West Wing 1×01: Pilot

[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.

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West Wing 1×02: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Thomas Schlamme | Aired: 09/29/1999]

One of the great strengths of the first few episodes of The West Wing is the smoothness with which they set up and build characterization. At this early stage, we should by rights know very little about the central characters, yet the show never misses a beat to tell us something about them. “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” is a good example of this. Rather than slacken the brisk pace set by the “Pilot”, the episode builds on the momentum, integrating new story threads into the already well-to-do series.

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West Wing 1×03: A Proportional Response

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Marc Buckland | Aired: 10/06/1999]

Although these West Wing reviews are intended to focus chiefly on the TV series, I may take the occasional opportunity to talk about Aaron Sorkin’s 1995 film The American President. This highly entertaining technical marvel was the precedent and inspiration for the later series, and its influence can be seen beyond the shared Fifth Avenue setting. Both film and show portray a highly idealized government, filled with likable politicians who coexist in an energetic environment. Both contain vast amounts of sharp, humorous dialogue. And both feature a President who at first feels conceived as a pure liberal fantasy, but is later revealed to be all-too-human.

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West Wing 1×04: Five Votes Down

[Writer: Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr., Patrick Caddell, and Aaron Sorkin | Director: Michael Lehmann | Aired: 10/13/1999]

When crafting a new TV series, you can almost always expect some bumps in the process. True, there are some shows in the medium that open with strong first seasons, but the majority of television needs at least a year or so to find its feet. (This may not turn out to be a bad thing in the long run Continue reading “West Wing 1×04: Five Votes Down”

West Wing 1×05: The Crackpots and These Women

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Anthony Drazen | Aired: 10/20/1999]

There was a time in my life – astonishing as it may seem – during which I didn’t really care much as to how much depth or character development the average television show had. Nor had I much motivation to pick individual episodes apart for story details or thematic relevance. And I had little reason to pound out multiple reviews detailing my personal opinions of these episodes ands post them on websites where people would skim through my numerous paragraphs of text, all the while wondering, “Doesn’t this guy have a life?”

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West Wing 1×06: Mr. Willis of Ohio

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 11/03/1999]

In the final scene of “Mr. Willis of Ohio”, CJ boasts to her friends that she knows all there is to know regarding the US Census. Immediately, Bartlet asks her, “How many people live in the United States?” Despite the extensive study she has gone through with Sam, CJ has no answer. So much time has been spent thinking about the politics of the situation without thinking about the people involved.

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West Wing 1×07: The State Dinner

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin & Paul Redford | Director: Thomas Schlamme | Aired: 11/10/1999]

Whenever asked why I don’t put The West Wing’s first season on as high a pedestal as many fans do, I tend to cite “The State Dinner” more than any other episode. Not because it’s bad – it’s actually superior to the weakest episodes of most other seasons – but because it encompasses pretty much every major flaw of Season One.

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West Wing 1×08: Enemies

[Writer: Rick Cleveland, Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr., Patrick Caddell, Ron Osborn, and Jeff Reno | Director: Alan Taylor | Aired: 11/17/1999]

It can perhaps be chalked up to eerie coincidence that the only episode of the first three seasons without Aaron Sorkin’s name on it ends with a note that preludes a dominant theme of the last three seasons (which don’t have Sorkin’s name on them at all) – that the political world makes enemies just as it makes friends, and that the reasoning of the former can sometimes have hurtful effects on the latter. I say “coincidence” because much of “Enemies” is not about coping with the opposition. In fact, the final exchange of the episode feels a little tacked on, almost an afterthought meant to justify the title.

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West Wing 1×09: The Short List

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin, Patrick Caddell, and Dee Dee Myers | Director: Bill D’Elia | Aired: 11/24/1999]

One of the joys that comes with watching the first season of The West Wing – and, I suspect, one of the things which made it so popular at the time of its premiere – is that despite the complexity of the show’s setup, the major stories are remarkably small in scale. In the follow-up years, the Bartlet administration will face such earth-shaking issues as an MS scandal, a terrorist nation, and a horrific kidnapping – but at this early stage, things are as cool as the outdoor White House fountain. This relatively light season thus serves as a smooth, breezy introduction to the characters and environment, preparing us for the bolder steps the later seasons will take.

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West Wing 1×10: In Excelsis Deo

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin & Rick Cleveland | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 12/15/1999]

Let me clear myself right from the start: I don’t celebrate Christmas. I’ve never been brought up to celebrate Christmas. Having been raised in a fundamentally Jewish household, my Christmas experiences were generally limited to Charlie Brown, the Grinch, and the stars of all those other prime-time animated specials which popped up on the schedule each December.

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West Wing 1×11: Lord John Marbury

[Writer: Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr., Patrick Caddell, and Aaron Sorkin | Director: Kevin Rodney Sullivan | Aired: 01/05/2000]

“Lord John Marbury” features one of the strangest cold openings to ever grace a West Wing episode. The episode begins at the Washington Navy Yard, where two radar officers pore nervously over a screen. From there, we transition to the Pentagon, as a group of Army men discuss an impending threat of war. Only after that do we cut to the White House and the lovably familiar bickering of Josh and Donna, where the episode properly begins.

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West Wing 1×12: He Shall, From Time to Time…

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Arlene Sanford | Aired: 01/12/2000]

Here lies an episode rich in texture, dazzling in development, and abundant in detail. “He Shall, From Time to Time…” is such a fascinating tapestry of an episode that each viewing brings forth new insights, leading to an ever-deepening look into the complexities of the themes and characters of this show. More than any other Season One episode, even the affecting masterpiece that is “In Excelsis Deo”, “He Shall…” blends its various elements into a dazzling confection worthy of the accolades the series reaps.

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West Wing 1×13: Take Out the Trash Day

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Ken Olin | Aired: 01/26/2000]

One of the most common criticisms that non-fans level at The West Wing is that the show exists primarily as a mouthpiece for creator Aaron Sorkin. Many point to the show’s democratic vibe and political messaging as proof that the show is little more than an exercise in preachiness, with some of its more vehement critics negatively dubbing the show “The Left Wing”.

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West Wing 1×14: Take This Sabbath Day

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin, Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr., Paul Redford | Director: Thomas Schlamme | Aired: 02/09/2000]

There’s a common thought shared by many a television fan and critic that The West Wing was one of the pioneers in the new age of quality television. As you’ve likely guessed, I’m among those who share this thought, and I’ll readily offer my reasons to any and all who enjoy well-written stories with vivid characters and intriguing themes.

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West Wing 1×15: Celestial Navigation

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin, Dee Dee Myers, Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 02/16/2000]

In as much as I’d like to back up these admittedly opinionated reviews with a long list of credentials and a thorough résumé, I’m afraid that just isn’t possible. Despite the professional air I attempt to imbue this site with through my words of critical analysis, the credence of these episodic evaluations relies solely on those words alone. So as you can likely expect, I try to make my words count. The bolder the assertions, the stronger the arguments, the better to make my voice heard over the general Internet din. This can be a tricky feat at times, but so far, The West Wing has proven to be a fresh and fertile ground for plowing. Even the most demanding of critics can glance at this show and find great drama, development, and depth.

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West Wing 1×16: 20 Hours in LA

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Alan Taylor | Aired: 02/23/2000]

It should come as no surprise to the averageWest Wing viewer that Aaron Sorkin is a great fan of classic literature. Many times will Bartlet take a moment from his rigorous occupation of running the country to share a brief anecdote with his impressionable young staffers, and Sam, Josh, and CJ all have also had their quotable quoting moments. Some of the show’s most evocative lines are in fact lifted directly from passages of classical prose. I don’t mind this, however – as TS Eliot put it, “Bad poets borrow… Good poets steal.”

(See what I did there?)

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West Wing 1×17: The White House Pro-Am

[Writer: Paul Redford, Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr., Aaron Sorkin | Director: Ken Olin | Aired: 03/22/2000]

With “20 Hours in LA” preening the show for new and greater possibilities, one would expect the immediate following episodes to capitalize on the momentum and continue taking the show to new heights. Unfortunately, the series hits a bit of a snag with “The White House Pro-Am” and “Six Meetings Before Lunch”, episodes that are thematically consistent with the first season, but not especially memorable or resonant. “The White House Pro-Am” is the better of these two episodes, because in addition to further exploring the themes of the season, it gives us our first genuine look at the show’s most interesting romantic relationship – that of Jed and Abby Bartlet. It’s this relationship which fuels the episode and helps it past some of its flaws. One such flaw of which, ironically, is another romantic relationship. But I’ll get to that later.

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West Wing 1×18: Six Meetings Before Lunch

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Clark Johnson | Aired: 04/05/2000]

If you watch TV as often and as closely as I have (and, for your own personal health and sanity, I hope you don’t), you’ll come to notice not only the end product that shows up onscreen, but the means the writer used to convey it. There are countless literary devices (or “tropes”, as they Continue reading “West Wing 1×18: Six Meetings Before Lunch”

West Wing 1×19: Let Bartlet Be Bartlet

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin, Peter Parnell, and Patrick Caddell | Director: Laura Innes | Aired: 04/26/2000]

When it comes to television, originality garners most of the praise. In an age where countless crime, legal, and medical procedurals dominate the primetime schedule, we look to shows that offer the fresh air of innovation. And yet… even the most original writers on television are bound to a certain level of formula. JJ Abrams builds his shows around mythological mysteries. Bryan Fuller gives a quirky vibe and stunning visual design to his every series. Even Joss Whedon laces all his shows with a distinct sense of meta-humor that stamps it as one of his own.

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West Wing 1×20: Mandatory Minimums

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Robert Berlinger | Aired: 05/03/2000]

Comedy and drama, for all their respective virtues, are opposite sides of the same coin. One asks the viewer to laugh at what it offers up onscreen, while the other expects him or her to take the product seriously. These are not concepts which you’d expect to automatically go hand in hand. But opposites attract, as the case may be, and some of television’s best offerings have been “dramedies” – shows which meld seriousness with humor.

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West Wing 1×21: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Don Scardino | Aired: 05/10/2000]

I’m about to say something that will probably shock a lot of you. There’s a good chance that it will knock your socks off. Are you wearing socks? They’re about to be knocked off. Ready? Okay, here goes: Real-life politicians are not exactly like the ones on The West Wing.

Did I just blow you mind? It’s pretty astonishing to contemplate, but… wait. Wait. Why don’t I hear any jaws dropping?

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West Wing 1×22: What Kind of Day Has It Been

[Writer: Aaron Sorkin | Director: Thomas Schlamme | Aired: 05/17/2000]

“Who’s been hit? WHO’S BEEN HIT?”

Television is, above all else, a writer’s medium. Whereas movie scripts can be changed and revamped beyond recognition by a Hollywood director, TV allows the writer to have near-complete control of his work. This, in fact, is one of the reasons I prefer television over film – the creative process of the writer is often far more prevalent onscreen.

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West Wing Season 1 Review

[Review by Jeremy Grayson]

[Introduction]

Since the turn of the millennium, several changes have come over the television landscape – changes which become more and more apparent with each passing year. Many critics have in fact taken to dubbing this era as a new “Golden Age” of television, citing deeper char Continue reading “West Wing Season 1 Review”