Saturday, May 13, 2006

Fourteen Days Of The West Wing - Day 12

I don't think I'm wrong in saying that the fifth season of The West Wing may have been the worst of the show's run. Aaron Sorkin had left his successor with a massive puzzle to unravel with the resignation of Hoynes as Vice President and the kidnapping of Zoe Bartlet. Apparently Sorkin said he wanted to give John Wells and the people he brought in to write the show plenty of interesting storylines that they could work with but on the whole it seemed as if they tried to dismiss them in an episode, and move on to stories of their own creation. The result is worse than what Sorkin was creating. For one thing the writing lacked the spark that Sorkin brought to the show. One thing that Sorkin had started in motion was the idea that the Chief Justice was becoming senile - initially by writing decisions in verse. Wells brought this theme full circle circle by having the Chief Justice hospitalised, supposedly near death although what he really needed (apparently) was some hospital care. This scene, which features Chief Justice Ashland and the President from the episode Separation of Powers illustrates some of the problems that a President who doesn't have even nominal control of Congress faces. (Of course the problem is resolved in innovative fashion in the episode The Supremes.)

Bartlet: I'm glad to see you doing so well, sir.
Ashland: Are you?
Bartlet: Yes, I am.
Ashland: Can you do it?
Bartlet: I don't want to. But if it's time, if your condition warrants.
Ashland: Who'd you get to replace me?
Bartlet: I'd hoped to consult with you.
Ashland: Holmes.
Bartlet: Holmes?
Ashland: Oliver Wendell. Marshall, John or Thurgood, either one. I want Brandeis, Blackman, Douglass. But you can't get them, can you? Because it's all compromises now, the ones who have no record of scholarship, no body of opinions, nothing you can hold them to, that's who they'll confirm, raging mediocrities.
Bartlet: The other eight are preparing to take it away from you, Roy. Holding over cases, the major decisions. How long can the country wait?
Ashland: My clerks are preparing a brief. There's an Arab-American man, grabbed out of a line at the airport. What's next? Tribunals, identity cards, bar codes tattooed on our forearms?
Bartlet: Then give me a name.
Ashland: Daniel Robenov, New York State Supreme Court. Susan Bengaly, Ninth Circuit. But they won't confirm them, will they? I have good days, and bad. But on my worst day, I am better than the ambulance chasers you can get confirmed by the Senate. You can't do it, Jed. You're not strong enough. The Speaker's running the table. And I can't take a chance.

Since we haven't done anything with the First Lady yet, here's a sequence with Abbey Bartlet and C.J., who is concerned with how the press will react to Abbey's return to medicine after her license had been suspended over her treatment of the President's MS and her temporary separation from the President following Zoe's kidnapping.

Abbey: So, what was it? Was it the tube top to meet the Queen of England or the low rise jeans for the North Korean delegation?
C.J. Mrs. Bartlet, the press didn't know what to make of you before the MS became public. You've never been the traditional hat-knitting President's wife.
Abbey: Oh, shoot. Was that in the handbook? Maybe just get me a photographer and seven year's worth of yarn.
C.J. Can you tell me why you decided to volunteer at the free clinic?
Abbey: Because, instead of putting out a press release I decided to roll up my sleeves and help treat children.
C.J. Is there any particular...
Abbey: There are any number of children's health issues I'm concerned with, so I thought it was appropriate to go out and just see what was going on first-hand.
C.J. Great. But until the press understands that, they're going to fill in the blanks with self-aggrandizing, craven, vote-grabbing...
Abbey: Would you like me to do interviews with the press corps?
C.J. God, no! They're the most cynical bastards on the planet. You need to get beyond the Washington echo chamber and speak directly to the people.
Abbey: So, what did you have in mind?
C.J. I checked out the reject list from your invitation file and there are a few things in her I think you should reconsider: the first of which is Muppets.
Abbey: Pardon.
C.J. Going on Sesame Street would give you an opportunity to reintroduce yourself as the First Lady who is also a working doctor and address the press's questions about your work at the clinic. Give a muppet a checkup. Get your message out.
Abbey: No Meet the Press?
C.J. Mrs. Bartlet...
Abbey: You don't think I could take Russert?
C.J. Why should you? Only five people are watching and it's the toughest interview on the planet. I want you on the Surgery channel, women's health magazines, the Today Show. Mrs. Russell's ratings bumped considerably when she did her cooking segment. Her chili was so good they're having her back for Christmas.
Abbey: C.J., you're trying to raise my competitive hackles.
C.J. Mrs. Bartlet, if I were trying to raise your competitive hackles, I'd make you watch Diane Sawyer's duet with Cookie Monster.

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