…West Wing. It started on shaky ground last season, as the show’s new writers struggled to recover from the cloud Aaron Sorkin left under, but the crew, who were responsible for such shows as China Beach pulled it together with Shutdown and have since been pushing new heights.
It helps that many of the show’s old strengths from the first season are still around, namely the cast. All of the regulars, from Martin Sheen’s Josiah Bartlett on down, are thoroughly comfortable in their roles, deep into the characters, and sizzling with chemistry. This last season, the writers have helped keep things from going staid, by moving the action to the last year of the Bartlett Administration and shifting the pieces about. Donna has finally left Josh and has gone to work for VP Bingo Bob’s campaign. Josh is realizing that the Bartlett Administration has gone as far as it can go, and is looking down the road at who next will sit in the oval office. Leo has had a heart attack and C.J. is now America’s first female chief of staff. Tobi Ziegler hasn’t quite realized that the Bartlett era is winding down, and he’s getting more and more frustrated and frantic.
But it is the writers’ decision to bring up the MS issue that has pushed this season into the stratosphere. The president’s terminal illness, which was only occasionally an issue with this presidency (despite them fighting an election campaign on it), now looms behind this administration like a wraith. We already have powerful images of the president in a wheelchair, and it’s all pushed by some Emmy-worthy performances by Martin Sheen and Stockard Channing. I realize that this president could die in office, and everything that he does, or tries to do, while everyone around him considers their future, has a new sense of urgency.
West Wing is a very American show, very idealistic and optimistic, but it is one person’s (or a small group of people’s) opinion of what America should be, compellingly told. I must admit that I treat West Wing as a bit of escapism. I watch it every week and imagine ourselves in Bartlett’s America — one beset by challenges as in today’s world, but one with more competent people at the helm, and with the sense that, despite all, things would turn out all right. Would that real America be like this, but nobody ever said that real life would be easy.
Though West Wing is the best television show currently in production, House cuts it very close.
House is an hour-long drama about Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant diagnostician working at an American hospital leading a team of physicians whose job it is to diagnose illnesses that have stumped the regular doctors. In a recent episode, House is drawn to the case of a kindergarten teacher who appears to be suffering from terminal brain cancer. Just one problem: no tumour can be seen in any cat scan. Dr. House leads his team through a number of blind alleys before finally discovering that the problem is tapeworms.
Yes, it’s yet another medical drama, and heaven knows that we have too many of those on television, but House is different. The series is a medical mystery rather than a medical drama. Consider it a medical CSI (TMI-cam [acronym for Too Much Information] makes an appearance) where the sense of “geeks save the world” hasn’t yet been lost. Dr. House’s teams have a number of quirks, but all of them take second stage to House himself. For a variety of reasons, Dr. Gregory House hates people. “I’m a doctor, I don’t treat people, I treat illness.” He is ascerbic, brutally honest and suffers fools not at all. He’s broken (he uses a cane to walk) and bitter. He’s a complete jerk, and he’s a genius.
He’s also Hugh Laurie. Hugh flipping Laurie. The foppish Prince Regent from Blackadder. The father in the Stuart Little movie. What the heck is this British comedian doing in this character drama playing a grizzled American doctor?
Except that, if anybody looks at Hugh Laurie’s recent credits, you’ll see that he’s been branching out for a while. House brings the man’s considerable talents to a network audience. Laurie’s American accent is remarkable, but his on-screen presence is simply astounding. Watching him as Dr. Gregory House, I realize that Hugh Laurie is using all of his considerable talents as a comedian to make his character work in a drama. Take a comedy and remove the laughter and what you have is insanity; the result is mesmerizing.
A buzz is slowly building up around House, largely due to Laurie’s screen presence. If they can keep the off-kilter feel, the sense of geeks save the world, and if Hugh Laurie and the writers can maintain the tight balance on House being a brilliant jerk, House should succeed, and be a show to watch for many seasons to come.
Best Show Caveat
When I say a television show is “the best currently in production”, take it with a grain of salt. I don’t watch much television. I have to be very selective, thanks to the amount of time I spend working, writing and doing my share of the housework. House and West Wing are the only two shows I watch regularly, especially now that Vision TV has completed its run through the Wonderfalls series. In 2005, I’ll be adding Battlestar Galactica to this list and Doctor Who and nothing more.
So, I haven’t seen Carnivale, or Six Feet Under. I am not drawn to The Sopranos. My award is highly selective and, before :Buffy: was cancelled, she held the title. Before that, I’d awarded the title to the third season of The X-Files before it was toppled by late third-season Babylon 5. After :Buffy: went off the air, the title was vacant.
In other words, it’s subjective and incomplete. Make of it what you will.
New Pound of Flesh
J.S. Porter has a new Pound of Flesh up at SpiritBookWord on the power of story and the gospels that didn’t make it into the New Testament. I knew about the Gospel of Thomas, but I hadn’t realized there was also a Gospel of Mary Magdelene and a Gospel of Phillip. Their differences are most interesting, and a part of me thinks that the Bible is the lesser for not including these works.
A small part.
Anyway, go read him.
Recovering from the Holidays
This is the longest I’ve been away from my blog. We’ve had our friends over, and I went from there into a temporary assignment. So, in reality, I haven’t recovered from my holidays. Will do so this weekend.
The :Trenchcoat Farewell Project: is still being bound. Extra copies are still available for those who want them (and are willing to pay $50).
The voting is continuing at the 2004 Canadian Blog Awards, so don’t forget to vote. Everybody can vote once a day, and I’m nominated for Best Non-Political Blog.