We Bid A Sad Farewell to The Bartlet Administration
May 29, 2006
Daniel Dern writes for both of us:
After seven years, my favorite science fiction/fantasy television series -- no, not FarScape, Babylon Five, or Buffy, those ended several years ago -- The West Wing, has come to an end.
The final episode aired Sunday, May 14, 2006, preceded by a rerun of the very first episode.
West Wing was the creation of Aaron Sorkin... a logical successor to his 1995 movie, The American President, and his short-lived half-hour television "dramedy" series, Sports Night (a wonderful show -- I have zero or negative interest in sports, and loved the show). (And I should have bought the DVD box set two years ago before the price went up by like 50%...)
West Wing brought to a show about the White House, and the people who worked in it, the same hyperverbal, fast-paced rat-ta-tat dialogue, and complex people interplay, that had graced Sports Night. West Wing was about a admittedly-idealized democratic administration; it was created while Clinton was still president, before the 2000 election, before 9/11.
Arguably, West Wing qualifies as "science fiction" in the "alternate history" sense. So it's no surprise that media reviewer/critic Dan Kimmel led a panel on West Wing at the World Science Fiction Convention held in Philadelphia over Labor Day Weekend, 2000 (1)... not just for the alternate-history aspects, but also (as I said at the panel, from the audience), because West Wing -- like Sports Night -- showed a workplace where everyone knew what their job was and what most other peoples' jobs were, care about doing their jobs, and doing the best to figure out what the right thing do to was and then do it... the kind of places I believe many of us wish we could work at.
Inarguably, West Wing was a great show, certainly while Aaron Sorkin was at the helm, and, after he left, for much of the final two seasons. We (the audience) was treated as intelligent people who were assumed to be paying careful attention to every word, image and pause.
The show wasn't perfect. But it was usually good, often great. Where else on network prime time would you get a one minute complaint in Latin, without translation (from Martin Sheen, as the president), or Rob Lowe, as Sam Seaborn, White House deputy communications director, instantly respinning a NASA dry-as-dust announcement about a Mars mission into an oratorical paean to the marvels of science, engineering and the universe.
Series wrap-ups often go overboard with either sentimentality or excessive violence (e.g. the end of Angel); not enough go out with quiet dignity (e.g. Barnie Miller). I'd like to thank the gang behind West Wing for wrapping up enough loose ends, giving reasonable closure-and-move-on to the characters, and letting us say farewell to an administration a lot of us wish we could really elect.
(1) Note, most science fiction conventions have a nickname, often but not always related to their location. "WorldCon" for World Science Fiction Conventions; WorldCons held in LA are LACon. The 2000 WorldCon held in Philadephia was called -- and the opportunity to do this probably swayed the selection of Philadelphia for that year's WorldCon location -- The Millennium Philcon.