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The American Election Process and The West Wing – simply the best


The best Series ever filmed




The American Election Process and The West Wing 


It seems to me the democratic process both in the UK and the US is in crisis: but for different reasons arising from the distinctly different systems.

From the outside and as portrayed in the media, the American system seems close to farce: all style, no substance. However, if you have the patience and an interest in understanding a pretty complex process first of electing Party Candidates and then on to the General election that picks a President from them – you could do no better than watch The West Wing. It will show you not only the political process in action but you will also see explored articulately and coherently, most of the key issues that appear to be dominating public debate as the Primary Season draws to a close and will no doubt lie at the heart of the Presidential election in the Fall.

I’m not sure what conclusion we should draw from the fact that almost all the most contentious issues currently dominating media coverage of the 2012 electoral process, can be found in the storylines of a 154 episode series that ended over a decade ago.

If any of you have never watched The West Wing – I envy you. You have such a treat in store. As is clear here on Writewords I watch an enormous number of films and rather more television than the general run of quality warrants. That said, I have no hesitation in saying that the sustained quality of writing, acting, characterisation, production values and intelligent, articulate narrative content of this Series are without parallel in Television either side of the Atlantic. Despite all these superb elements what makes The West Wing for me, the best Series-Based drama ever shown, and key for Writeworders, is that writing lies at the very heart of its artistic quality.

To parallel what the series can show you with the real current events in America I recommend Series 6 and the final series 7. From around episode 9 of series 6 as the second Administration of President Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen) nears its end (Series 1-6) we first meet Congressman Matthew Vincente Santos (Jimmy Smits) of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity. Santos is a reluctant candidate for nomination by the Democratic Party and faces ethnic hostility if not the same as Barack Obama did and does, then certainly quite parallel. He eventually faces an impressive, established Republican opponent in Arnold ‘Arnie’ Vinnick played by an as usual, excellent Alan Alda.

These are just some of the issues you will find arising natural within the storylines of series 6/7.

• The fundamental ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats.
• Government intervention vs reliance on free market capitalism
• The problems of achieving bi-partisan cooperation between the parties on issues of national importance.
• The scandal of health care provision in the US for poorer citizens
• Christian fundamentalism
• Creationism, the argument from design, Darwinism
• Science vs Faith
• The trivialisation of the electoral process by the media circus of American elections
• The difficulty for a candidate to stick to the issues and not participate in a kind of beauty contest.
• Abortion and a woman’s right to choose
• Political manipulation of the media
• The importance of the US Supreme Court – politically as well as legally
• Unemployment and the transfer of jobs abroad chasing cheap labour
• Terrorism and the on-going problem arising from President Bartlett’s reluctant sanctioning of the assassination of a major Arab terrorist figure
• Women’s rights and equality
• The trivial nature of the TV debates between the candidates. (One debate in the programme threw away the rule book and though scripted, was shown live on prime time American TV – for the first time ever).
• Foreign affairs including the Israel/Palestinian conflict

These are just some of the issues around which the funny, articulate, dramatic, storylines of The West Wing 6/7are written.

The DVD’s of The West Wing are now absurdly cheap. I bought The complete packaged set itself for £50 which equals about 30p/disc – or less than 5p/episode.

I would recommend this series to anyone who loves good writing, likes to be entertained, informed, challenged, think about serious issues. All the usual character loves, losses, intrigues, etc are there with characters that are credible and engaging. It is funny and informative. It is television for grown-ups. Several episodes are as good as any film I have seen on the cinema.

With most long-running series the quality falls off over time and the death knell is sounded once plot begins to drive character rather than character driving plot. Although the first few series are the best because written by the creator of The West Wing, the brilliant Aaron Sorkin (A Few God Men, Social Network), the overall quality of writing and characterisation is extraordinarily well-maintained to the very last episode.

There is no filmed work I have ever seen I could recommend more highly – whether to help you understand the present American election process or to just enjoy absolutely first rate writing and performance.

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