If Bartlet isn't in fact the most powerful man in America, for one hour a week we enjoy pretending he is. As ER fades into an (ironically) slow and drawn-out death, The West Wing has emerged to take its place as NBC's latest champion. It has become, in just two years, a consistent top-ten performer—bona fide Must See TV.
The secret of its success? Aaron Sorkin, also the creator of ER, has his golden fingerprints all over The West Wing: witty (if cute) repartee, beautiful actors with just enough flaws and facial creases to keep us watching, close and relatively neurosis-free relationships between characters, a riveting dramatic backdrop (the White House! America!), all melded into story lines that thoughtfully interpret the country's moral condition without meddling too much with the sunny, progressive pole of our national disposition. Not as painful to watch as, say, the late great Homicide: Life on the Street, but not as sugary as the Providence variety of (what passes for) TV drama: Sorkin is clearly at the top of his game. It is fun to watch his work.
The show bears all of the marks of its birth at the end of the Clinton years. Not only does it play to our progressive instincts, as Clinton did so well, but it also amplifies and extends the better side of the Clinton persona itself, the generous, noble, warm, and fun Bill, the guy we, sometimes against our better judgment, liked having around.
While Martin Sheen's Bartlet harks back to an older Democratic type, the manly Cold War liberal, the more cavalier ...1