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Aaron Sorkin reveals a lot of behind the scenes in San Francisco
I have mixed feelings about the West Wing Weekly, but on the good side, there are often interviews with cast members and sometimes actual White House employees and occasionally explanations from Sorkin himself. This is an interesting listen and itt may even answer a few of +Peter Strempel's questions.
The Season 3 finale was indeed one of the best of all episodes.

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Empire Season finale
A chance meeting with an old friend woke Lucious and Cookie up to how they'd missed being happy and all was set to end happily ever after! The all hell broke loose.

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We're just finishing season three in our continual loop through the season of The West Wing. The finale was one of the more amazing episode of this amazing series. One thing I noticed was the resemblance between "Ritchie" and former President G. W. Bush, aka "The Smirk". But the episode was full of developments. They even managed to add a shocking piece of drama, a little Shakespeare and an Elizabethan song, tough decisions, Josh's girlfriend being shrill and annoying (even if she's right, I stopped listening), a crucial vote and so much more. TWW is still the finest TV show ever to have existed.
Runner up: The Good Wife

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What's Next? (NSFW, not family-friendly)

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2016 West Wing Cast Reunion

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Aaron Sorkin explains why he never watched the show after he left

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We've just finished the second season, so I got way ahead of Peter on this one. All I would say in response to the less enjoyable scenes/writing, +Peter Strempel, is that every episode, even the "worst" have some redeeming content. I often am annoyed by the political horse race details, both in life and on the series. It's an education, though, because TWW was one of the best-advised TV productions. Consultants were actual former White House staff and advisors and Sorkin seems to be knowledgeable about the political process as well. Most episodes have a really good performance by someone, often POTUS or Leo. Both Martin Sheen and John Spencer are giants in their roles in this.
My West Wing review hiatus is a reflection of my contempt for politicians and my disgust with politics as practiced in Australia and the USA.

I cannot remember being this appalled since Emperor Bush I went to war against Iraq and left the job unfinished, making sure there would have to be a repeat of the whole disaster.  Especially the financial haemorrhage of public funds into private blood banks.

The West Wing, on the other hand, has a distinctly optimistic flavour to it.  Even about the Republicans.

How can I write about that optimism while being so thoroughly dispirited about its hopeful ambitions for topics we see today soiled and discarded?

At the turn of the century it might indeed have been a novel idea to hire staff across party lines.  For talent.  Today the concept is less unlikely: but only because the two parties often seem indistinguishable from each other.

Nevertheless, the way Americans are being ripped off, lied to, gaoled, and killed by their representatives makes it hard to believe that any competent people at all are being hired within a hundred miles of Washington.

It’s the idea that counts, they say.  America would surely be a better place if the White House were indeed staffed by people with conscience and integrity.  Who cares what party-political affiliations they might have.

White House counsel Lionel Tribbey is definitely a highlight in this episode, played for full comedic effect by John Larroquette; it looked like he was having fun, and it was fun watching him having fun.
Curiously, so was the written-for-laughs presidential sex interlude, though I can still not quite work why Abbey Bartlet has to consult the president’s vitals first.  Were they trying for a baby?  Was the president so ill he could only sleep with his wife when the vitals were in some particular groove?

I never noticed before, but CJ’s goldfish Gail gets a pink bed and there’s another goldfish in there with her.  Goldfish romance?

I was less charmed by the Ainsley Hayes plotline.  The humiliation she suffered at the hands of advisors Mark Brookline and Steve Joyce (played by Steven Flynn and Paul Perri) still plays true.  Particularly after she did them a favour.  Workplace bullying, particularly the sexist kind, seems not to have been diminished under old Republicans, new leftists, and the new lunar right they all merged into when Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers bought all the ‘executives’, body and soul.

I’d love to have something more positive to say.  But I don’t.  I cannot even remember how I thought about this episode in the past.  Was I charmed by the Gilbert and Sullivan dialogue and finale?  I doubt it.  I hate musicals and anything that smacks of high school panto.

Let’s just say that Mandy Hampton mark 2 – Ainsley Hayes – is slightly less annoying.  Sam Seaborn as the righteous boy scout defending her virtual honour is slightly less bumptious than the boy scout defending a prostitute’s honour.

And CJ dressing down a four star general who’s about to badmouth the president is still somewhat satisfying, the way that Josh Lyman choosing not to sue the KKK is not, and never was.

Written by Aaron Sorkin from a story by Kevin Falls and Laura Glasser. Directed by Christopher Misiano. First aired on 1 November 2000.

Headline cast in opening credits: Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn, Dulé Hill as Charlie Young, Allison Janney as CJ Cregg, Janel Moloney as Donna Moss, Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler, John Spencer as Leo McGarry, Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman, and Martin Sheen as President Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet.

Special guest stars Stockard Channing as Abbey Bartlet, John Larroquette as Lionel Tribbey.

Guest Starring Emily Procter as Ainsley Hayes, Daniel Roebuck as Lieutenant Buckley, Tom Bower as General Ed Barrie, Paul Perri as Steve Joyce, Steven Flynn as Mark Brookline, Kathryn Joosten as Dolores Landingham, NiCole Robinson as Margaret Hooper.

Co-Starring Melissa Fitzgerald as Carol Fitzpatrick, Kim Webster as Ginger, Jack Shearer as Engineer, Bradley James as Donnie.

From Minority Reports at foe +Randy Resnick's West Wing Collection at

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The West Wing Weekly begins
Worth checking it out, with Joshua Malina (who was in the later years) and Hrishikesh Hirway.

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The themes of embracing the enemy and big pharma screwing the world are ambitious, and easy to trivialise.

Picking Emily Procter as the faux Southern Belle Republican who embarrassed Sam Seaborn on morning television almost failed at the outset.  The dialogue she gets, and the scene in which she talks over Seaborn, make her seem less like a serious person than a spoilt brat with no manners rather than a serious rhetorical opponent.  But maybe the ethic of talking louder and faster has always passed as impressive in American politics.

Procter is a limited actress, never deviating from playing herself in years of CSI Miami or anything else in which I’ve seen her.  For the West Wing she was relatively lively, but hardly what I would have thought of as ‘leggy’.

The message that the president likes smart people who disagree with him almost gets lost in the cutesy antics that illustrate Ainsley Hayes’ character, like the ill-mannered propensity to run her mouth over the top of everyone else without listening.  And her self-righteousness about issues she knows nothing about was as annoying then as it is now, when it appears to be a standard for Millennials—especially their Hipster battalions.

Hayes turns out to be a less objectionable character than Mandy Hampton, but lightweight, and hard to take seriously.  I don’t know whether this is show creator and lead writer Aaron Sorkins’ inability to conceive of female characters that are not like his mother or his juvenile erotic fantasies, but it’s a recurring pattern in his writing well beyond the West Wing.

I do confess enjoying the scene in which Hayes cuts down her silver spoon Republican friends, played to perfection as cruel little brats by Brigid Brannagh as Harriet and Tom Gallop as Bruce.

CJ Cregg’s goldfish, Gail, is kept company in her fishtank by an elephant figurine with an extended trunk, as if sounding off.  The elephant is the mascot of the Republican party.  Ainsley Hayes’ party.

More credible and heart-rending is the narrative about big pharma and the symbol for AIDS-ravaged Africa, introducing not just greed and antipathy, but also the impossibility of addressing a third world dynamic with first world assumptions.  In aggregate the third world is plagued by endemic corruption, civil unrest, and uncertain health infrastructure.  Such factors make it uncertain whether aid of any kind will reach its intended recipients rather than being stolen by governments or warlords to be sold or consumed for other purposes.

Indeed, the episode ends when a coup in the fictional Equatorial Kundu leads to President Nimbala’s return despite knowing what will happen.  He is shot in the airport carpark straight after arriving home.

Strikingly enough there wasn’t much mention here of the obvious criminal lack of care for AIDS in the USA itself, where the bigotry about homosexuality and drug addiction, plus the expense of medical treatment, remains a proxy death sentence for the poor—regardless of sexual orientation or recreational habits—is handed down by Congress, but executed by medical practitioners whose Hippocratic Oath and personal ethics apparently don’t extend to treating patients who have no money.

Written by Aaron Sorkin from a story by Peter Parnell and Allison Abner.  *Directed by* Ken Olin.  *First aired on* 25 October 2000.

Headline cast in opening credits: Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn, Dulé Hill as Charlie Young, Allison Janney as CJ Cregg, Janel Moloney as Donna Moss, Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler, John Spencer as Leo McGarry, Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman, and Martin Sheen as President Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet.

Guest starring Zakes Mokae as President Nimbala. Michael Chinyamurindi as President Nimbala's interpreter, Michael Cavanaugh as pharmaceutical executive, Len Cariou as Alan Damson, Ted McGinley as Mark Gottfried, NiCole Robinson as Margaret Hooper, Sam Jaeger as Bill Kelley, Brigid Brannagh as Harriet, Tom Gallop as Bruce.

Co-starring Melissa Fitzgerald as Carol Fitzpatrick, Kim Webster as Ginger. Kris Murphy as Katie Witt, Mindy Seeger as Chris, Charles Noland as Steve, Jerry Sroka as a reporter, Randolph Brooks as Arthur Leeds, Tracy McCubbin as Lily, Sean Patrick Murphy as floor manager, Lorenzo Callendar as George, Tom Hall as Officer Mike, Bill Stevenson as Jarworski, Molly Schaffer as aide.

[From Minority Reports at for +Randy Resnick's _West Wing_ collection at]

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Series creator and principal writer Aaron Sorkin put a lot of kinetic energy into the episode to show us that things are back on track in the Bartlet White House after the chaos of the shootings.

Opening with CJ Cregg being barraged with interruptions and information thrown at her seconds from a press briefing, taking it all in her stride—all except remembering that people working on the grand unified theory are physicists, not psychics—is the definitive statement that she has found her equilibrium again after being the symbol of disarray in the previous two episodes.

If you look closely while Cregg is fobbing off Josh Lyman right at the beginning of the episode, you can see that goldfish Gail’s bowl is adorned with a ballot box, signalling the midterm elections after which the episode is named, but which are not the main game.

The racist angle on Sam Seaborn’s college friend, Tom Jordan, was not well-crafted.  I think it was bad writing, or a filler confected in haste.  Are we to assume that Seaborn hadn’t done his homework?  or that the Bartlet people would have had no qualms endorsing a racist candidate if it had not become an issue?

Toby Ziegler’s surly personal crusade to ‘get’ the racist scum who threaten to lynch black people is in character, and hardly evidence of the post-traumatic shock Cregg is concerned about.  It is the dogged Ziegler personality pursuing a point of ethical principle.  I’m with him: arrest the dangerous hate merchants who talk up violence.  There is a point at which freedom of expression is transgressed and people cross over into the intent, or the conspiracy, to commit crimes.

An interlude showing a brief personal interaction between Charlie Young and Jeffrey Macintosh touched something in me years ago that I couldn’t put my finger on.  Jeffrey is the son of Andrew Macintosh, a computer technician fixing White House PC problems, and his son has gone wandering around the White House, secreting himself in the Roosevelt Room.  Young is almost deferential when he runs quite unexpectedly into the boy.  When Andrew appears and the conversation turns to recent events, Young’s previously perturbed spirits seem to be lifted when the PC technician delivers the old platitude about people shooting at you being evidence that you’re doing something right.  Sombre comfort for a man who feels guilty about having been the target in a shooting that inured those around him.

Perhaps Young sees himself in Jeffrey.  A different life that could have been if his mother hadn’t been shot, or his father hadn’t abandoned the family.  In any event, his suddenly brightened manner with his girlfriend, presidential daughter Zoe Bartlet, wasn’t all that satisfying.  It fell flat for me.  Along with the ‘extra protection’ joke courtesy of Leo McGarry.

When I first saw this episode, the president’s Elliott Roush and Jenna Jacobs distractions seemed to me to be an unfinished part of a conversation begun in the pilot episode, where the president carpets Mary Marsh for being a bigot and hatemonger.  It was like refining the same theme.

There’s another priceless Bartlet monologue as he destroys radio evangelist Dr Jenna Jacobs, apparently based on Dr Laura Schlessinger:

JACOBS: I don't say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr President. The Bible does.

BARTLET: Yes, it does. Leviticus.

JACOBS: 18:22.

BARTLET: Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here.  I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.  (small chuckles from the guests) She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and always clears the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff, LeoO McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2, clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here's one that's really important, 'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes us unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?

[Jacobs fidgets uncomfortably.]

BARTLET: Think about those questions, would you? One last thing, while you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the Ignorant Tightass Club, in this building, when the President stands, nobody sits.

[Jacobs squirms in her seat but doesn't rise. Bartlet glares meaningfully at her.  She finally rises out of her seat.]

I really enjoyed the closure created by Seaborn approaching the humiliated Jameson, looking bilious in her lime green power outfit.  ‘I'm just... I'm gonna take that crab puff,’ Seaborn says as he picks it up from her plate, leaving her standing, looking even more ridicuolous.

Aaron Sorkin confesses that the president’s lines were taken from an email, purporting to be an open letter to Schlessinger, that did the rounds back in that time.  He claims he attempted to find the original author to give credit where it was due, but was never able to find the writer.  Whoever wrote the words did a good job in highlighting the barbarity of the Old Testament, and the consequent ridiculousness of demanding legal observation for selected pieces of ignorant Bronze Age bigotry.

This interlude, linked to the distraction of some lunar Right school board candidate, Elliot Roush, who had been a political opponent in the president’s past, actually form what are today some of the strongest political commentary in the entire season.

When the president laments the fact that Roush is polling well, everyone chides him about the most powerful man in the world being petty, but he presciently rebuts his staff by telling them that this is how such people gain power, and end up running the country.

And so it happened in the real America.  Little by little, bit by bit, the religionist and Tea Party lunatics captured power by taking over school boards, town councils, city halls, state seats, and finally national offices.  They’re still doing it today, and the consequence is that a notionally civilised country is flirting with people as deplorable as Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio as presidential material.  It’s like watching frogs in a slowly heating cauldron allowing themselves to be broiled to death, offering no resistance, and in this case, actually demanding that demise.

As if to anticipate this development, the congressional elections in the episode change nothing; the same balance of power is maintained.

I was and remain disturbed by the closing moments, in which some of the staff, gathered on the recovering Josh Lyman’s front door steps, toast their country with the refrain ‘god bless America’.  I cannot abide the arrogance and stupidity contained in that statement, nor can I conceive of any motivation for any one of these essentially secular characters to stoop to such a dumb phrase.

More interesting but less pertinent is a campaign poster in Lyman’s window in that last scene, promoting ‘Strauss for Senate’.  There was a Paul Eric Strauss who succeeded Jesse Jackson in 1997 as one of two shadow senators for the District of Columbia, functioning to lobby Congress on behalf of DC, and probably pursuing an agenda to gain statehood and self-determination for the district.  The set decorators appear to have had their fun from time to time.

Written by Aaron Sorkin. Directed by Alex Graves. First aired on 18 October 2000.

Headline cast in opening credits: Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn, Dulé Hill as Charlie Young, Allison Janney as CJ Cregg, Janel Moloney as Donna Moss, Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler, John Spencer as Leo McGarry, Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman, and Martin Sheen as President Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet.

Guest starring Elisabeth Moss as Zoey Bartlet, Claire Yarlett as Dr Jenna Jacobs, Rebecca Creskoff as Sarah Jordan, Jamie Denton as Tom Jordan, NiCole Robinson as Margaret Hooper, Alfonso Freeman as Andrew Macintosh.

Co-starring Myles Killpatrick as Jeffery Macintosh, Franc Ross as Sonny Saunders, Jesse Corti as Dave Stewart, Melissa Fitzgerald as Carol Fitzpatrick, Devika Parikh as Bonnie, Kim Webster as Ginger, Peter James Smith as Ed, William Duffy as Larry, Alan McRae as Gary with a ‘G’.

[From Minority Reports at for +Randy Resnick's West Wing Collection at]
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