West Wing 1×01: Pilot

[Review by Jeremy Grayson]

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Thomas Schlamme | Aired: 09/22/1999]

“Tell your friend POTUS he’s got a funny name.”

Good pilot episodes are hard to come by.

It’s quite a task for a writer to introduce a group of characters, outline their personalities and ambitions, set up a story which is neither too complicated to alienate the viewership nor too simplistic to dissuade their interest, and set a convincing tone for the series as a whole.

When you’re crafting a pilot for a workplace drama, the task is understandably difficult. With the countless crime/legal/medical dramas that have dominated primetime in the last two or three decades, you need to do something bold and different to distinguish yourself from the pack. Something that’ll make the average viewer stop in his channel-surfing tracks and choose to stay with your program for the next hour.

But what if, say, your show tackles a genre rarely seen on network television? Say, politics, for example. If your show has a political setting, the problem becomes not so much a case of separating yourself from the rest, but from carving a new niche for yourself entirely. That’s a pretty sizable undertaking for even the sharpest of minds.

So there’s little surprise in the fact that in the weeks before The West Wing first premiered, critics were apprehensive about whether it would succeed in breaking the new ground it was treading upon. Could a show really illustrate the backdoor goings-on of the White House without feeling ham-fisted or unrealistic? Without turning the concept of American liberty into an artificial commodity, or worse, a cheap joke?

As the pilot episode most entertainingly proved – yeah. It could.

Start with the smooth, skillful way that the show introduces all of its major players. A common trap of television pilots is to feature viewer-friendly exposition when setting up its characters, which feel awkward and heavy-handed by real-life standards. The West Wing doesn’t dwell on these formalities. The characters are introduced briskly and fluidly within the first five minutes of the episode, and already you get the feeling that you’ll enjoy spending time with them.

We have Toby (the humorously morose Richard Schiff), the man who challenges an airline’s fear that his cell phone will interfere with their navigational system. CJ (a plucky and delightful Allison Janney), who takes an hour every morning for personal time, to “be her own man”. Leo (the late, great John Spencer), who obsesses over a crossword puzzle misspelling which interrupted his daily morning routine.

In each of these cases, the characters are set up with little details that will become crucial in their respective developments over the show’s seven seasons. Toby will bring his own personal philosophy to the political table many times over the course of the series, both with good and bad results. CJ will struggle to balance her personal life with her business one, and will have further conflicts in trying to make it as a woman in a “man’s” world. Leo’s fixation with the crossword error is a bit flighty compared to the more grounded perspective he will display once the series gets rolling, but it paints him as a man who wants to set the little things in life straight, even as he recognizes that he can’t always change the big ones. (Note the relative serious-minded, comparatively pessimistic attitude Leo displays even in his early scenes – when a security guard greets him with a “Good morning,” he off-handedly replies, “We’ll fix that in a hurry, won’t we?”

The two characters on which the pilot mainly centers on are Sam (a sharp, charismatic Rob Lowe) and Josh (the energetic and entertaining Bradley Whitford). Both of these two have made some kind of large screw-up by the time the episode begins building momentum, though their respective mistakes are quite different – in fact, the only in-episode connection between them comes during a humorous moment when each notices that the other is wearing the same clothes as the day before.

Sam’s conflict is built upon more slowly, the better to develop in later episodes. Following an evening talk with a journalist, during which he was careful to remain tight-lipped about the details of his job, Sam makes an extra-large slip-up by sleeping with Laurie, a woman who turns out to be a call girl. This turn of events allows us to see a few different sides of Sam. In early scenes, he’s suave and confident, radiating with the air of a skilled ladies’ man. But once he learns of Laurie’s “other” occupation, he becomes tongue-tied and nervous, a teenage boy who’s too embarrassed to communicate with his pretty date.

The setup of the episode also cleverly turns the “one-night stand” concept on its head. Rather than having the guy sleep with a woman and then never call her again, leaving her to pine woefully for the one true love of her life, Sam ends up phoning her – thanks to an unfortunate beeper mix-up – in order to meet up and break things off between the two of them. His attempts at communication, as well as the sincerity of his sorrow, craft Sam as a likable and sympathetic character. (I’ll go more into detail in later reviews, but it’s also great to see that Laurie – whose profession is usually treated with contempt in most mediums – is written as a rather sensitive character herself.)

Sam’s girl troubles don’t stop with Laurie, though. They continue when he acts as a tour guide to a fourth-grade class of students, intent on impressing Leo McGarry’s daughter. In one of the episode’s most memorable moments, he unloads all his troubles – call girl incident included, on Mallory, the class teacher, before demanding that she tell him who Leo’s daughter is. Mallory’s response: “That would be me.” Faced with another woman suddenly revealed to be something very different than his initial perception, Sam can only stammer out, “Well, this is bad on so many levels.” (Given the romantic turn Sam and Mallory’s relationship will soon take, this whole exchange is made all the funnier.)

Josh, meanwhile, is given a more dramatic focus in the episode. Much of the episode involves the White House staffers fretting over an insulting statement he made to a Christian activist on television. Josh’s actions over the course of this episode pinpoint him as brash, arrogant, and highly opinionated – traits which wouldn’t seem to make for a very likable character. But Josh is not written as hateful – he made a statement which he fully supports and adheres to, so whose right is it to tell him to retract it? His stick-to-his-guns attitude is one that many Americans share, and this factor makes Josh not only a likable character, but a relatable one as well. And when he finally relents and chooses to apologize, he successfully maintains audience sympathy, even if he’s only doing it to save his own job.

Now, the idea of Josh being fired for making a single petty remark might seem ludicrous by ordinary White House standards. But it works by being skillfully integrated into the episode itself and the series it’s trying to set up. The new administration has only been running the country for a few months, so there’s a decidedly uneasy air circulating when one of their own fudges things up. The constant debates between Josh and Leo, Toby, and CJ are the arguments of a new government attempting to find their feet. Even when faced up against bigger issues, the staffers are first concerned with the image they’re projecting on the country – compare the large amount of screentime the Josh story gets to the internationally more important concern regarding the Cuban refugees.

The underlying theme which runs through the bloodlines of all seven seasons of The West Wing is power. Each season examines a different facet of this theme, exploring every one of them with remarkable depth and clarity. The first season’s sub-theme revolves around coming to grips with this power. At this early point in the game, the characters have yet to realize the full potential of their occupations, and to find the right balance of concern between the major issues they must face and the minor ones. It will take a while – the administration will not latch onto a clear direction until “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” [1×19] – but the journey is pretty fascinating in its own right.

One of the most commendable things about The West Wing‘s premiere episode is its pace. Things keep happening, in a daisy-chain of events that rarely pauses for a breath. You hardly have a chance to stop and notice that, through everything that’s going on, we never actually get a glimpse of the President.

But when Jed Bartlet (played to epic levels by Martin Sheen) finally appears on the screen, he takes the already-strong premiere to a new level. Throughout the episode, Bartlet could be perceived as something of a joke – several points throughout the episode do characters crack wise about him falling off his bike. But the moment Bartlet walks through the door – hobbling on crutches, no less – he throws all ridiculous perceptions right out the window. Bartlet delivers a passionate speech to the demanding Christian activists about an extremist organization which harassed his daughter, before telling them to announce the group and dismisses them from his White House.

It’s one of the most powerful introductions to any series character I’ve ever seen, and not just due to Sheen’s incredible performance (though that certainly doesn’t hurt). Through his speech, Bartlet is established as a strong moral figure, a caring grandfather, and a staunch believer in his own religious upbringing, having little patience for those who disagree with him. And in the follow-up talk he has with his staff, he’s shown to be a pretty caring boss, too. Josh may have slipped up, but the most powerful administration in the country has bigger fish to fry.

It’s a strong finish to a strategically-made pilot, as the staffers, who have spent the whole episode hurrying from this place to that, are finally corralled into one spot by their leader. Given the lack of screentime he’s given, Bartlet’s character is not fully set up or developed – a concern the next two episodes will be quick to rectify – but his position is fittingly established, and it leaves us yearning to see more.

Even with all the confidence and bravura this episode premieres with, there are moments when you get the sense that the series is still testing the waters, and there are still a few kinks to be ironed out. Sorkin’s dialogue, while often quite funny, feels a little too attached to a specific rhythmic motif, and it will take a few episodes to feel more grounded. The right-wing Christian activists come off as a little cruel and one-note during their scenes, and later episodes and seasons will craft more rounded and admirable Republican characters. (Mary Marsh and Al Caldwell have softened considerably by the time they return in “Shibboleth” [2×08].) But these flaws only come into real perspective once you take a step back and view the whole series as a retrospective tale.

Which I, as you may have caught on, am about to do. A series like this – at times riveting, suspenseful, heartbreaking, and awesome – begs to be reviewed and dissected and analyzed to reveal the many layers of greatness it yields. If you enjoy discussing quality television and figuring out what makes it so masterful, then I hope you’ll join me for the ride. And even if you’re just a casual observer… stick around. We’re still going to have plenty of fun.

The premiere of The West Wing is a joy to watch, and it sets a bright, optimistic, mildly screwball tone that will be built upon, tested, and subverted many times over the next seven years. It maintains a strong bond on the characters it creates, and many of them will go through important journeys over the course of the series. And we’ll be travelling right alongside them. Let’s begin!

 


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ The incredible long shot of Leo first entering the White House. Really gives you a feel that this is a vast, bustling place.
+ CJ making the first of the show’s many pratfalls. Who says primetime TV is too sophisticated for slapstick?
+ Leo telling Donna to call Josh, prompting her to simply scream “JOSH!”
+ Josh agreeing to wear a new suit because “the girls all think you look hot in it”.

– Mandy’s introductory scene feels out-of-place with the rest of the episode, not to mention a little irritating. Sort of like Mandy herself.
– I find it difficult to believe that a Reverend wouldn’t know what Commandment “Honor thy father and mother” is. Although Toby not knowing it either makes it a little amusing.


Foreshadowing

* Toby takes offense at Mary Marsh’s implied (though possibly unintentional) anti-Semitic comment regarding Josh’s “New York sense of humor”, while Josh doesn’t think much of it. This implies that Toby is more tethered to the religion than Josh is, a fact which sparks occasional animosity between them, most notably their religious argument in “20 Hours in America (Part II)” [4×02].
* Bartlet’s manner of chewing out the religious right displays his fervent devotion to his own perception of religion, another key aspect of his character that will be developed upon in later episodes. (He tells off Dr. Jenna Jacobs in a similar manner in “The Midterms” [2×03].)


[Score]

A-

Advertisements

28 thoughts on “West Wing 1×01: Pilot”

  1. [Note: Sam L posted this comment on January 4, 2014.]

    Wow! I had no idea someone would start reviewing “The West Wing” on this site. Great idea, and you wrote a delightful overview, Jeremy! This has always been one of my favorite episodes of the first season, along with “Five Votes Down” and “In Excelsis Deo”.

    My favorite line is Toby’s flabbergasted response to Sam’s revelation that he *accidentally* slept with a high-priced call girl the previous evening:

    “I don’t understand. Did you *trip* over something?”

    LOL

    Like

  2. [Note: Brachen Man posted this comment on January 4, 2014.]

    What a great surprise it was to see the first review posted today! Loved your take on the Pilot, though I found it a tad… cheesy (the rush to establish the characters’ voices feels a little too forced), and probably wouldn’t have gone above a B. But once the first season got settled in (around “Five Votes Down”, which I can’t wait to see your review of), we were treated to some fantastic, brilliant stuff.

    Like

  3. [Note: Alex C. posted this comment on January 4, 2014.]

    Fantastic first review Jeremy – you’re off to a great start!

    I’ll be especially interested in following these reviews to read your take on the ways in which the ur-theme of *power* plays out over the show, season by season. There’s a general impression (with a good deal of truth to it) that The West Wing represents an idealized vision of the process and personalities of government – or perhaps rather, the *potential* of those things – but to me, that has never quite captured the essence of the show’s appeal, which often comes as much from the characters grappling with the realistic (though not always really accurate) frustrations of politics, as otherwise.

    In a nutshell, I think that one of the show’s great achievements was to strike a sort of balance between the idealism that drives the characters (even the apparently more cynical ones) and the realism which tempers/bounds the what and how of their accomplishments, and the why of their failures. This, I think, was what lay at the heart of the show’s ability to craft genuinely compelling television often revolving around the nuts and bolts of government – no small thing, to say the least.

    The same artfulness was evidenced in the show’s handling of ideology – its own, as well as that of its characters. It’s really something to find a show that can be unabashed in its projection of a thoroughly liberal worldview while retaining a strong sense of being open-minded to those who do not necessarily share that worldview. It took a little time for the show to really get the hang of it, but it’s something that still stands out with comparison to almost any other show that centers around Washington and its denizens.

    Like

  4. [Note: Firewalkwithme posted this comment on January 5, 2014.]

    Wow, your review actually made me interested in watching the whole show!7 seasons though – that´s quite a commitment to make! I hope you´ll be able to keep your enthusiasm and love for this show alive through the whole project because that´s half the fun of reading these critically touched-reviews.
    I´m especially interested in your “pleadings” for the final seasons because I´ve heard that they are quite troubled but not bad in any way. For me there´s nothing more interesting to read than a well-argued defense for something that is often harshly critized by a lot of people. That´s why I love Mike´s season 6 and 7-reviews of “Buffy” so much.
    Well anyway, good luck for your journey! 🙂

    Like

  5. [Note: WCRobinson posted this comment on January 5, 2014.]

    Did not expect this so soon! I watched the first episode just before Christmas, and I loved it; I would give it about 90 myself. You justified the score, though!

    I would have kept watching… but then I got my Dollhouse boxset and had to watch them again. 🙂

    Like

  6. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on January 5, 2014.]

    Thanks, everyone! Glad to have some positive feedback from the get-go.

    Alex C.: I think you’ve hit on it. The show is very much a balance between idealism and reality, and that balance ties into the primary themes of the show a lot. (You can bet I’ll be bringing it up a lot over the course of the series.)

    On another note, I’m surprised that “Five Votes Down” seems to be so popular. I like that episode, but it doesn’t strike me as one of the season’s best achievements.

    Also, for those of you who are newcomers to the show: It’s great to have you on board, but keep in mind that as with all Critically Touched shows, this show is going to be examined from a retrospective angle. I probably won’t go into extensive discussion of future episodes in the reviews themselves, but be warned. (Also, I’d advise you to avoid the Foreshadowing sections, as they will be chockfull of major spoilers.)

    Like

  7. [Note: Brachen Man posted this comment on January 5, 2014.]

    What I love most about “Five Votes Down” is that it serves as a fantastic showcase for John Spencer and the Leo character in general. It also has some great material with Hoynes, probably my favorite supporting character on the show. The famous five-minute walk-and-talk shot at the beginning is also something to behold.

    Like

  8. [Note: MrB posted this comment on January 7, 2014.]

    Great review.

    Background on a couple of things:
    Rob Lowe had had some hooker problems from his “Brat pack” days. The first scene was to acknowledge that, clear it up, play with it, and move on.

    The original design of the The West Wing was to focus much more on the staff rather than Bartlett himself. Martin Sheen was orignally contracted to be an occasion, recurring character, with about 5 or 6 appearances per season. When he came blasting though the doors as the voice of God quoting scripture as if he was Moses, that all changed.

    Like

  9. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on January 7, 2014.]

    I heard that the original concept for the series didn’t feature the President onscreen at all. (The staffers would only refer to him from time to time.) Needless to say, I’m glad they didn’t go that route.

    Like

  10. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on March 19, 2014.]

    American politics is about as far from my comfort zone as I can think of, so despite all the high praise and recommendations I abstained from this show for quite some time. However, in the absence of anything better to do last night, I relented and borrowed the first season from a friend. If it hooks me and the quality remains high, I expect I’ll be commenting on all these reviews going forward.

    Assorted thoughts on the pilot:

    – No matter how much talk you hear about Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue, nothing can really prepare you for the speed at which the characters discuss matters. I spent the first quarter of the episode in complete confusion, trying to work out who was who and registering jokes 45 seconds after they were made. However, somewhere around the halfway mark I got into the groove and could kick back and enjoy the rest of the episode.

    – The majority of pilots are too busy setting a tone and establishing characters to focus too heavily on plot, so I was quite surprised by how many threads this episode managed to juggle without ever losing its grip on any of them. Sam’s part of the episode is what interested me the most, although I liked the story about the President riding into a tree. The only one that failed to grab me was Josh’s, though I sense his character has a lot of potential. That’s probably because I’m one of the most opinionated atheists this side of Christopher Hitchens, and I would have been a lot snappier to Mary Marsh than Josh was. In fact, I consider his response to be quite restrained. I understand the Americans take matters of religion a lot more seriously, and that Christianity bears a lot of weight in your politics, but here in the United Kingdom … I don’t know. I was surprised they were making such a big deal of the situation.

    – I’ve only managed to get a basic impression of the characters, but most of them are likable so far. Don’t crucify me, but I even found Mandy to be tolerable, although I agree her introduction seemed somewhat out of place.

    – Speaking of introductions, Bartlet’s was one of the best I’ve seen on television. Stunning. What I was not fond of, however, was the music swelling as he imparted his pearls of wisdom to the misguided staff after the Christians had left. Cheesy isn’t a strong enough word.

    So, overall, I enjoyed it immensely. I think it’s missing the spark that shows like Buffy and F&G managed to capture so effortlessly, but it has the potential to grow on me some more. If it stays like this, I’m in here for the long haul.

    Like

  11. [Note: Damon posted this comment on March 19, 2014.]

    – I think that the pace of the dialogue slows down as the series progresses, although I could have just gotten more used to it.

    – I thought that Josh’s remark was pretty tame considering the backlash to it as well, and I live in the United States. I think Sorkin was trying to make sure that his audience would still like Josh’s character, so he kept it toned down.

    – I also thought that Mandy was unfairly attacked during the first couple of episodes… and then I kept watching. I think it’s less that she started out bad, or became nonsensical or anything, than that she never grew into her own while the rest of the cast kept getting better.

    – The show does straddle the line at times between sentimental and cheesy, and I’d bet that if you aren’t a U.S. citizen, some of those scenes are going to cross that line by a fair margin. Still, the show’s more preachy and/or patriotic elements are usually kept in check.

    – It usually manages to catch that spark when the series really needs it.

    Like

  12. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on July 25, 2015.]

    Guess who watched this episode today?

    – Josh’s joke is vehement enough, I guess, but it’s not even remotely FUNNY. You tellin’ me Aaron Sorkin couldn’t come up with a funnier zinger than the tax evasion joke? Lame.

    – Speaking of Josh, he’s the best staffer. I can’t believe I thought Bradley Whitford was Wilford Brimley for the past two decades.

    – CJ starts the episode strong, although her literally falling off a treadmill makes me think she’s going to be much more cartoonish than she actually is.

    – I actually like Mandy! Can you believe that? I actually see more of her in myself than I do CJ or Josh or the “likable” characters. What I don’t like about her is that obnoxious, totally 90’s rock music that introduces her.

    – Toby’s cool. In fact, he’s VERY cool. The tangent where he thinks he’s being belittled for his Judaism is interesting– he has no reason to butt in, but he does.

    – Donna’s charming, but her lines in and of themselves aren’t all that good. Leo gets all the good lines– I can’t tell whether the “arboreal stop” spin is funnier than the Qaddafi call, although they’re both the highlight of the episode.

    – And Bartlet. Let’s just say I wish he was the actual president, and I don’t say this about fictional characters all that often.

    – Actually, this episode is structured pretty interesting-like. Bartlet doesn’t show up until the last five minutes, which I should have noticed but didn’t. I was binging Veep before this, where the president doesn’t show up on screen at all (we don’t even know his name until [spoilers!] he resigns), and it felt natural there.

    – Other than the godawful Mandy leitmotif, the incidental music is good. I like the music fading into the title theme towards the end. And yes, the cinematography is generally great– it seems like a big place!

    Like

  13. [Note: unkinhead posted this comment on November 26, 2015.]

    Finally got around to watching this today and I must say I’m very impressed by the level of drama in this first episode. I found it instantly involving and completely natural, not to mention hilarious. Can’t wait to read the reviews a long the way (how spoilerific are the reviews for future eps?)

    Like

  14. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on November 26, 2015.]

    The reviews themselves are generally free of specific plot spoilers, although I do constantly allude to certain later events, particularly when discussing the thematic arc of each season.

    If you do plan to read as you watch, you should at least skip the Foreshadowing section, as it often features major spoilers.

    Like

  15. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on January 29, 2016.]

    Recent comments from one Mister Rafael Edward Cruz have made me think about this episode, and more specifically, the “New York values” comment from a Christian conversative that Toby interprets as thinly-veiled anti-Semitism.

    Like

  16. [Note: Alex C. posted this comment on January 30, 2016.]

    Normally I hesitate to inject direct discussion of recent politics into this, because that can be the ultimate in opening up cans of worms. But you’re right on the money.

    The main reason that I have never been personally bothered by the frequently heard complaint that The West Wing is biased against Republicans, is because the GOP-aligned characters in it are frankly far more sympathetic than their real-life counter-parts most of the time.

    Like

  17. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on February 1, 2016.]

    That’s an amusing observation, and I’d be inclined to agree with it. Problem is that the line between the fictional Democrats (i.e. the show’s regular cast) and the ones in real life is far wider than the one between the fictional and real-life Republicans. 🙂

    Like

  18. [Note: Alex C. posted this comment on February 3, 2016.]

    Ha! Touché.

    However, I would counter that a distinction should be drawn between the Democrats in the show who are part of the regular cast, and most of the Democrats who show up as minor or non-recurring characters. And there’s a powerful corrective in the last two seasons with the character of Arnold Vinick, who’s just as much an idealized Republican as Bartlet is an idealized Democrat.

    I think it’s also worth noting that one of the really great things The West Wing does as a political drama is convey a strong sense that the reason why things don’t work in politics is *not* because Washington D.C. is populated with corrupt and malicious morons. There are a lot of those types, and they’re arguably over-represented on an episode-by-episode tally. Nonetheless, the show still manages – in my opinion – to get across an argument that the most important reason we can’t get exactly what we want from democracy is because the capital is full of very smart and ambitious people working at cross-purposes on behalf of fundamentally incompatible causes, to which they are sincerely committed.

    Not only is this quite true to the dilemma of real-life politics, it’s also important to keep in mind, I think, when considering why the audience is meant to admire Bartlet and his band of paladins for trying to ensure that, if we’re going to spend most of our time fighting over the future of the country, the very least we can do is try to raise the level of the conversation, to something worthy of the oldest Republic in the world.

    If I was going to make an argument for why The West Wing continues to have relevance as a political show (beyond just being a brilliantly entertaining drama) that would be the core of it.

    Like

  19. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on February 3, 2016.]

    Good points. The show does an expert job at promoting the art of conversation and debate, and in that respect, it’s influential no matter what side of the political spectrum you reside on.

    One of the major failings of Season Five, in fact, is that it doesn’t recognize this strength of the series, and tries to generate drama from bipartisan compromise. The results are lukewarm at best, since there’s not much potential for real thought-provoking drama when it comes down to “Let’s all just get along.”

    Once Vinick enters the picture, though, the show gives a more favorable balance to the Republican side, and succeeds at generating good drama because his ideas are just as convincing to the audience as those of the more liberal protagonists.

    Like

  20. [Note: Alex C. posted this comment on February 8, 2016.]

    A very hearty Amen to the problems with Season Five. When we get that far, I am going to enjoy ranting about why “Slow News Day” is the worst episode in the entire show.

    I’m curious to know – are you look forwarding to the chance to dissect the reasons why the fifth season failed so miserably? Or are you dreading the prospect of spending so much time with that weak segment of the series?

    Like

  21. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on February 8, 2016.]

    I’m actually looking forward to it. One of the great joys of these reviews is that they allow me to approach the series with a fresh mind. I’ve found a surprising amount of merit in episodes that I formerly hadn’t thought much about, and have also found some issues with episodes I had previously thought great. Whether or not my opinion of Season Five will change at all when I get to it remains to be seen (in fairness, I don’t expect I’ll need as much time to review each episode as I did with, say, Season Two), but even analyzing why it doesn’t work will be an interesting experience.

    “Slow News Day” should be one of the more interesting episodes to take on, actually, because while it does feature the single worst plot in the history of The West Wing, there are certain nuggets of character and thematic depth which keep it, I believe, from being one of the show’s very worst offerings.

    Like

  22. [Note: Zarnium posted this comment on February 8, 2016.]

    Personally, I’m not enamored with real-life Republicans either, and at risk of saying something scandalous, I often don’t think that the portrayals on The West Wing are that far off-base. Despite this, however, I’m still generally unimpressed with how the Republicans on the show are written because I don’t think that turning the villains into shallow cartoons makes for good drama, and also because it just doesn’t seem sporting for a politically-minded writer like Sorkin to assume the worst about his opposition at every turn.

    There are exceptions, of course, and even poorly-written (IMO) “good” Republicans like Ainsley prove that Sorkin isn’t out for blood 100% of the time. Overall, though, I’m just not terribly impressed with how the Republicans are handled during the Sorkin years. (To be fair, this isn’t an issue with just the Republicans; most of the opposition on the show, including many democrats, run into similar problems.)

    Like

  23. [Note: Other Scott posted this comment on February 24, 2016.]

    Was Al Caldwell really that bad in this episode that he needed to be “softened?” I mean, it doesn’t look good that he was associating with the kind of extreme Christian group, but he seemed like a reasonable guy all around.
    Mary Marsh is a different story of course. Unless Al Caldwell is a different guy then the reverend Leo was talking to that one scene and I’m just confused.

    Bosc, I also thought Josh was the best staffer, which I wouldn’t have expected going in.

    Like

  24. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on February 24, 2016.]

    In retrospect, you’re technically right, at least in the case of Caldwell. (Rewatching “Shibboleth” made me realize that Mary Marsh hadn’t really changed at all.)

    My difficulty with Caldwell’s characterization pivots on the scene he shares with Leo. That scene was not in the original cut of the episode, and was only added in later, at the request of network suits who felt that Sorkin had treated the Christian right too harshly. With that scene added in, Caldwell comes off as a bit nicer in comparison to his counterparts. But either way, he ends up being chewed out by Bartlet just as they are.

    Like

  25. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on February 25, 2016.]

    PS, since we’re talking about both the pilot episode and Network on the forums right now, I must spout useless trivia now or forever hold my peace: Leo’s maid is played by Marlene Warfeld, who played the Angela Davis lookalike in Network.

    This is a historic moment in Sorkin’s ouevre, as it marks the first time in his career where his work can be connected to Network. Which is especially relevant given that he’s spent much of the last decade trying to exhume the spirit of Paddy Chayefsky with varying levels of success.

    Like

  26. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on February 26, 2016.]

    I don’t have time to do excessive research on the subject, but you’ll have to try a lot harder to convince me that a minor cast connection in Sorkin’s fifth screen production is the first time in his career where his work can be connected to Network.

    Like

  27. [Note: Flamepillar112 posted this comment on July 29, 2016.]

    I’ve taken the dive and watched the pilot. My impressions are largely the same as yours: a really fun pilot. But it seems a bit too bright for a political drama. Though you have said the show gets darker as it goes on. Also, Sam can sure talk fast huh?

    Like

  28. [Note: Jeremy G. posted this comment on July 30, 2016.]

    With the exception of one later season, the series is not consistently “dark.” But the drama does get weightier as the show goes along. (Season One is the series at its flightiest and most buoyant.)

    And yes, Sam gets a lot to talk about in the pilot. Unsurprising, as he was originally meant to be the star of the show.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s