Friday, August 27, 2004

I could listen to a babbling brook, and hear a song that I could understand

This actually makes it sound as if the next (and potentially final, depending on how the ratings go) season of The West Wing might be worth watching. Aaron Sorkin's Fantasy Democrats, of course, are like no real-life Democrat living or dead of the past forty years, which has always made watching the show an eye-rollingly exasperating experience. If John Kerry (or, for that matter, Martin Sheen) was as willing to use force after the failure of diplomacy to the same degree as the fictional President Bartlet, I'd have much less to criticize about the party. Indeed, the entire run of the series has been one long parallel-universe vision of the Clinton administration; politically, it was tiresome apologia back in 1999, and got very old, very quickly after 9/11. One recurring plotline of the last season involved the president ordering the covert assassination of the defense minister of Kumar (a fictional terrorism-supporting country apparently carved out of the southern coast of Iran, near the Strait of Hormuz). Would a Democratic president be willing to do that (say, for top Iranian officials) in real life? I have no idea. I'd support it. But I doubt many non-fictional Democrats of the current crop would. That's why West Wing is so disappointing for a foreign policy hawk like myself; every episode is a reminder that no, the Democratic Party isn't actually this serious and practical. Another annoyance is the show's tendency to cast notoriously liberal actors as scenery-chewing eeeevil Republicans - first James Brolin, as Bartlet's re-election opponent, and now Alan Alda, as the no-hoper challenger to the "real" competition happening across the aisle. The article claims Alda will play a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican in the Schwarzeneggar mould, but I'm not holding my breath. Also worthy of a derisive snicker is producer John Wells' explanation of the recent ratings falloff: “I think it's more to do with going from a period which presents an idealistic White House that wasn't having to deal with issues of terrorism and war. The challenge now is to make it relevant without demeaning real events … and not make political critiques about the current administration. … That's a difficult balance to maintain.” Say what? He thinks the show has refrained from being associated with political critiques about the current administration? Somebody had better tell Martin Sheen he's being too subtle; they're not comprehending his contempt out in Peoria. Finally, I wonder about the sense of going to the trouble to portray the fictional 2005 campaign season. I know Wells might be more than a bit distracted by his concurrent producer duties on ER, but has he really thought this plotline through? No matter who wins in November, I think everyone will be good and sick of primaries and polls by next January.


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