President Bartlet’s back in the White House

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Martin Sheen reprises his role as “The West Wing’s” President Jed Bartlet.

President Bartlet in back in the White House and all is suddenly well again with the world in the streaming universe, especially for “The West Wing” fans, writes columnist NICK OVERALL.

OVER recent weeks all eyes have been glued on the dramatic face-off between Trump and Biden. So, what’s been streaming over that time?  

Nick Overall.

Well, it seems there’s been a lack of political down time with attention back on “The West Wing”, the hugely popular American political drama series that ran from 1999 to 2006 with Martin Sheen as the fictional Democratic president, Jed Bartlet.

Its influence was impressive, ranked as among the greatest television shows of all time by almost every major American publishing hard-hitter – “Rolling Stone”, “Time”, “Empire”… you name it. 

It also snatched the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series four years in a row (2000-2003). 

Here in Australia, three streaming services tout “The West Wing” among their “classic series” to draw in viewers. It’s available on Stan, Amazon Prime or Foxtel Group’s Binge and it’s always a surefire sign of a show’s continued impact and relevance if it has a home on more than one streaming platform.

I’d be saying most are probably gravitating towards Binge as it just added to its catalogue in the last few weeks a reunion of the complete surviving cast in “A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote”. 

How subtle.

The reunion takes one of the most popular episodes from the third season of the show, “Hartsfield’s Landing”, and recreates it in a dramatic stage setting.

The idea of the production was to inspire people to go out and exercise that democratic right of theirs in the US election. 

When you consider that, at its height, the show was being watched by around 16 million viewers, if a special like this garnered even a bit of that influence back for a real-life election, the impact of entertainment on the real world becomes an interesting thought to ponder.

Indeed, “The West Wing” was widely praised for its accuracy in depicting the inner workings of US politics. In all likelihood, this came from the contributed talent of real political wordsmiths such as speechwriters and Senate aides.

Furthermore, the show was spearheaded by renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who you might recognise more through his work.

His character conversations are said to be as captivating as a car chase – many of his scripts almost entirely dialogue-driven and still they’re embedded in popular culture. 

Most famous is 1992’s “A Few Good Men”, the Tom Cruise military courtroom drama that features one of the most iconic movie lines of all time, delivered by a glowering, uniformed Jack Nicholson about truth and the handling thereof and all that. 

Of more modern fame is “The Social Network”, where he penned the deceitful and intense start-up of “Facebook”, with Jesse Eisenberg playing Mark Zuckerberg (you can catch this and “A Few Good Men” on Binge). 

Perhaps though, Sorkin’s writing is a little too good. 

In the last few weeks there was a dash of controversy surrounding Victorian Labor MP Will Fowles, who it seems might have lifted some of the writing from “The West Wing” for his own speech. 

In the show, Sheen playing the president makes a speech after two bombs explode at a university saying: “We did not expect, nor did we invite, this confrontation with evil.”

Fowles’ speech, in reference to Victoria’s response to COVID-19 said: “We did not expect, nor did we invite, this confrontation with a ferocious and feckless enemy.”

This was just one of a few lines that seemed a little too similar to the speech as delivered by President Bartlet, but Fowles says even though he is a fan of the show, any similar phrasing was unintentional.

Maybe the good president would give him a pass with a line from the very first episode directed at one of his aides about a transgression with tax fraud or the like: “Don’t ever do it again”. 

More of Nick Overall on Twitter @nick_overall

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