What It’s Like to Binge-Watch “The West Wing” as a Millennial

There are two reasons I felt compelled to write about Aaron Sorkin’s seminal series about life in the White House. One, I recently wrote about Sorkin’s film, The American President, which was the really the precursor to The West Wing. Secondly, the ATX Television Festival honored the show a few weekends ago by reuniting the cast as well as the producers for a panel.

WW_FM_june11_004.jpg
AUSTIN, TX – JUNE 11: The cast of the West Wing, Joshua Malina, Janel Moloney, Bradley Whitford, Dulé Hill, Melissa Fitzgerald, and Richard Schiff with Director Thomas Schlamme and Series Creator Aaron Sorkin attend the “The West Wing Administration” panel during the 2016 ATX Television Festival at the Paramount Theatre on June 11, 2016, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Picturegroup)

My introduction to The West Wing was a few years ago, something I spoke about in my post about The American President.  I became obsessed with all things Sorkin after discovering The Newsroom. For some reason though, I associated The West Wing with old people. I know that sounds dumb, but there’s really no classier way to put it. I associated the show with an older audience and didn’t think I would be able to relate.

I’m happy to say I was wrong – not necessarily about the show being associated with an older audience, but about it not being accessible. I, of course, like others my age, discovered the show long after it was on the air, on Netflix. I meant to only watch one episode, but that’s not what happened. I watched them all…not in one sitting of course, but let’s just say, it was over the course of a few weeks. I watched Bartlet and Josh get shot in the season one finale and in the same week, saw CJ get a death threat well into season 3.

1426164628-1107495.gif

No one really talks about it, but there is a major difference between consuming a show all at once and waiting from week to week to see what’s going to happen. Being 24, I still clearly remember the hysteria I felt, rushing home to watch the Gilmore Girls finale. Now, we take in multi-season television shows in sometimes a week or less. It’s sort of like a drug. We all tell ourselves we’re only going to watch an episode or two but that never quite happens because it’s right there and WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.

giphy-2.gif

I found this pattern particularly interesting in the case of The West Wing. I quite literally couldn’t stop. It was a problem. The real world was just less interesting than the lives of Josh, Toby, CJ, Sam, Donna and President Bartlet. Aw, if only people really spoke like that. I recently decided to revisit the show and was struck by the relevance of the show today. True, they don’t have cell phones. Okay, they do, but really OUTDATED CELL PHONES. With the recent Democratic Presidential Primaries, I was struck by how much of Bernie Sanders’ platform is spewed by Bartlett and in later seasons, Matt Santos.

tumblr_namhk7t5Kt1tiqwkoo2_r1_500.gif

In the midst of my binge, I called my dad, who of course already knew I loved the show. I told him I was re-watching it and he told me he had no interest. When I asked why, he told me that the show was too depressing. Given that most of the show was made during the Bush years, he found it unrealistic and upsetting now. I never had a problem with the optimism and idealism which the show displayed as I was a Sorkin lifer, but my dad, having a degree in political science and having seen many more presidents than I have, couldn’t handle it.

I, however, completely disagree. Through shows like The Newsroom and The West Wing, I acquired an interest in politics and news, two subjects which I had little to no interest in before. The purpose of entertainment to me is twofold: obviously, we watch for entertainment value, but beyond that, I go to the movies and watch TV to be provoked intellectually. I believe that entertainment has the power to change perspectives, to help us walk in someone else’s shoes. Aaron Sorkin’s work does that for me. During the ATX panel, Bradley Whitford who played Josh spoke to this, saying…

“No human being will ever again write 22 one-hour episodes for four years – beautifully written, complicated verbally, complicated personally, funny, about something, as 11 feature films a year. It is extraordinary. It will never, ever happen again!”

On a superficial level, The West Wing is just a joy to watch. The character dynamics are fun and the dialogue is fast. The Josh-Donna of it all doesn’t hurt either.

200.gif
#SWOON

But, with each episode I consumed, I learned something new. I was not a political science major and so, many of the problems the characters had in the White House were foreign to me. The Josh and Donna dynamic was partly a way for the audience to understand these big concepts – Donna would ask Josh a question and he would answer in simple terms.

I also started listening to The West Wing Weekly, a podcast hosted by Joshua Malina (who plays Will Bailey in later seasons) and Hrishikesh Hirway. I, at first, thought this might be a waste of time, but after 12 hours in a car listening to every episode, I have a different opinion. Joshua and Hrishi discuss the show with humor and don’t always sing the show’s praises. In addition, they’ve had several guests on the show, one of which was Eli Attie, who in addition to being one of the writers for The West Wing, was also one of Al Gore’s speechwriters during the 2000 election.

ghidoskfsofd.jpg
Hrishikesh Hirway and Joshua Malina

The show is ambitious which is what I love most about it. Looking at today’s television, I’m struck by just how special The West Wing was. It was a network show which succeeded in having opinions, compelling character drama, and also just being plain entertaining. There are, of course, moments that feel outdated. However, quality writing and acting stand the test of time…even if Sorkin may repeat himself sometimes. Millennial problems, amiright?

200-2.gif

tumblr_m9xsntVhve1qzzrlmo1_250.gif

All seven seasons of The West Wing are available on Netflix….so, um, you should watch now….What’s next? 😉

The Genius of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

Okay, so I know I’ve made this blog almost exclusively about movies, but I feel compelled to talk about one of the most original, creative, and fun shows on television currently. As you know if you’ve read my previous posts, I’m a huge fan of old school musicals.

In the past few years, there’s been a slew of shows with singing, most notably Fox’s Glee and NBC’s Smash. However, there’s something different about The CW’s Crazy-Ex Girlfriend. Rachel Bloom’s totally original and creative show doesn’t surround a world with a built in reason for musicality. Glee was about a high school acapella group and Smash took us behind the scenes the making of a broadway show. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has no reason, like the best old school musicals.

crazy-ex-girlfriend-favorite.gif

When the show began back in October, many critics believed it couldn’t sustain itself over the course of several episodes – Rachel had said there would be at least two original songs in each episode. Funnily enough, it sustained itself and then some. With Aline Brosh-McKenna (the screenwriter behind The Devil Wears Prada), the show has commented on something real and relatable – the delusions we all have surrounding romance and how a person can “complete” us.

cxg-dance1c.gif

Rachel’s Rebecca Bunch moves across the country to follow an old high school camp boyfriend she runs into in NYC. She thinks it’s a sign that they’re supposed to be together. The fact that he already has a girlfriend – just a small obstacle. Never mind that Greg, the hunky bartender, likes her despite the fact that he knows she’s in love with Josh. Side note: Greg is played by Santino Fontana – aka Prince Charming in Broadway’s original cast of Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. 

The songs in the show are different because many times, they’re ironic and dark. They’re also extremely catchy. This carries over from the music videos Rachel created before Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – which, incidentally are how she got noticed in the first place. One of her best ones is “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury.”

One of my favorite moments in the show is in episode four, when Rebecca is being courted by Greg. Greg sings to Rebecca, “Settle for Me,” a song reminiscent of all the old Hollywood musicals I love – most notably Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The black and white was a nice touch.

The show does all kinds of music. The opposite of an ode to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, “A Boy Band Made Up of Four Joshes” stars the object of Rebecca’s affection, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) singing like NSYNC or The Backstreet Boys. It’s a song any girl born in the 90s will understand.

“You’re a Stupid Bitch” might just be the most poignant song Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has tackled. Rebecca sings it right after she gets caught in a lie by Josh and she feels horrible about herself.

Greg (Santino Fontana) has become one of my favorite characters.This song is everything. Greg’s ode is so, so relatable. Watch “I Could If I Wanted To” and tell me you don’t agree.

Later in the season, Rebecca starts dating Greg, which led to one of the best numbers the show has had: “Oh my god, I think I like you!” I literally can’t stop listening.

One of the things that has separated Crazy Ex-Girlfriend from other television, especially from other CW shows, is that every character looks like a real person. No one is a stick thin, perfect looking model. The cast is diverse, talented and relatable. It all comes back to Rachel Bloom who despite playing a character who makes a lot of bad choices, is intensely likable.

Bloom worked extremely hard to get where she is and her Golden Globes award speech reveals her to be humble and appreciative of the opportunities she’s been given.

Her original pilot of the show which was made for Showtime was not picked up. Brosh-McKenna and Bloom thought it was over, but The CW swooped in and gave the show a home, embracing all its quirkiness. It’s truly an accident that something this original and different got made and I just hope it continues to get renewed. Bloom is an inspiration to me because she knew what she wanted to make and she didn’t conform. The show is all her – we need more original voices like hers!

The CW is starting to rebrand itself. So, don’t be put off by the fact that it’s on the same network responsible for things like The Vampire Diaries and 90210. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is THAT GOOD and if you give it a chance, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

images.jpg