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The West Wing debunker.
October 18, 2002 11:20 AM   Subscribe

The West Wing debunker. I have grown to hate this show even though I agree with its politics. The show occasionally brings up interesting topics but it is so goddamned sanctimonious. I worry that people think this is how our executive branch works. I hope this isn't a double post.
posted by McBain (46 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Never having watched the show, I can tell you that this website makes NO sense to me.
posted by Fabulon7 at 11:28 AM on October 18, 2002


I too despise the show. I remember watching the pilot; the beginning scene was a montage of the main characters being summoned to meet with a mysterious man named POTUS. Rob Lowe's one-night-stand keeps asking him "who is this POTUS?" "I can't believe you're leaving me for some guy named POTUS. Who is he?" And Lowe, at the door, turns and says, "The President of the United States. My boss." Oooooh. A season later I watched an episode to see if it had gotten better. It hadn't. And what's with every show on TV being "ripped from today's headlines"? Do people actually want to be reminded, by their entertainment, how screwed up things are out there?
posted by risenc at 11:29 AM on October 18, 2002


I dunno if it's a double post, but your link doesn't really support your hate-the-show comments since it's basic recaps and commentary. (Longer, more detailed recaps are available at Television Without Pity.

I love The West Wing.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:38 AM on October 18, 2002


Hollywood produces sanctimonious claptrap? It's hard to believe. I think I caught a half hour of West Wing while I was trapped on the elliptical trainer in the health club. I probably burned an extra hundred calories just out of sheer exasperation at how utterly preachy and unentertaining it was. It was like LA Law with politicians, but at least LA Law dropped their annoying characters down empty elevator shafts occasionally.
posted by MrBaliHai at 11:42 AM on October 18, 2002


And what's with every show on TV being "ripped from today's headlines"?

I always hear this as "ripped off from today's headlines". I.e., they're not so much bragging about how topical they are as admitting that they can't actually write anything.

I do enjoy The West Wing, but one thing that annoys me is that everyone in the White House is exactly equally witty and they all have precisely the same sense of humor and speech patterns. You could take a zinger from one character and give it to another and no one would know the difference.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:43 AM on October 18, 2002


The 3rd season was pretty bad, but the 4th season looks like it might be shaping up. Despite its faults, its still by far the best show on network television, and when Aaron Sorkin actually gets a few hours of free time, he can churn out some pretty good scripts.

And I wouldn't say this site is an example of an anti-WW diatribe. It's clear they are fans of the show, but are nitpicking it in the same way that Star Wars fans tear apart Return of the Jedi.
posted by Hildago at 11:44 AM on October 18, 2002


I think there's plenty to like and dislike about the show. I agree with kirkaracha that your link doesn't seem to support your basic argument or even to be much of a debunker. Not that Aaron Sorkin doesn't get a lot of things wrong. But anybody who's watching "The West Wing" for an detailed and completely accurate portrayal of the White House's inner workings is fooling him or herself.

As for "ripped from the headlines", I typically only hear that with "Law and Order". Should entertainment never attempt to address real issues, however "screwed up" the world is?
posted by UnReality at 11:45 AM on October 18, 2002


I worry that people think this is how our executive branch works.

I don't know what happens behind the closed doors, or many of the open ones, but the current administration is about as sanctimonious as you can get. Good vs Evil my ass.
posted by holycola at 11:47 AM on October 18, 2002


I'd say it's jumped the shark, at least in popularity. The thrill and novelty of the show have worn off; now every episode is one part ethical dilemma mixed with one party "ripped from the headlines" mixed with witty repartee while walking through WH corridors. I'd say the only thing that might rescue the show is having Pres Bartlet lose the election. But that will never happen: Sheen is signed up for four more years and methinks Sorkin don't want to write for Republicans.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:48 AM on October 18, 2002


I dunno if it's a double post, but your link doesn't really support your hate-the-show comments since it's basic recaps and commentary.

I wasn't saying that the link would support my distaste for the show (which is a matter of, you know, taste). But the link does consistently point out errors in the show. Some episodes have more than others. I thought it was an interesting link, but happens to be about a show I don't like.
posted by McBain at 11:50 AM on October 18, 2002


I do enjoy The West Wing, but one thing that annoys me is that everyone in the White House is exactly equally witty and they all have precisely the same sense of humor and speech patterns. You could take a zinger from one character and give it to another and no one would know the difference.

[JOSH and TOBY are walking down a HALLWAY. TOBY looks CRANKY. JOSH is wearing a SMUG GRIN]

Josh: Do you have the thing?
Toby: This is the worst bagel I've ever eaten
Josh: That's a donut. Do you have the thing?
Toby: What thing?
Josh: THE thing.
Toby: That thing?
Josh: No, the other thing.
Toby: Bachelors from Harvard, Graduate work at Yale, Fulbright scholarship, 20 years in politics, Mensa IQ, and in my own office can't get a decent bagel to save my life!
Josh: You're killing me! DO you have the thing?!
Toby: I have the thing.

[JOSH stops in his tracks. A BROAD, IDEALISTIC SMILE covers his face.]

Josh: He has the thing.

[CRASH CUT to INSPIRATIONAL OPENING MUSIC, FLAG WAVES]
posted by Hildago at 11:55 AM on October 18, 2002


"You could take a zinger from one character and give it to another and no one would know the difference."
Well said! I was watching it recently (as I am wont to do in a not a fan, not a hater way) and thought it was just a case that all the characters had equal verbal diarrhea (is Sorkin paid by the word?!?). But the interchangeability is what really irks about this otherwise decent bit o' T(ele)V(evangelism).
posted by chandy72 at 12:00 PM on October 18, 2002


Besides I think things like:

Would a president—even one as über-cool as Bartlet—really walk into a campaign rally and just wing it, without a prepared speech? And by the way, while they were debating what the president should say about a bombing that had occurred the previous night, could they have spared five minutes to consider canceling the event, instead of using it to brazenly capitalize on a tragedy for political purposes?

And...

If, as Toby asserts, the state of Indiana is not even in play for Bartlet six weeks before the election, what is he doing campaigning there? Our handy Almanac of American Politics, the bible of electoral info, notes that Indiana hasn't gone Democratic since 1964.

Are debunking type observations. If the show depicts the President doing things Presidents would never do, and the site points them out, what exactly do you want from me?
posted by McBain at 12:04 PM on October 18, 2002


I admit that I like West Wing. I would never, however, assume that it is an accurate descripton of what goes on behind closed doors at the White House. And while the Bartlett group is preachy and sanctionious, I will take that over evasive and parochial, anyday.
posted by Verdant at 12:04 PM on October 18, 2002


I'd say the only thing that might rescue the show is having Pres Bartlet lose the election.

Anybody want to bet that when the election finally happens, viewers will be subjected to "sanctimonious claptrap" regarding Sorkin's views on Bush v. Gore?

I don't regularly watch the show.....is Martin Sheen's re-election coming up soon? Will the producers be able to preach about this issue before the real election?
posted by Durwood at 12:05 PM on October 18, 2002


That writing style is about the only thing I like about it. Plenty of interesting screen writers do the same thing (to name a couple random ones: David Mamet, Hal Hartley).

Aaron Sorkin's writing worked much better on Sports Night, tho, I think.
posted by malphigian at 12:06 PM on October 18, 2002


Yeah, you're all right, but I love it anyway.
posted by callmejay at 12:09 PM on October 18, 2002


Ah, just cancel the bugger and bring back Sports Night.
posted by bemmett at 12:16 PM on October 18, 2002


Yeah, you're all right, but I love it anyway.

Agreed. I'll pretty much watch anything Sorkin writes. A Few Good Men sits on my video shelf to this day, reviewed at least once a month during a down-time in real TV.

I worry that people think this is how our executive branch works.

It's appropriate escapism. I can't stand thinking about the idiots that are currently manning the real west wing, so I'll turn to this little fantasy to ease my mind.
posted by thanotopsis at 12:20 PM on October 18, 2002


Anybody want to bet that when the election finally happens, viewers will be subjected to "sanctimonious claptrap" regarding Sorkin's views on Bush v. Gore?

Oh man, you're way too late. The Republican candidate for president (Ritchie) is so obviously George W. that there's no point in even denying it. Bartlett is seen as too intellectual, and is concerned about losing the electoral votes in his home state. They just had a thing about a politically incorrect attorney general. Now they're talking about televised debates, and they make a point of discussing "lowered expectations" concerning Ritchie's debating prowess.

It's very clear that Sorkin is setting up an alternate-universe run of the 2000 election. In a way I like this, because I'd love to see Bartlett ream Bush in a debate, but it smells a little of pandering.
posted by Hildago at 12:22 PM on October 18, 2002


I'll keep watching it, if only for the pace. I'd rather be preached at quickly than dragged along by mindless drivel.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:24 PM on October 18, 2002


And who would have imagined that James Brolin could get Dubya's facial expressions down so exactly? He's smoother and more soft-spoken, though. And in his one long speech in the season finale, he managed to track his way through a long sentence with many clauses without going into grammatical meltdown and forgetting where he was halfway through it. Of course, any Sorkin character has to be able to do that or he won't be able to write dialogue for him.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:31 PM on October 18, 2002


I don't think I've watched more than a dozen WW episodes, but I was pretty unimpressed. Most characters _are_ pretty smug and humorless -- and that is probably a plus, that's realism -- but the behind-the-scene politics angle didn't work for me (a far from perfect satire like Bob Roberts and even the sometimes very lame Wag the Dog were more effective for me)
Sorkin, who certainly is kind of a political junkie (pun unintended but it's there sorry) is by Hollywood standards a cross between Harry Hopkins and Sam Rosenman.
But by Washington standards he can be totally naive ("The American President", anyone?)

WW can be OK in a liberal-wet-dream kind of way but Sheen's personal politics make him a totally unbelievable president (Frank Zappa, when alive, had much better chances than old, great Martin -- all of us Apocalypse Now fans will always love him no matter what)

A good Tv show about presidential elections? I'll take Tanner 88
A good movie about Washington? Preminger's Advice and Consent
posted by matteo at 12:39 PM on October 18, 2002


Plus, I don't think anyone actually ever says "POTUS." I live and work on Capitol Hill, and I've never heard it. I've seen it in print, like, once. I think it's something outsiders say to try to sound like insiders.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:53 PM on October 18, 2002


Oh yeah, I miss Sports Night, too. I hated the WW episode after the terrorist attacks. Preachy and talky and self-indulgent. But it's still better dialogue than on most teevee, so unless Trading Spaces is on at the same time, I'll be there.
posted by theora55 at 1:02 PM on October 18, 2002


I love The West Wing. I'm firmly convinced that its the best thing on television. And, yes, if you're looking for an exact rendition of what goes on in the White House on a day to day basis, I'd suggest you look elsewhere. The thing a lot of you seem to be forgetting is that its fiction.

So, yeah, its sometimes not very realistic. Duh.
posted by bshort at 1:16 PM on October 18, 2002


MoonPie, I was a White House intern and I live in DC now, let me assure, that at least in the Clinton White House people said "POTUS"
posted by pjgulliver at 1:17 PM on October 18, 2002


while they were debating what the president should say about a bombing that had occurred the previous night, could they have spared five minutes to consider canceling the event, instead of using it to brazenly capitalize on a tragedy for political purposes?


that a politician would use an event to capitalize on a tragedy sounds spot on.
posted by tolkhan at 1:18 PM on October 18, 2002


MoonPie, I was a White House intern and I live in DC now, let me assure, that at least in the Clinton White House people said "POTUS"

pjgulliver....are you Monica?
posted by Durwood at 1:21 PM on October 18, 2002


they all have precisely the same sense of humor and speech patterns

Yeah.

(I mean, "Yeah." They all say "yeah" with the same inflection, and if you took a drink every time they did it, you'd be hammered halfway through the show.)

I can't stand thinking about the idiots that are currently manning the real west wing, so I'll turn to this little fantasy to ease my mind.

I'll freely admit this is a big part of why I love the show, but I also think the cast is excellent, the writing is good, and they don't spell everything out for you.

p.s. I like sports and I like Sorkin's writing, but I never got into SportsNight. I contain multitudes.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:22 PM on October 18, 2002


its sometimes not very realistic. Duh.

Of course entertainment has a license to be totally unrealistic (nuclear scientists played by 19-year old supermodels, Michelle Pfeiffer as lonely greasy spoon waitress or as inner city high school teacher, senior citizens Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson kicking everybody's ass)

But what is OK for action movies, 007 extravaganzas and other crappy entertainment is not _that_ OK for the product of Aaron "I'll tell you how Washington works" Sorkin (check out his interviews if you don't believe me)

The post 9-11 embarrassing show is direct proof of this: Sorkin is free to take himself and his TV show very seriously, but then he has the obligation to do his homework.
duh.
posted by matteo at 1:29 PM on October 18, 2002


pjgulliver....are you Monica?

Numnuts, pjgulliver is a guy. He supplied the cigars. DUH.
posted by Plunge at 1:45 PM on October 18, 2002


I'm on the fence about WW. I find it repulsively preachy and high-handed at its worst moments, and mildly entertaining at its best. (During the season opener, my husband and I spent many moments looking at each other and blinking during the whole "Toby and Josh fling stones at a drainage pipe and wax philosophical" bit. It was a major "where's the payoff?" moment.) I wonder what would have to happen in Hollywood to allow a weekly one hour commercial for the GOP to make it to air in the guise of a fictional program. I reckon below zero temperatures in hell.

Plus, I don't think anyone actually ever says "POTUS."

I noticed that they snuck a POTUS into the movie "The Contender." As the press secretary briefs the media before Jeff Bridges introduces Joan Allen as his choice for VP, he says "In about twenty seconds, POTUS will come out..." So it's not just used, it's used as a flat name, without the signifiying "the." Frightening. I wonder if there are people who refer to Tony Blair as simply "PM?"
posted by Dreama at 1:59 PM on October 18, 2002


I noticed that they snuck a POTUS into the movie "The Contender."

.....speaking of "sanctimonious claptrap"
posted by Durwood at 2:05 PM on October 18, 2002


I wonder what would have to happen in Hollywood to allow a weekly one hour commercial for the GOP to make it to air in the guise of a fictional program.

This is what cop shows are for.
posted by hilker at 2:25 PM on October 18, 2002


I watch West Wing from time to time and the only thing I love about it is the rapid-fire dialogue. I don't care whether or not it's realistic. I like it.

I also like to look at Martin Sheen as the President and remember him as a psycho terrorizing Jodie Foster in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976). He kills her hamster in one scene. Classic.
posted by swerve at 2:45 PM on October 18, 2002


Hildago: Being a fan on the West Wing, I would still say the best show on TV is Monk on USA! The West Wing is entertaining, but it doesn't take a stretch to see where it is going, or what is happening.
posted by npost at 2:52 PM on October 18, 2002


For those of us who fell in love with West Wing after ABC pulled the best show on their network written by the same man, the time has finally come to fully enjoy the series that put Sorkin's name on the map. On November 5th the entire Sports Night series comes out as a 6 disc dvd set.
posted by rrtek at 3:01 PM on October 18, 2002


I wonder what would have to happen in Hollywood to allow a weekly one hour commercial for the GOP to make it to air in the guise of a fictional program. I reckon below zero temperatures in hell.

They actually managed to get it on the air, Dreama.

As a reality show.

For eight years.

1981 - 1989

Nowadays, we get reruns
posted by matteo at 3:12 PM on October 18, 2002


Thanks for the tip, rrtek. Just ordered my copy... What a great show.
posted by UKnowForKids at 3:34 PM on October 18, 2002


Well, I agree that the WW is starting to get irritating, but I'll watch it forever if only for the character of C.J. (press secretary.) There just aren't that many brutally funny, strong, high powered, smart female characters that are flaunted as good-looking WOMEN (as opposed to pretty young Barbies) on TV. There are some, but not many.
posted by synapse at 3:43 PM on October 18, 2002


CSI's Marg Helgenberger?
posted by matteo at 3:49 PM on October 18, 2002


Wow, a lot of comments. First of all, "Ripped from the Headlines" is the tagline NBC uses to promote its NEXT show, "Law And Order," which is why "West Wing" viewers hear the phrase all the time. I have never seen it used as a teaser for "West Wing" itself, even when they *could* have. (With ratings down, this may change.)

Secondly, it's not surprising that Americans would have a tough time maintaining top-rated interest in a sexed-up civics show, no matter how well written and acted (and it's pretty superb in both departments). After seven years of Bill Clinton, a different White House was a welcome novelty, not to mention that Americans love to know how stuff works. Now the "new guy" is the one in the actual Oval Office, and Sorkin's ensemble is sort of hanging on like a party guest on your couch in the morning.

Also, every time "West Wing" notches one of its soaring political epiphanies and deftly reminds us how a "REAL" President and a staff of "REAL" caring, clever, patriotic political pros would handle some crisis or moral question, it saws another kerf out of the branch it's sitting on. Americans fundamentally do not want to be reminded of how badly they screwed up, except through slapstick comedy (see Will Farrell).

That's why they have to disconnect (and seem to be trying to disconnect) from the "real White House" and the real issues of the day, and get the audience to focus on the soap opera. They can still get misty-eyed about How A Bill Becomes Law and all that, but they can't invite a direct comparison to a sitting President and keep their viewers.
posted by anser at 3:51 PM on October 18, 2002


matteo - actually, Helgenberger was who I was thinking of when I amended my post to say "some, but not many"!
posted by synapse at 4:08 PM on October 18, 2002


I also like to look at Martin Sheen as the President and remember him as a psycho

This also works if you remember him as the psycho president in The Dead Zone:

The missiles are flying...hallelujah...hallelujah!
posted by kirkaracha at 4:30 PM on October 18, 2002


They actually managed to get it on the air, Dreama.

As a reality show.

For eight years.

1981 - 1989


Ah....the good ol' days!
posted by Durwood at 6:37 AM on October 19, 2002


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