Monday, December 31, 2012

Day Zero - The West Wing: Pilot, or "Getting an early start."

It's 2AM, December 31, 2012.

Over the next twenty-two hours, thirty-four If I stretch it to the end of the international date line (I think), many people will be dancing and celebrating, making resolutions and hoping (perhaps fruitlessly) to keep them.

That's sort of what I'm doing here.

This year, I've resolved to write two novels (and, maybe, sell them and their forebearer as a series, if I'm lucky), go to the gym EVERY day (we'll see how long that lasts), try and revitalize the college gaming club I advise (quite possibly doable, but who knows), test the waters for organizing a county-wide teen NaNoWriMo among the major school districts (probably the most ambitious and potentially ill-fated adventure on my part), and... if you've read the post before this... watch a single offering on Netflix every day for the entire calendar year of 2013 and blog about it.

It's all very aspirational, I know. I hope that I can keep to it. If anyone wants to help me in most of these endeavors, I welcome it. Particularly when it comes to the gym.

Speaking of aspirations and ambitions, I want to talk a bit about this post's prime mover, as I should've started several paragraphs ago.

The pilot for The West Wing.

To be honest, when it was first airing, I rarely caught the show. I thought it was silly and preachy to have a television series, a prime-time show at that, focus on the daily machinations of the political minefield that is The White House. Of course, this was a time when I was more concerned about Ross and Rachel and the cancellation of Newsradio after that last season without Phil Hartman.

What can I say, I was young and comedy was more my thing. What I wanted most out of life was to meet a smart, snarky New York gal to recognize what a brilliant diamond in the rough I was, or thought I was, instead of the about to be college dropout I was going to soon become. I saw myself the lonely and unappreciated nerd, pining away episode after episode, that Ross and Dave were in their respective Big City worlds. In some ways, I probably still do.

Of course, I didn't realize how the ideal I was seeing, whether in the puppy love of Friends or the catty humdrum of Newsradio, was shallow. Stuff and nonsense, even. What I didn't understand about the sitcom was that, while they sometimes have long arcs that occasionally paid off, they were status quo affairs that were there to distract with one-liners, not inform or intelligently entertain.

It's been a while since I felt informed by a sitcom. I think Murphy Brown was the last. I didn't quite get it then, but I think I do now... and that's kind of how I feel about The West Wing.

There we go, back on topic... finally.

The pilot for The West Wing was, and perhaps still is, ambitious. It was very brave on a number of fronts, but I think it's coup de grĂ¢ce was not featuring Martin Sheen until the final minutes, instead spending the entire thirty-six or so minutes leading up to his reveal as President Bartlett on other matters: establishing relationships, developing characters, snappy dialog... all without the lead actor. The moment we hear his voice, quoting scripture, no less, we knew that The President of the United States was in the room and s#!t just got real.

Martin Sheen had already proven to Sorkin that he can just exude stately charisma when he played the Leo to Kirk Douglas' Josiah in The American President. Not that the names were the same, of course, but it was essentially the same deal, a Democratic Presidency built on idealism with the potential to fall into disgrace thanks to scandal and backroom deals. In that film, though, Martin was the wise, suffering aide to the charismatic President, not the man himself.

In The West Wing, even with only a few minutes screen time, he shines as POTUS. There is authority, confidence, respectability, even a hint of a temper... what Martin does in those brief moments makes me yearn for it all to be true, that it was President Bartlett in the Oval Office as opposed to who was actually sitting there.

Excellent stuff.

And that is on top of the prime storytelling that the discerning viewer was feasting on for the time previous. Whether it was CJ's awkward attempts to flirt at the gym contrasting her smooth, confident banter with the press core, or Toby or Josh or Sam... maybe not so much Leo, though John Spencer owned the role quite well later, each little subplot was personal, meaningful, and sincere. How odd and inspired is the writing and acting that allows me to wholly empathize with a high-priced call girl, a role I am SO not used to seeing Lisa Edelstein play thanks to her years as Cuddy on House.

Of course, it didn't hurt that I'm so in the pocket of storyteller who serves me up a platter of idealistic Democrats to savor. You know, people who actually care about Cubans seeking asylum on rickety boats or the rise of the radical right.


As pilots go, The West Wing's was superb. In fact, the only rough bits, sadly, concerned some of the writing (not all, mind you) when it came to two particular female characters. This is a charge that I've often seen leveled at Sorkin, most recently when it came to the women of The Newsroom (another show I recommend). CJ and her treadmill spazout and Mandy and her traffic violation, they both seemed lazy moments in an otherwise taut and gripping pilot.

When it comes to smart, meaningful (if preachy, according to other folks) drama, I think Sorkin knows how to deliver and he assembled a brilliant cast to do it with well over a decade ago (and, IMHO, just last year with The Newsroom). I look forward to watching this series, much of it for the first time, over the next year. I hope it won't dominate my blog posts here at Couch Bound, but we'll see.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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