When The West Wing first aired in 1999, I almost didn’t watch it, as I thought there was no way that commercial broadcast television could possibly do justice to the premise.
But I was wrong, and while the show did tend to simplify issues to get them to resolve in the 42-minute-plus-commercials format, it did a credible job of giving viewers a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the White House.
At least it did until Aaron Sorkin left the show and it became The West Wing for Dummies. But I digress.
Recently I re-viewed the first season to see how it would hold up more than ten years later (although I have the DVDs of the first three seasons, it is far more convenient to view it streaming on Netflix).
And the answer is: pretty, pretty well.
Sorkin’s dialog is still as fresh and snappy as ever, and the main characters are all well drawn, though I do find Martin Sheen‘s Josiah Bartlet a bit on the precious side. The theme music seems a bit pompous in retrospect, but overall the series still works.
(I wonder if Sorkin was a fan of Joss Whedon‘s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because he seems to build the season arc, foreshadowing events to come, in a similar fashion. Or maybe it’s just good story-telling technique.)
From this perspective, it’s fascinating to see how blatant Leo McGarry’s sexism is. And the Apple logo on the notebook computers is still upside down.
And then there are all the actors in small parts who would go on to bigger and better things. There’s Lisa Edelstein as a call girl, well before she became the the boss of Dr. House; and Reiko Aylesworth before she worked at CTU; and most startling of all is Lance Reddick in a barely credited role as a cop just before The Wire.
And I had forgotten just how much I have in common with Toby Ziegler: