Criminal Minds: "Amplification"

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We did see the cast interviews on Colbert. I'm really looking forward to seeing Sterling K. Brown assay the role of Leo. I'd be up for a discussion, but we hadn't planned on watching it until Thursday. I'll let you know if our plans change.

THE WEST WING:We ended up watching it last night. Man, I loved it! I have been feeling really pessimistic about the state of American politics for quite some time now and it's only been getting worse. I have seen the series only once, but I do remember the "Hartsfield's Landing" episode (not the diplomatic crisis so much as the human interest story of the small town that accurately predicts the outcome of the last several Presidential elections). Because I watched West Wing (on DVD) as a series, I tend to think of it as a long arc, but this episode was a good (and timely) standalone. 

More than the story itself, though, I enjoyed the little bits between acts featuring Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, etc. They were funny! And informative. And reassuring. This is a special that should be rebroadcast every four years. If I had known it was this good, I wouldn't have put off watching it for a week. I came away from it feeling (dare i say it?)... optimistic... more optimistic than I have been in many months. It was a good note to end on. 

And the performances! I went in with high expectations for Sterling K. Brown in particular, but I'll be damned if he didn't affect certain of John Spencer's mannerisms. Watching his performance reminded me slightly of those recent live performances of Norman Lear shows, but whereas most of those actors were merely doing impressions, Brown's performance as Leo was much more subtle. He managed to evoke Spencer while simultaneously injecting something of himself into the role. Also, Leo was much older than President Bartlett, something of a mentor figure. Brown managed to pull that aspect of the character off as well despite being much younger than Martin Sheen.

I just might be ready to watch this series again. I know Tracy is.

I am absolutely ready to watch The West Wing again. 

I'm not a die-hard fan of The West Wing (at least, not to the degree I am with Barney Miller and Hill Street Blues), but I did do enjoy the show very much.* 

I recall when The West Wing was on the air, we used to have a discussion going about each new episode in a past incarnation of the Comics Cave, and I do miss those.

I didn't catch on to the show during its first season (I came in during the second, like I did with St. Elsewhere, The Good Place, Suits, White Collar and others) and I haven't watched it since, save for a few episodes here and there. So I probably saw "Hartsfield Landing" when it first aired, but I didn't remember it.

I loved how they reinvented the staging for this Very Special Episode, and I agree that it stands alone and ought to be a regular get-out-the-vote offering for election season.

I stated above, "As for the special itself, I'll say it's everything you love about The West Wing, if you love it. But it also incorporates everything that's wrong with it." The witty banter, the relationships between the characters, just the very spirit of it, was wonderful. President Bartlet's blunt rebuke of the notion that we should choose our leaders if we think they'll be our buddies and reject them if they're smart was music to my ears. Down to the marrow, The West Wing is about the best and the brightest working for the public good, and it is uplifting to see that. 

And Sterling K. Brown! The man has so much gravitas, he must carry it in a tractor-trailer. In the aside when he and Dulé Hill were speaking about voter suppression, I couldn't take my eyes off Sterling Brown because he wasn't just listening to Dulé Hill and he wasn't stoic, he was angry.

So what's wrong with it? 

Eric Deggans, who is NPR's TV critic, was looking forward to the special too, but noted that The West Wing is very much centered on the perspective of the white male. It is very much the vision and voice of creator Aaron Sorkin, who is so much of a control freak workaholic that he wrote nearly every episode of the first four seasons. (The ones he didn't write? You can count them all on one hand.)

So whose fault is it that there were no Black people in the original cast? Dulé Hill wasn't there at the start; he was added as an afterthought when this little problem was pointed out. And it doesn't help that the role they created for him was a servant. Sure, The West Wing had John Amos and Anna Deavere Smith around, but they were in recurring roles, not series regulars. The buck stops with Sorkin.

And the flirtatious banter between Donna and Josh is problematic because he's her boss, and her fortunes were tied to his ... and probably for longer than was good for her career. 

Plus, Josh's sending Donna out into the cold to plead with some farmer in New Hampshire to vote for the Bartlet ticket, only for said farmer to think he's a political kingmaker and demand more and more in tribute for his vote -- this was presented as something wonderful and noble, Representing the People in the Heartland, Democracy in Its Purest Form, Listening to the People at the Grass Roots, yadda yadda yadda ... but it made me think, and not for the first time, Why do we STILL give so much weight to the most un-representative part of America? Why do we still act like the people who are brown or Black or red aren't "real" Americans like the folks in the smallest, whitest place within the contiguous United States? Why don't we perceive that there are grass roots people in the cities and suburbs -- y'know, where most of the people are? Why do we still act like it's right and proper and natural and ordained by God that New Hampshire goes first? The West Wing doesn't challenge any of this; it sings a song of praise for it.

And, to circle back to Sterling K. Brown -- he knocked it out of the park playing Leo McGarry, but I'm sure nobody like Sterling K. Brown was on Aaron Sorkin's mind when The West Wing was being conceived. They kind of fixed that with the Matt Santos run for the presidency, but not really. The original storyline had Santos losing the election and keeping the show going with Arnold Vinick as the new president. They changed course because John Spencer died and they didn't want to write Santos losing his running mate and the election, too. 

I say all this to say I enjoy The West Wing, but it's easier than it once was for me to see the warts.

That said, if we want to carve out space to watch it again and people want to join in and talk about it like we did back in the day, I'd be up for it. 

* Two years ago, for our wedding anniversary, my wife and I went to West Wing Weekend, a three-day fan convention. It had some minor cast members present (C.J.'s secretary Carol, White House staffers Larry and Ed) and composer W.G. "Snuffy" Walden, telling stories about life on the set.

Activities included panel discussions about working on the show and how it has influenced politics, screenings of key episodes, table reads of episode scripts, a mock trial of Toby Ziegler over whether he did leak the news about the secret space shuttle (this being in the Washington area, we had real lawyers play the prosecution and defense lawyers, and I volunteered to play Toby; one of the lawyers present told me my testimony sabotaged my case), singing by "The West Wing Whiffenpoofs" (both my wife and I volunteered to join), an abridged staging of "Abraham and Ishmael" (they left out all the bits with Leo interrogating the suspect), and an "inaugural ball" where people got to play dress up. It was fun.

Needless to say, this was put on by die-hard fanatics of the show, the kind of people who've seen every episode a dozen times and worn out their DVD players watching the run of the show over and over again. No word on if they'll put on another West Wing Weekend, although they have an active Facebook group. 

When I posted yesterday I had a follow-up question prepared for you, but you more than answered it! What does it say about me that I never noticed either of the flaws you mentioned until you pointed them out? Although Tracy had watched The West Wing first run, we didn't watch it together until George Bush's second term. (I liked to pretend it was a sort of "alternate reality.") I do want to watch the entire series again, but I think I'd like to wait, one way or another, until the results of the election are known. 

There have been many, many days when I wanted to crawl into the Bartlet Universe and not come out. 

I didn't notice the flaws when watching the first time through. I was caught up in characters and drama. It was compassionate people in charge making decisions to be better, to serve better. Now, when I watch it, I don't see the actors or the mistakes, I see characters I love. I see the kind of country we could be.

I don't know what it says about me that the lack of diversity doesn't steal the joy of the series from me. I think I am a wiser, more empathic person than I was back then. I will still always love the show. 

It doesn't steal the joy of the series from me, either. 

I haven't watched it since its first run. I think back then I was aware of the dating-your-boss issue. Events of the last several years have made racial diversity or lack thereof more obvious to me. Adding Dulé Hill's character and (don't forget) having him in a romantic relationship with Bartlet's daughter went a long way to trying to solve this. 

But if someone didn't already know, they would never have figured out that the District of Columbia had a mostly black population.

Richard Willis said:

But if someone didn't already know, they would never have figured out that the District of Columbia had a mostly black population.

In one episode, President Bartlet met the mayor of the District of Columbia at the White House, and it was clear that each man thought of the other's bailiwick as totally foreign territory.

Richard Willis said:

Events of the last several years have made racial diversity or lack thereof more obvious to me. Adding Dulé Hill's character and (don't forget) having him in a romantic relationship with Bartlet's daughter went a long way to trying to solve this.

Trying, yes. Succeeding ...? 

I can't say I'm happy with that as the solution. (Particularly because I thought Zoey wasn't good enough for Charlie.)


You know, I think Josh and Donna's flirtation and attraction to each other was mutual. As I do with "Baby, It's Cold Outside," I'm going to give them a pass.

While we were watching the performance the other night, I was impressed by Barlett's multiple strategy sessions while simultaneously playing several literal chess games with his senior staff and one figurative chess game with the Chinese. I turned to Tracy and asked, "Can you imagine conversations such as these taking place in the Trump White House?" and she replied, "I can't even imagine Donald Trump playing chess!"

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