Subscribe RSS
“I am the Lord your God. Thou shalt worship no other god before me.” Aug 07

At the weekend, I finished watching the first series of The West Wing. It’s a series that hits the ground running, but even so you can see it evolving. The top-billed characters of Sam and Mandy begin to fade early on: although Rob Lowe is the notional star, he quickly becomes an equal part of the ensemble, while the annoying Moira Kelly is sidelined with little to do and disappears entirely after this season. The charismatic President Bartlet, meanwhile, brought marvellously to life by Martin Sheen, takes centre stage from the moment he silences a roomful of arguing people by proclaiming the First Commandment.

It’s my impression – although until I’ve made my way through the next few box sets I won’t be able to confirm it – that the writing is a little rawer to begin with. Issues – and particularly moral ones – are dealt with less subtly than in future scripts and very occasionally a character gives a slightly unrealistic speech (of the sort to which characters in Babylon 5 were regularly prone). The humour is there throughout though, proving not only that you don’t have to be a comedy or a “comedy drama” to be funny; indeed, good drama needs humour. The whole season stands up well seven years on and it’s immediately clear why it was such a hit.

I’ve mentioned before the crossover of actors between 24, Lost and The West Wing, so my Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Kiefer Sutherland brain was on the look out for more. The most notable in this season is Reiko Aylesworth – Michelle Desslar in 24 – who pops up in the penultimate episode playing a fellow student of “Sam’s friend”. Also making an appearance – in “He Shall, From Time To Time…” – is Harry Groener as the Secretary of Agriculture. He later appears in Inauguration Day Part 2, in which he turns into a giant snake and eats everyone. (“I’m suffering from relapsing-remitting gargantuan snakeitis.”)

One other actorly observation: in “20 Hours in L.A.”, Donna spots Matthew Perry at a party; apparently in season 4 she is too polite to mention to Joe Quincy that he’s the spitting image of the Friends actor.

Best episodes: “Six Meetings Before Lunch” (if only for CJ doing “The Jackal”), the recently much-cited “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet”, and the excellent finale, “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” (which, in retrospect rather ominously, features a problem with the Space Shuttle Columbia).

Oh, and to my chagrin, I am Sam Seaborn.

2 Responses

  1. 1

    Hi Will. I’m also a huge fan of The West Wing. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about the first series. I was sad to see the whole series end but it’s great to be able to watch it all again! And I agree with your comment on the humour in the show. Good drama does need humour and indeed is probably one reason why it was so incredibly successful.

  2. “Celestial Navigation” – brilliantly witty (Josh doing the briefing…). We watched it on Channel4 from the first episode and instantly fell in love despite it conforming to every liberal TV stereotype. Lovely stuff…