Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not disputing that Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing is great television. Of course it is. I even bought The Official Companion today. Really.
But since I started watching certain recurring issues have been getting on my nerves, some technical, others narrative. I’ve just started season 4 and I’m still totally hooked. Maybe some of these issues will have been straightened out by the time I make it to the end, but for now here’s what I see as the most annoying flaws of a rightfully celebrated show.
1. Bad lighting
There’s a hugely irritating tendency for shiny unwanted spots of light to distract from what’s really important in a shot. In short, interior scenes (which account for most of the show’s scenes) are often over lit.
2. Episodes lacking Josh-Donna banter
This is just personal preference, though I’m sure many other fans share my opinion. These episodes are just nowhere near as much fun as the rest. The witty and flirtatious interchanges I tune in for also take a dive whenever either Josh (Bradley Whitford) or Donna (Janel Moloney) dates someone else. Though thankfully there’s room for hilarity in Josh’s relationship with women’s rights advocate Amy (Mary-Louise Parker).
Something I really appreciate, however, is that the writers increased Donna’s presence on the show as it continued, presumably to meet audience demand. It may not seem fair or realistic that she’s allowed to assume more responsibility than the assistants of other members of the White House chief counsel, but I for one am willing to let this slide.
3. Disappearing characters/story arcs
You love a character, and then suddenly…they disappear. Sure, it’s not exactly Game of Thrones but The West Wing does sweep characters under the carpet, and seemingly no reason. Examples include Mandy (Moira Kelly), reporter Danny Concannon (Timothy Busfield) and worse, the President’s youngest daughter, Zooey (Elisabeth Moss).
Similarly, by about the middle of the third season Zooey’s relationship with the President’s aide Charlie Young (Dulé Hill) seems to be forgotten. At least, it’s never mentioned and when Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) goads Charlie by suggesting his anal organisational habits hinder his chances with the opposite sex he replies “I do alright”, looking pretty damn smug. What, is he some kind of player now?
Ainsley Hayes (Emily Proctor) is also far too much of a sporadic presence after her initial hiring, pretty much being dragged out of her office whenever Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) needs her to sort out a mess. At least it’s vaguely realistic, and their interactions are always very funny.
4. It’s usually the women that make mistakes. And often C.J.
This one drives me mad. Although the key players in the White House all make mistakes from time to time, C.J. seems to do so more often, and her mistakes are dwelled on for longer. Maybe it’s a side effect of her visible position as Press Secretary, but I resent the (admittedly probably accidental) implication that as the only woman on the chief counsel she’s less competent than her male co-workers.
5. When the President plays the “You’ve crossed the line” card
This is just a cheap way of escalating drama in less eventful episodes. On the other hand, it’s fab when Abbey Bartlet (Stockard Channing) refuses to play this card after getting drunk with Amy, C.J. and Donna at her birthday gala in season 3.
6. It’s not always as clever as it thinks it is
In episode 3.18, “Stirred”, Donna’s retiring high school English teacher is honoured with a call from the President (Martin Sheen). Bartlet asks her if she taught Beowulf in “the original Middle English” or used a translation. Beowulf is an Old English poem, predating the era of Middle English by several hundred years. Yes, I’m pedantic about this kind of thing.
Lovely scene though!
7. The theme tune
Despite the claims of friends (those who switched me on to the show in the first place) that I’d grow to love it, I still don’t. Apparently it’s used in a clever way. I guess I just haven’t picked up on it, because I still fast-forward it every time. Though, to be perfectly honest, I do this with shows even if I like the theme tune. You fit more episodes in that way.
8. The incessant use of the word “okay”
Just about every conversation ends with the speakers looking each other intently in the eye and alternately intoning this immortal word. Apparently it’s not the only verbal tic Sorkin’s guilty of overusing.
9. Repeating important dialogue so we know it’s important
It may come as a shock, but this infamously fast-paced programme can be heavy-handed with its dialogue.
10. Martin Sheen’s hair
It’s just silly. And if you watch 4.1 carefully, it looks like he’s had it dyed blond for the re-election campaign trail.