Friday, February 15, 2013

A Tribute to Great Television: The West Wing (1999-2006)

Four years after Aaron Sorkin brought audiences into the Oval Office in the film The American President, he created a television series that followed the President's communication team with the television series, The West Wing.  Over the years the show evolved, and became one of the greatest ensembles of all time.

In the beginning the show centered on Sam Seaborn played by the ever talented Rob Lowe.  Sam was the Deputy White House Communications Director, and we saw how he interacted with fellow communications staffers, and a little bit more about his love life; he dated a call girl, and a classy one at that in season one, House's Lisa Edelstein.  Throughout the the first season the show began to evolve, and as Sorkin realized the power of his ensemble, and Commander in Chief, the direction of The West Wing changed ever so slightly.

How could Sorkin centralize this show on Sam when you had Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlett?  I love Rob Lowe, and he was great in the show, but this ensemble led by Sheen is one of the best.  Eventually Rob Lowe left because of the lack of screen time, and this was a central reason, which created a dispute between he and Sorkin, but beyond this little moment the show kept its central and original cast mainly intact.   Moria Kelly was another original cast member, who played Mandy Hampton.  Unlike Lowe's Sam who was missed Mandy seemed to have a strong purpose in the beginning but as the first season wrapped; she seemed to lose purpose, and even her chemistry with Sam was not enough.

Beyond the rotating cast, the show's central players were some of the best in television history.  Press Secretary and eventual Chief of Staff Claudia Jean (C.J.) Cregg was always my favorite character.  Allison Janney is one of the most brilliant actors; she has this natural talent which blends humor and drama effortlessly.  John Spencer's Leo McGarry was always a close second for me.  Leo was the ever doting Chief of Staff to the President throughout most of the show, but in the last two seasons ran for Vice President with Jimmy Smitts character Matthew Santos.  There was always humility with Spencer's portrayal of Leo; he was a man who struggled with alcoholism, but was the resident support system for everyone.

Talking about this show without mentioning Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), Donna Moss (Janel Maloney), Charlie Young (Dule Hill), Abigail Bartlett (Stockard Channing),  Kathryn Joosten (Mrs. Landingham), and the many recurring characters Amy Gardener (Mary Louise Parker), Danny Concannon (Timothy Bussfield), Zooey Bartlett (Elisabeth Moss), Senator Arnold Vick (Alan Alda), Annabeth Schott (Kristin Chenowith), and I could go on and on.  This show created some of the most amazing characters, moments, speeches, and of course the famous walk and talks.

There is obviously one character missing from my line-up above, and that's because like with most the Commander in Chief is in a category of their own.  Martin Sheen does an amazing job portraying President Jed Bartlett, and the fact that he never won an Emmy for this role is a crime.  Sheen represents what many would call the a "New England elite" but his Jed Bartlett is one of the most grounded educated religious men to sit within the Oval Office, I swear I realize he was not real.  Watching him curse God in church after Mrs. Landingham has died, or putting a reporter in her place when she has not stood when he enters the room.  Yet there were moments when you were able to see the President struggle through the hard times, like during an assassination attempt, covering up his M.S., his daughter being kidnapped, and of course re-election.

The show covered many different topics, and I always wonder how, and if Sorkin would have to adapt the show with the birth of more social media, but The West Wing is a classic.  The show sits within a pantheon tied for the most Emmy wins in the Best Drama category with Mad Men, L.A. Law, and Hill Street Blues.  If you have not see all seven seasons of this show, or stopped towards the end, go back and re-visit the White House, and become inspired by the great writing, and incredible political revelations.  Heck go back, or watch because you want to root for Donna and Josh.  This show inspires me to be my best self, and that is poetic within the television world.  The clip below is my favorite from the series.

No comments: