In these days of cheap political discourse, intractable problems and the most dispiriting presidential election in decades, you probably don’t need more reason to revisit The West Wing. But if you haven’t dipped back into the stream, a new podcast provides additional incentive.
The West Wing Weekly, hosted by later-season star Joshua Malina (Will Bailey) and articulate fanboy Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder, promises to dissect one of the award-winning series’ 156 episodes (which aired on NBC 1999-2006) each week for the next three years.
True to their word, through about a dozen episodes, they call bullshit on usually vaunted Aaron Sorkin scripts when they deserve it, resist the temptation to look ahead in the series’ arc and note continuity and other errors of set design and wardrobe. Inconsistencies of character, implausibility of plots, instances when the go-to plaintive oboe should have been muted and quirks of casting or character names do not go unnoticed.
They point out the green leaves on Washington, D.C.’s trees in a holiday episode, remind us that a governor can’t appoint a congresswoman’s widower to fill the remainder of a term and even speculate why subtitles don’t match what’s actually spoken. While Malina espouses a strict adherence to the initial script, he notes that other actors pushed for and received more leeway on rewrites in certain episodes.
Series regulars, guest stars and even real-life political players are interviewed in the hourlong podcasts, most memorably Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler), who cried while recalling an episode (“In Excelsis Deo”) for which he won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor. Schiff said that comedian Eugene Levy almost got what would become a famously dyspeptic role. Dule Hill (Charlie Young) and Janel Moloney (Donna Moss), who auditioned for the role of press secretary C.J. Craig, have also added insight.
Sometimes one of the hosts comes around to admit an episode is not all that. Or one sways the other with a nuanced appreciation that lends heft to what at first appears to be a drab episode.
Through it all, their respect for the acclaimed series is evident and their clear-eyed criticism enlightening. The West Wing proved both educational and inspiring, sometimes prescient and often optimistic—qualities in short supply in the current political arena. The administration of President Bartlet lives on The West Wing Weekly.