Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Decade Without the West Wing

Bartlet (Martin Sheen): How's the speech?

Santos (Jimmy Smits): It's OK. A couple of good lines. There's no 'Ask not what your country can do for you ...'

Bartlet: JFK really screwed us with that one, didn't he?

There are some milestones that seem to be about right, and some milestones that don't seem right.

Tonight is the 10th anniversary of the final episode of the West Wing. In my mind, that event ranks as one of the latter. I can't believe it has been a decade since that show went off the air.

For a long time, it was the only TV show that I watched regularly — and I do mean regularly. I almost never missed it.

And the episode that aired on this night in 2006 was a lot like the ones that preceded it. It told what would have been a linear story — if it was telling an actual story. It was the last chapter in the story of the Bartlet administration, the perfect way to finish the series.

As I mentioned last week, I would have liked for there to have been one more season, kind of a postscript to the story that told the viewers what each of the characters had been doing.

That was not done, but there were a few surprises in store for viewers. Toby (Richard Schiff) received a presidential pardon — I think most West Wing viewers suspected that would happen, but the outgoing president (Martin Sheen) dragged out his decision.

And the incoming president picked a one–time rival for the party nomination to be his vice president since his running mate in the series (John Spencer) died of a heart attack on Election Day.

Before the curtain fell on the series, though, the West Wing audience was treated to one last round of the show's snappy dialogue.

One of my favorite exchanges came about midway through when the president–elect (Jimmy Smits) and his wife (Teri Polo) were on their way to the inaugural festivities.

"Nine inaugural balls," the soon–to–be first lady said. "You think I'm supposed to wear nine gowns?"

"Do you have nine gowns?" the soon–to–be president asked.

"No," she replied.

"Well, then, probably not," he said.

(Actually, it seems to me that Inaugural Day is a little late to be sweating that kind of detail.)

I always liked the snappy dialogue, but, I must admit, I wondered something when I heard Mr. and Mrs. Santos speaking in the West Wing manner. Had they really morphed into President and Mrs. Bartlet?

I mean, I always thought that one of the benefits of democracy was getting different personalities with a change of administrations.

Still, I would recommend watching this episode before the next president takes the oath of office in January. The West Wing did an excellent job of showing viewers what happens on Inaugural Day — the behind–the–scenes stuff. While the new president is taking the oath and delivering the Inaugural Address — and then watching the Inaugural Parade — an army of workers descends upon the White House and moves the first family's belongings out and the new first family's belongings in.

I've heard that their work is so thorough that, when the new first family returns to the White House later on Inaugural Day, it is as if all their possessions had been magically transported to precisely where they were expected to be in the residence portion of the White House. That is especially important if the new president has children, who will want to easily find their favorite toys when they return to their new residence.

I guess the thinking is that a new first family's lives will be disrupted enough by their new positions in American life. Their private lives should offer some continuity and sanctuary from the outside world.

The two people between whom Americans will likely have to select the next president have no young children who would be moving in to the White House with them. They do have grandchildren — those grandchildren most likely would not be moving in with them, but they could be expected to be visitors from time to time.

How frequently they would visit might determine whether those workers would need to prepare special rooms for them.

A gentle reminder that, when Americans elect a president, they get that president's family in the bargain.