The West Wing is a strange beast, mainly quite a wonderful beast, but a strange, frustrating one.
The first few series were classic character studies and a genuine, if liberal, attempt at poking a stick into the US Executive Branch – Jed Bartlet, the best President the USA never had. An ensemble piece with increasingly rounded character filled by talented actors – backed up with quirky, if a little formulaic, dialogue.
At it’s best it was thought-provoking TV and while through seasons 5 and 6 the loss of Aaron Sorkin was keenly felt, season 7, buoyed by the presidential campaign to succeed Bartlet is proving a return to form. Quite how the show will deal with the loss of John Spencer, the erstwhile Leo McGarry, is harder to predict. Written to be the sage, the guru, the kindly elder statesman with the answer to all situations, a man with a history, but two feet in the present.
During season 6 I felt as if the show was passing and we were mourning for times past – but the programme picked up and our worries were less well founded. Yet now we really find ourselves in genuine mourning for the untimely passing of an integral part of the show.
Currently quoted at Bartlet4America.org:
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’ “