What did you think of West Wing
October 4, 2001 6:08 AM   Subscribe

What did you think of West Wing last night? Beyond the fact that it was preachy and simplistic, did you think that it was a good or bad approach to handling complex issues through a show that is respected for presenting political dialogues in a pop culture format? Additionally, what do you think of the way in which pop culture seems to have returned to normal? This topic appears in both the NY Times and USA Today, today, as it becomes clear that prime time ratings are stronger than ever after the attacks.
posted by wsfinkel (27 comments total)
i was wondering why no one had posted anything about this yet... personally, i thought it was great. it was very well put together and answered a lot of questions in a reasonable way without making any mention of the attacks. i thought the kkk analogy was very good also.
posted by phunkone at 6:16 AM on October 4, 2001

Although I didn't see the episode personally, I've heard quite a few fellow Canadians discussing it. Sounds like an (unintentionally) humorous episode!

Where exactly is the so-called "Ontario - Vermont" border that the Arabic terrorist slipped through to get into the US?
posted by spnx at 6:25 AM on October 4, 2001

The KKK analogy...I was stunned. And the point that terrorists have a 100% failure rate was good too.

My wife, who's been a teacher for about 13 years, pointed out that this is a great episode to help teachers (as well as parents) talk with kids about understanding the situation better.

I would've liked to have known more about the "case of mistaken identity" and let the preaching be handled separately; trying to cram both into the space of an hour caused them to mutually detract from each other.
posted by alumshubby at 6:33 AM on October 4, 2001

I thought it was fairly well done. When I heard they were doing a WTC episode, I was half-bracing myself for a show dealing directly with the tragedy. I pictured Tobey bawling on CJ's shoulder, or some such heavyhanded, fist shaken at the heavens, type nonsense. Thankfully, Sorkin avoided this. Having the group of high school kids function as the viewer's proxy was a great idea. It allowed for the airing of the character's various points of view without undue tension.

The sub-plot, however, was a different story (pun intended). Turning Leo into The Grand Inquisitor Torquemada for the duration of the episode was a cheap trick. It was inconsistent with the principles that his character has stood up for throughout the run of the series. And his half-assed mea culpa at the end of the hour didn't erase the hurt that he had perpetrated for the preceding fifty minutes.

Sorkin was writing his way through some dangerous territory, and though he may have made a few bad calls, I'd say it was a solid episode, overall.
posted by Optamystic at 6:40 AM on October 4, 2001

Does anyone besides me think that WW is going to be one more casualty of September 11? Watching arrogant, self-involved incompetents (the characters, not the actors) play at governing sort of pales before the real thing just lately.

Prediction: WW cancelled after this season.
posted by UncleFes at 6:42 AM on October 4, 2001

I think the line between "entertainment" and "news" continues to become even more invisible (as previously discussed in MeFi). Or is this line already gone?

When people start quoting facts from West Wing instead of the talking heads at CNN/Fox/etc, it makes you wonder whats actually real.
posted by kpett at 6:49 AM on October 4, 2001

Ehh... I found it pretty lackluster. Watching the scenes with the high school kids, it was all I could do not to slap myself as they lobbed one soft pitch after another for the White House staffers to belt out of the park. (Argh, bad baseball analogy!) "Why don't we just kill them all?" Sheesh...

Using a class of schoolkids to deliver the questions American people are (ostensibly) asking, furthermore, seemed to me a massive act of pride on the part of the producers. "Here, let Aaron Sorkin talk some sense into you..." Feh... It's one thing to deliver a point of view, but quite another to set up a whole plot for segueing into one oh-so-clever soliloquy after another. No thanks.
posted by letourneau at 6:49 AM on October 4, 2001

There's a pretty thorough discussion of the episode going on over here. Many are up in arms about how the show was riddled with potentially dangerous factual errors.
posted by jga at 6:50 AM on October 4, 2001

Your comment, WSFinkel, was preachy and simplistic.
So is mine. Ha.
posted by mimi at 6:51 AM on October 4, 2001

I had very very high expectations for the episode and was then somewhat disappointed. I thought it was all just a little simple -- especially using a high school group to allow aaron sorkin the various characters preach at us their perfect knowledge and interpretation of terrorism, etc. the kids questions were so perfectly leading...

i don't know. it's usually so much more nuanced.
posted by palegirl at 6:52 AM on October 4, 2001

I thought it was stupid that Leo turned all racist for one episode. Use some one-time character to represent ignorant bigotry about Arab-Americans and Islam, but not Leo. Just didn't make sense.

I didn't particularly like using the high school students. It seemed really campy and fake (yeah, right, a high schooler is gonna ask the President if he's a man of principle). I liked that they explored the different viewpoints on the issue (Sorkin usually does that decently, but always concludes one way or the other), where Toby and CJ were arguing about the intelligence community. But yeah, it wasn't one of those fantastic dramatic "Oh WOW" episodes, as is the normal West Wing. Maybe it wasn't supposed to be.
posted by gramcracker at 7:40 AM on October 4, 2001

First of all, the previews were just the red phone flashing and then "Something's happened." When, in the case of WW, NOTHING happened. Nuffin. What a bore.

And for what? So I could listen to a bunch of actors reel off pat answers that don't really deal with issues?

I think it might be the worst episode of WW ever. Yup. Fortunately, as a "special" episode, I won't be subjected to seeing it in the ongoing cycle of re-runs.
posted by terceiro at 7:41 AM on October 4, 2001

I think, considering Sorkin must have written this in the week following the attacks, his message seemed necessary at the time. However, over the last two weeks, we've seen Bush speak at a mosque and identify the difference between radical islam and real Islam. The national news has also done a commendable job of explaining the difference. Therefore, WW didn't feel as necessary three weeks later.

I can't help but wonder what president Bartlett would do in Bush's shoes, but I doubt it would have been appropriate to show us.
posted by eperker at 9:08 AM on October 4, 2001

I think, considering Sorkin must have written this in the week following the attacks, his message was necessary. However, over the last two weeks, we've seen Bush speak at a mosque and identify the difference between radical islam and real Islam. The national news has also done a commendable job of explaining the difference. Therefore, WW didn't feel as necessary three weeks later.

I can't help but wonder what president Bartlett would do in Bush's shoes, but I doubt it would have been appropriate to show us.
posted by eperker at 9:08 AM on October 4, 2001

I was shocked to hear exact phrasings in the dialogue taken directly from articles I read on the web. In fact, one of them was linked here.

"And when you think 'the people of Afghanistan' think 'the Jews in the concentration camps.'"
posted by xyzzy at 9:29 AM on October 4, 2001

If I'm going to be talked down to by a television show, I would prefer it to have musical interludes and Muppets.
posted by keli at 10:03 AM on October 4, 2001

People who expect this type of show to encapsulate the Current Situation (and base their feelings on it) are the same people who get all of their history lessons from Steven Spielberg. My message is that the more varied sources one uses to gather info and base an opinion on, the better the final judgment will be.
posted by msacheson at 10:13 AM on October 4, 2001

xyzzy: that is something that caught my ear as well.

overall, i thought they did a decent job. of course, i accepted off the bat that this episode was hastily put together and was obviously trying to cover as many bases as possible. i am also a relative newcomer to WW, so I don't know if Leo's character was, well, out of character: and though the apology at the end was a little lame, his point about the price you pay is a reality, albeit an unfortunate one.
posted by whoshotwho at 10:36 AM on October 4, 2001

The West Wing has always had to tread the line because this is an alternate reality of sorts and there is only so far you can go. Imagine if Sorkin had replicated the 9.11 tragedy in that universe -- it would have had to have impacted on the rest of the season and would have been stepping around trying not to step on the toes of the real world.

You have to at least applaude the show for trying to address the issues anyway -- at a time when the rest of pop culture is creating a second seclusion zone. And although I haven't seen the show, I'm sure there are very good reasons why the pace may not be up there with a typical episode. From writing to broadcast these shows can take weeks, to the point that they're working on three or four at a time. The fact that the crew and writing staff of a major network show were able to write, film, edit and broadcast within a two week period has to be cheered if only from a technical point of view. I look forward to see the results when (and if) it crops up un UKtv (which may take a while -- we are only midway through year two on a cable network).
posted by feelinglistless at 10:43 AM on October 4, 2001

I didn't see the show, so maybe I should just shut up (flame away), but the whole idea of a prime-time television drama addressing the topic smacks of propaganda to me.

Also, not being much of a network tv fan, this line from the article seems completely absurd: "But many more, I suspect, would have preferred an hour of typically stirring West Wing entertainment to a pedantic, undramatic series of speeches." (italics mine)
posted by Vek at 10:47 AM on October 4, 2001

xyzzy - there's a reason for that. they bought that line from tamim. speaking of which - he's made lots of media appearances in the past few weeks including charlie rose and oprah. i even got sucked into watching tv once in order to check him out. look for a book in may...
posted by badstone at 10:50 AM on October 4, 2001

his point about the price you pay is a reality

You say "a reality" as if it's an objective fact or circumstance, like that mountain over there or my trick knee, when in fact the price is not "paid" so much as exacted by structures of racism and by ignorant or malicious racists. Funny how language can sort of obscure responsibility.
posted by sudama at 11:00 AM on October 4, 2001

I enjoyed the episode. I'm not a die hard fan of the West Wing, but I catch the occasional episode whenever my weekly poker game is cancelled.

What I did like being brought up was the comparison between street gangs and Islamic extremist organizations (in regards to poor living conditions and elevating self-worth). It was an topic that I hadn't considered before and I hadn't heard mentioned in recent discussions.

I agree with feelinglistless that I applaud them for at least ATTEMPTING to present information about terrorism, Islam, and other issues. It might not be the best way for people to get their information about these issues, but I sure hope some of the brainless troglodytes I work with watched it. But that's probably hoping too much as the Amazing Race was on in our area at the same time.
posted by Grum at 11:35 AM on October 4, 2001

I thought last night's WW was very successful, and a lot more nuanced than seems to be the consensus here.

I think one of its most notable achievements was simply showing the WW staff at work during a time similar to what we've all been going through. It was strongly implied that their world had been subjected in previous weeks to terrorist acts upon the U.S. -- yet life continued: people were working, high school honors students were taking field trips, etc. That's a significant message in and of itself.

I also think Leo's seemingly uncharacteristic behavior is largely explained by the fact that they were now living in a very changed world, much like our own. Leo showed himself to be a different man than he'd been before, as is each of us (at least, I know that's true for me, as a New Yorker). And what was he doing? His job -- in this case, doing everything he could to ensure that any threat to the presidency or the administration was stopped cold.

Didn't you share the doubts that Leo harbored about the Arab-American employee, right up until -- and, yes, to a lesser extent, even after -- the employee was "cleared" by the Secret Service? I did. And I bet most viewers did, too. I think that was one of the most important points of the storyline. As shocking as it was to see, "knowing" Leo as we do, can you say you would have acted any differently if you'd been in his position? It seems to me that the more you learned about the Arab-American employee, the more convinced you were that he did, in fact, represent a very real threat to the White House. (Would that our real-life White House had an "insider" with the fictional Arab-American employee's background and connections to help put things in context for the Bush Administration right now... who knows, though? Perhaps they do.)

And, sure, the "classroom" scenes were pedantic. But not annoyingly or boringly so, in my opinion. Moreover, they presented information we've gleaned from news sources recently in a refreshingly new way: through drama. It helped me to put things in better perspective, and I'm a news junkie; for people who haven't been actively seeking out much insight on recent events, but are regular patrons of prime-time TV, listening to how the WW characters explained their similar situation probably helped them fill in a lot of blanks they've had about our own.

Overall, I came away from the episode with a sense of reassurance I never would have expected even an acclaimed (and far from perfect) show to impart.

And I'll bet I'm not the only one.
posted by verdezza at 12:50 PM on October 4, 2001

UncleFes: Prediction: WW cancelled after this season.

WW is quite popular and the events of 9.11 will not change that. In fact, last night's episode drew its second-highest ratings ever -- 24.5 million viewers.

Personally, I thought the episode was fine for what it tried to do, especially given the very short time it was written and produced in. But it was not up to its usual standards of intricate dialogue and interesting plot lines.
posted by jameschandler at 3:25 PM on October 4, 2001

spnx: Where exactly is the so-called "Ontario - Vermont" border that the Arabic terrorist slipped through to get into the US?

It was written in two weeks... I suppose we shouldn't expect them to be able to consult every map...
posted by transient at 6:25 PM on October 4, 2001

Ummmm, yeah... I guess. That IS expecting a lot, I suppose.

I bet if the episode talked about the border between Maine and North Carolina, a few more people might have picked up on it.
posted by spnx at 7:29 PM on October 4, 2001

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