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The West Wing


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Could there ever be a television show that changed your life? Well, no, I wouldn't go that far, but I will say The West Wing which ran for seven seasons from September 1999 to May 2006 came pretty close to changing mine.

The show chronicles the two-term tenure of the fictitious, democratic President of the United States (POTUS), Josiah 'Jed' Bartlett, and his trusty, plucky, idealistic White House Staff.

Jed Bartlett played by the great Martin Sheen is a Nobel Prize winning, bible quoting, world-class economist and the epitome of what a POTUS ought to be. Every time he opens his mouth he says something witty, smart and tear jerking. He is the heart and soul of the series in which there are an almost astonishing number of widely beloved characters ranging from the statuesque Allison Janney as CJ Cregg, the wise-cracking White House Press Secretary (and also my personal favourite); Rob Lowe as the young, handsome, brilliant, and kind-hearted Sam Seaborne the Deputy Communications Director and former hotshot lawyer with a brilliant political future of his own; Richard Schiff as the grumpy, bear-like, but also brilliant Toby Ziegler Sam Seaborn's boss; Bradley Whitford as the wise-ass, arrogant, and sharp as a knife Josh Lyman the Deputy Chief of Staff to the late, great John Spencer's loveable Leo McGarry, the Chief of Staff and the man who persuaded Jed Bartlett, formerly a retired New Hampshire Senator to run for President.

There are a large number of other unforgettable characters in this series, but I'll leave those for you to discover on your own.

The West Wing was groundbreaking in so many ways that it is hard to summarise everything here. For instance: it was the first show to introduce and perfect the 'Walk and Talk'. Using a perfectly re-created White House set, the characters often introduce complex problems, and then proceed to argue and quip their way through a long tracking master shot during which they turn corners, duck through other White House Staffers and occasionally get involved in numerous other peripheral conversations while never breaking their stride and always with a plethora of clever jokes littering their conversation.

For those who may think the show is just about glib, clever people, I would like to say it is quite the opposite. Sometimes endearingly nave, but always unfailingly honest, and idealistic, the characters in The West Wing tackle all the important issues in the world from terrorism to sexism, abortion, racism, and of course the slightly more mundane passing of the budget.

Is it silly to say that I learned more about the workings of the United States government from this show than I could ever have imagined? Always lauded for its complex storylines and accurate jargon, the plot lines and excellent dialogue in the series are the inventions of the great Aaron Sorkin who has the uncanny ability to make even the birth of Facebook seem riveting.

An example of one of my favourite exchanges in the show occurs during a negotiation between a Russian diplomat and Sam Seaborn:

Nikolai Ivanovich (Russian negotiator): Why must every American president bound out of an automobile like as at a yacht club while in comparison our leader looks like ... I don't even know what word is.

Sam Seaborn: Frumpy?

Nikolai Ivanovich: I don't know what 'frumpy' is but onomatopoetically sounds right.

Sam Seaborn: It's hard not to like a guy who doesn't know frumpy but knows onomatopoeia.

If you want to learn more fascinating things like the above (who knew 'onomatopoeia' became 'onomatopoetic'?) buy a copy of the complete West Wing. You'll be hooked and more than a hundred TV hours later, you'll find yourself somehow smarter.

On a side note, you'll probably also find yourself weeping at some point in time, either during or after the series, that Jed Bartlett is fictional, and can therefore never really run for President someday which is particularly poignant in these days of Romney and Ryan.

All DVDs reviewed in this column are available at:
Music and Expression
Thamel
Phone # 014700092

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LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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