Duncan Morrison reviews The West Wing, Channel 4, Saturdays at 8pm
Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. It is fiction, it requires what I believe they call willing suspension of disbelief. Real bourgeois politicians aren’t this good, they do not fight for the under-dogs, they do not hold honesty, education, freedom and truth in such high-esteem. But, wouldn’t it be nice if they did?
West Wing, the third series of which has just begun on Channel Four (for those of us who do not have digital/satellite) is the story of good people trying to do the right thing in the corrupting world of American bourgeois politics. It is, I think, compulsive viewing. It has dialogue that crackles like ER, numerous strong characters, with different, overlapping, complex relationships. It regularly makes you laugh out loud and cry within the same episode and, when it hits its pace, it will give you an adrenaline rush as well.
The third series starts with President Bartlett announcing his intention to run again for the Presidency again, despite the revelation that he has multiple sclerosis and has hidden this from both the electorate and his staff. As his team flounders, angry and shocked that he hasn’t been honest with them from the outset, spin doctors are brought in to boost the polls. But they’re more interested in votes than honesty or what is right, and it feels like a further betrayal to his team. The second episode ends with Bartlett apologising to his staff, reminding them it was they who got him elected and pledging to fight a campaign that doesn’t dumb down, that educates and fights for those at the bottom. The viewer feels good. Yes, it has tendencies to schmaltzyness, but, for me, its tugging of the heart strings works and somehow doesn’t leave you feeling manipulated.
If you compare the fictional Bartlett to all the recent incumbents of the Oval Office — and indeed to virtually any world leader of the past 20 years — you are given a salutary comment on modern politics.
Reviewer: Duncan Morrison