Liveblogging is when you take something that isn’t normally recapped by people better paid than you are–for instance, video games, comics or old TV series–and write about it online. TVTropes recently set up a liveblogging section on their website for people who wanted to try their hands at it for various things, but at the moment, it’s sort of like the Wild West. No one knows what to do and everyone’s just struggling to find out. So, I decided to try my hand at liveblogging and do The West Wing, the breakout series from screenwriter extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin. Here is the first post, which can be found with witty links at this link.
So, no secret—it’s taken me a while to get to writing this first recap of the pilot episode of West Wing. Why is that? Well, first off, I’m very inexperienced with doing recaps of television. I’ve only done one series all the way through, and those episodes were much shorter. Second, it turns out that while The West Wing is ridiculously easy to watch, being Dialogue Porn: the Series, it’s incredibly difficult to summarize for the same reason. Here I sit, fifteen minutes into the first episode, and already more things have happened than have happened in half a season of Squid Girl. How the hell am I supposed to be able to keep up with a series that has so little action that it has to make it seem like there’s action through a blinding fast pace? West Wing, if I had to classify it—and I will inevitably—falls under one of those things that’s too specific to be a trope—a unique form of Four Lines All Waiting I’m seeing more and more of lately. Four Lines No Waiting. It’s a work with so many subplots and so many characters that something, somewhere, is always happening and is always happening very quickly. Let’s play a game and see how far we can get into the first episode before we hit 500 words, running on sheer recap alone.
Sam Seaborn is sitting at a bar with a journalist. Asks him why they’re sitting there, asks when he gets to talk to Josh or who he could call to get an opinion on Josh. Josh has apparently done something horrible. You’re not supposed to know, but hey, young Dr. Cuddy is checking out Rob Lowe—and it’s the next day.
Leo McGarry (I assume that’s how it’s spelt) tells Ruth that seventeen across is wrong and receives a call from PotUS—whoever that is. Funny, I’m watching a show about the West Wing of what I assume is the White House, based on all those clips of Martin Sheen kicking ass and taking names as President Bartlet, but I wonder what PotUS stands for or why I’m capitalizing it like that—
But it’s already somewhere else and a woman (CJ Cregg) is on a treadmill in a gym next to the kind of actor hired to jog there, look pretty and tell her that her beeper’s going while she tries to flirt with him. Hint, bub—if the Press Secretary is hitting on you, you might wanna take notice. You think he’d recognize her—wait, was her beeper goi—
And there’s a vacuum cleaner going and I think that man is sleeping on his desk in his suit, but his beeper is going off. He wakes up, looks at it, picks up the phone, dials the number and says that he’s Josh Lyman. You mean the Josh? Technically, I don’t even know who that is. Coming up is a lesson on how to better establish your character.
Cos we’re in a god damn plane and a very grumpy Jewish man is typing on his laptop. A flight attendant tells him to turn off his laptop, as it will interfere with their navigational equipment. Another flight attendant—who, in any further instances, will be referred to as stewards or stewardesses depending on sex/gender—tells him that there’s a message from the cockpit: PotUS in a bicycle accident. He gets out his cell phone, but is told to put that away. He also didn’t get his peanuts.
Is that enough words yet to convince you how absolutely dense this series is? It’s only been three minutes. From now on, I think I see the appeal in plot based summaries. Except all of these people have pretty much isolated and individual plots. A-Plot this week is Leo, CJ and Toby—the grumpy Jewish man—dealing with the fallout of a disastrous broadcast where Josh Lyman (sleeping on his desk guy) insulted the Christian Right on national TV, along with President Bartlet falling off of his bicycle by coming to a “sudden arboreal stop”. This plot line—the main plot line for most episodes—is the public opinion plot. It also deals with a group of Cuban refugees escaping to America. The B-Plot for the episode is the fact that the girl Sam Seaborn picked up last night, whom he accidentally exchanged pagers with, is “what [he] would be certain would have to be a high priced call girl”. Rob Lowe had relations with a hooker—let all of the fans of Wayne’s World rejoice.
Still other plotlines include Josh’s old girlfriend Mandy Hampton coming to Washington for a job. Her job is to get a man who is no friend of the sitting president elected, but don’t worry, that’ll eventually be worked out. Eventually by another series standard, this series however moves so fast and is so dense and thick with dialogue that eventually may or may not mean next episode. May not. Things I knew I loved about this series the moment I saw it: the characters are all smart enough to justify its ridiculously high word per minute count, which leads to all of them making the kind of observations reserved for Sherlock Holmes in the new series as casually as they breathe. Donna, Josh’s assistant, brings him a cup of coffee—both Josh and Toby know already that it means he’s likely going to be fired in her opinion. Incredibrar. Induction at its finest.
The final confrontation between the Christian Right—represented in this episode by Al Caldwell, Mary Marsh and John van Dyke—tells us a few things about this series. It will use marginally fictionalized versions of real people to get very real political points across; the tone of the series is very liberal; there is a damn good reason they kept Martin Sheen on past the first episode as a regular. His entrance into the final negotiation between Toby, CJ, Josh and the Christian Right begins with I am the Lord your God; thou shalt worship no other god before me. I considered recapping this part of the series, but instead, I’ll just show you why I decided to liveblog this series. Martin Sheen serving up a portion of deep-friend Smug Snake with enough ham to satisfy even the most discerning Shatner fan. This is what made me download the second episode, and it’s moments like this that keep me watching, episode after episode.
Wow did this run long. Now you know the other reason I didn’t do this until now—it’s a lot of typing to cover a series like The West Wing.