Monday, October 03, 2005

Over the weekend, The Mrs. and I caught up on the TV we missed during the past week, including the 7th-season premiere of The West Wing and the series premiere of Commander in Chief. The verdict on both is that I'm giving each of them one more week.

The West Wing first: During its early years, The West Wing usually required more attention than most shows on TV due to its lightning pace, but if you paid attention, you were rewarded, because everything would make sense sooner or later, and often in dramatically satisfying ways. No longer. After taking the helm of the show two seasons back, executive producer John Wells mistook the show's speed and snap for adrenaline rush. His poorly plotted, badly executed presidential campaign is analogous to crashing an ambulance on ER, which he seems to do four or five times a year. It's big and loud and full of kinetic energy, but it's ultimately a stunt. Not that stunts don't have a place--The West Wing's season-ending episode a few years back in which an assassin opened up on the presidential party and we had to wait all summer to see who lived and who died was a stunt, too. But you can't do it every week. In trying to do it every week, Wells has wrought a hazy whirlwind of a presidential campaign in which two candidates won nominations for unclear reasons, and who are likely to fight the fall campaign on similarly unclear grounds. And since the show's already given away the identity of the winner--in a clever scene in the opening of the first episode--it's all pointless anyhow. All you really need to know about the campaign storyline is that the show's current B plot, involving which White House aide leaked the existence of a military space shuttle to the press, is far more interesting, primarily because it involves characters we've grown to care about--all but one of whom was created not by Wells, but by departed series creator Aaron Sorkin.

Now, Commander in Chief: This show is going to be unfairly compared to The West Wing--unfairly, because it's clear that C in C's reason for being is entirely different than The West Wing's. Sorkin created The West Wing to explore the drama surrounding a presidential administration--originally, the president was intended to be only a minor character. Issues and ideas were going to be a major source of the drama, and as important as the personal relationships among the characters. Commander in Chief, however, was created to show us a woman as president--the drama that grows from governing, as on The West Wing, is going to be secondary. So the shows don't really have much in common.

Based on the first episode of Commander in Chief, I'm not optimistic about it. There were some serious plausibility issues in the premiere: first and biggest, the implausibility of Mackenzie Allen getting to be vice president in the first place. In an era that's supposed to be approximately like our own, it's hard to imagine a Republican choosing an independent with no political experience (although Bush named Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court today, so I could be wrong). Also, it seems to me that if Allen were ready to resign while the president was still alive, his death doesn't change the equation all that much. In addition, I worry about Donald Sutherland's predatory Speaker of the House--he's going to have to be humanized pretty quickly if this show isn't going to become a comic book. And I'm extremely worried about the promos I've seen for the second episode, in which we see the Secret Service frightening the children (and, eventually, vice versa). If this show is going to become Mom Goes to the White House, that will be nice for people who dig that sort of thing, but I won't be watching it.

On Miers: Bush's choice of Harriet Miers would seem to confirm my guess that he would eventually get down to picking random dudes off the streets for various positions. After a quick spin around the major blogs, it looks as if a consensus is developing on the left that this nomination should make liberals fairly happy. It's pissing off the conservative base bigtime, because it doesn't represent the kind of red-meat nomination the religious hardcores have been dreaming of since 2001. (What's the use of having power if you can't rub peoples' noses in it?) The fact that many Democrats, including Harry Reid, are praising her, has them even further out on the edge. I don't mind seeing Repugs upset, but I do mind putting somebody on the court whose primary qualification seems to be that she thinks George W. Bush is the most brilliant man she's ever met. Girl needs to get out more, for damn sure.

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