West Wing: My Reason for Watching

I’ve nearly finished the fifth season of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. The show revolves around the lives of the West Wing staffers and of Sorkin’s television resume (Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Newsroom), this is his most popular. As to it being the best is up for debate. I’ve heard strong arguments both for and against the series – my major criticism is its over-infatuation with democracy/The White House itself. While the series supposedly lowered in quality in the fifth season, I believe it has held its own though it may not be at the same place it was earlier in the series. Being a network show, there are twenty-two-ish forty-two minute long episodes in each season. So, to state the obvious, they are long seasons.

What keeps me watching, and I would contend makes it one of Sorkin’s best, are the characters. This is somewhat of a clichéd remark to make about a television show as good characters are typically what make an ensemble-cast show good in almost any case. That said, The West Wing is more often noted for its quick-witted writing style, ability to deal with modern political issues in an enlightening manner, or film in this talking-while-walking way that’s so cool and simultaneously so smarmy. While Martin Sheen’s performance of President Bartlett or Rob Lowe’s ability to play a young, speech-writer might be grouped in there, they typically aren’t in the first breath.

While I enjoy the political debates and long discourses, I find the interaction of the characters’ lives in the political arena to be the most fascinating aspect of the show and I believe the show has created some great characters to do so. Though I have not yet finished the series, I would like to now, perhaps prematurely, list my five favorite characters from The West Wing.
5. Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe)
Sam is an idealist without being disconnected from life. Rob brings a sharp-edge to the character and, perhaps bolstered by his Parks & Rec role, humor as well.
4. Charlie Young (Dule Hill)
What’s not to love about Charlie? He’s on top of it. He’s a hard worker. He comes from a troubled past but has successfully built a strong life. He knows when (and when not) to speak. And his romance with Elisabeth! Why won’t it happen?!
3, 2. Donna Moss, Josh Lyman (Janel Maloney, Bradley Whitford)
I haven’t gotten there yet but I assume these two eventually get together, right? They have to. Donna is incredibly thoughtful, motivated by emotion, and intelligent enough to not let those attributes be weaknesses. Josh is brash and daring, typically in order to better the administration. They’re great individually though when they operate together, they balance each other out like any modern television couple should.
1. C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney)
An episode without much C.J. is a sad day (and it being an ensemble show, it happens). C.J. lights up the screen. She’s quick, funny, and extremely caring. She’s able to be firm without being stand-off-ish. She fights for what she believes in. And her lip-syncing The Jackal!!!

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