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Western politics

Bravo finished showing the first season of The West Wing, which seems like as good a time as any to talk about it.

I’m gonna keep watching, and I might even buy the DVD set. When you get right down to it, Aaron Sorkin knows how to write really good dialogue, and he knows how to pluck the heartstrings. The closing moments of "In Excelsis Deo" are really drop dead beautiful and touching. I care about the characters, too.

On the other hand, in some ways I almost feel like Sorkin cares too much about these guys. The staffers have their flaws, so that’s OK, but Bartlet is just too perfect for my tastes. He always knows what’s going on in everyone’s life, he’s fatherly, he cares, and he’s incredibly smart. The one big flaw Bartlet has during the first season is letting politics get in the way of his ideals, and he conquers that before the season’s done.

Sorkin knows Bartlet needs problems, so he gives him one, but it’s an external issue — an affliction that is in no way Barlet’s fault. Thus, he gets his dramatic tension and eats it too, as it were.

Fortunately, I’ve got House of Cards to sate my desire for a little more cynicism in my political theater. It’s a nasty, nasty piece of satire starring Ian Richardson as Tory MP Francis Urquhart, Chief Whip of the House of Commons. (Random BBC connection of the week: Susannah Harker, who played Dr. March in Ultraviolet, co-stars as a young political reporter.)

I started out being amused by Urquhart’s nasty little intrigues and his asides to the camera, but by the last episode of the first miniseries, I was horrified. Excellent management of mood.

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