Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Revitalized "West Wing"

I'm personally loving the fact that NBC has moved The West Wing to Sundays. I have nothing else on at that time and with Bravo airing last season at the same time, I'm able to get a double dose every week. Art is imitating life big time with the election campaign repeating some plot points from last year's election and Jed Bartlett's White House plagued by a leak scandal.

Post-9/11, my TV taste tended away from the ripped from the headlines hyper-realism of The West Wing and 24 more toward the faux realism of The Amazing Race (which back in the day conflicted with The West Wing), The Apprentice and any other reality show I could get my hands on. As much as I enjoyed the show and admire (read: worship) Aaron Sorkin as a writer, I just couldn't bring myself to watch it week after week. Now, after years of real life inhabiting stranger than fiction territory, I think I'm veering back toward TV not as escapism so much as wish fulfillment and The West Wing allows me to play make believe.

President Bartlett has served his two terms and the election to succeed him is in its final months. In fact, it's August and the Democrat, Congressman Santos (Jimmy Smits), a military man who has trouble connecting with voters, lacks a clear message and has a credibility gap on security issues, is down by 9 points. Sound familiar? Yes, The West Wing is taking Democrats all over the country down a dark path, reliving last year's election. But there is a glimmer of hope this time around. First of all, Janeane Garofalo is on board as a Democratic campaign consultant who demands that Santos fight back hard against attacks from his Republican opponent (played by Alan Alda.) And when Santos makes the apparent mis-step of talking about his faith in an answer to a question about Intelligent Design, it turns out to be a public relations coup that puts the Republican on the defensive. One gets the sense that this revisionist history serves not merely as entertainment, but as prescription as well -- a sort of "how to beat Republicans" guide for Democrats in the future. This is Hollywood after all. But that only works if the Democrat does in fact win. So I'll be rooting for Santos -- for a little bit of 2004 redemption as well as for some 2008 inspiration. It's a lot to ask of one TV show, but like I said, The West Wing this season for me is all about wish fulfillment.

The West Wing's White House leak investigation plot line is even more timely and in some ways offers a more complex dilemma for Democrats. On one hand, it serves as a sort of primer for what must be going on behind the doors of the real White House: subpoenas flying, representation being secured by high level officials, and the day-to-day political functions of the White House suffering for it. On another level, by dramatizing it among a sympathetic cast of characters, The West Wing sort of humanizes the situation, makes it accessible and de-demonizes the crime. But only to a point. In real life, some in The White House have been accused of leaking the name of an undercover CIA operative as political retribution against the operative's husband, a political enemy; in fake West Wing White House, Toby Ziegler confesses to having leaked information about a top secret military space shuttle as a brave act of defiance...to save lives. While the president does not support Toby's action and fires him in dramatic fashion, leave it to The West Wing to make a Democrat leaking top secret information to the press a moral, even laudable act. Wish fulfillment, remember?

Read my full review at Hollywood Momentum starting tomorrow (and every Wednesday.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that it's very difficult to beat Republicans. We have no other competing party that has made lying an organized, party-wide strategy.

5:21 PM  

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