Tag Archives: Roger Rees

The West Wing: An Oasis From Political Madness

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The worst kept secret with my affection of television is that I believe The West Wing is the greatest achievement in television history. I would gladly debate that point with anyone brave enough to try. That line in and of itself seems to be a microcosm for the political landscape we find ourselves in. Let’s be clear, the notion that I am right and you are wrong if you disagree with me in the slightest, is not a new idea when applied to political dialogue. For at least the last 50 years (maybe even longer) the two-party system has created a divisiveness among its electorate, suggesting that there is an absolute right and absolute wrong way to see things, depending on which side of the aisle you sit.

At some point the narrative changed. From the ‘I believe this and give me a moment so I can explain that and see if you feel the same way’ that eventually gave way to the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong and until you agree with my stance, you’re an idiot’. We are going to try to use The West Wing as a vehicle to explore what the problem really is at its core while still maintaining some sense that we can always get better. And secondly, that the gold standard of modern scripted fictional television can provide the ideals of government that we should continue to strive for.

The nature of democracy, specifically our democracy is that we are never going to get there. We will never wake up with 100% of the country completely in agreement about everything. So the next most logical goal to reach for is to create a political landscape where we keep talking. Not to slam the other side. Not to create further division. Not to widen the gap but instead, to narrow it. When it comes to politics and the practical sense of the governing of a nation’s people, we should act like intellectuals, not school yard bullies. As articulated by Jeff Breckinridge (a Black Civil Rights Lawyer from Georgia) debating reparations with Josh Lyman (a White jewish man from New England) in the episode, “Six Meetings Before Lunch”.

Jeff Breckinridge: You got a dollar? Take it out. Look at the back. The seal, the pyramid, it’s unfinished. With the eye of God looking over it. And the words Annuit Coeptis. He, God, Favors our Undertaking. The seal is meant to be unfinished, because this country’s meant to be unfinished. We’re meant to keep doing better. We’re meant to keep discussing and debating and we’re meant to read books by great historical scholars and then talk about them.

Sadly, it seems, this 2016 Presidential Election campaigns have been worse than I’ve ever seen. I’ve been following the political process and Presidential Elections specifically since the first George Bush. Every year it seems the popular cliché is that this election is a “lesser of two evils” situation. It’s always been popular to say, but this year I’m afraid the sentiment is more accurate than in past years. For the first time I can remember, there are more people wishing there were other options than those set on who they will vote for. While choosing who to vote for is every American’s right, there is a great deal of vitriol being tossed around from both sides. When the very nature of our system is to keep talking, keep evolving the debate. As opposed to spewing hatred for ‘the other side’.

Disclaimer: If you are waiting for the portion of this article where I divulge my political allegiance. Explain why my candidate is better than the other side. You are misunderstanding the point of this exercise. I have no intention of getting into the meat and potatoes of the political debate. The point to be had here is that neither side is right or wrong, but that the process was never intended to be this angry or combative. Something to consider the next time you get into a political discussion with someone who doesn’t share your view. In the “Game On” episode when President Bartlet faces off against Governor Ritchie of Florida many things are said, but one thing rings out stronger than all the others. A quote I think of every time I hear a politician or pundit drop the “partisan politics” line as a means to create animosity for the other side.

Jed Bartlet: I don’t think Americans are tired of partisan politics; I think they’re tired of hearing career politicians diss partisan politics to get a gig. Partisan politics is good. Partisan politics is what the founders had in mind. It guarantees that the minority opinion is heard, and as a lifelong possessor of minority opinions, I appreciate it.

Politicians will be politicians. In order to be one, the individual has to engage in a game of sorts. This plays out in every election cycle. One elected official cannot possible appeal to all voters. So, they play a numbers game. Using whatever resources at their disposal they will identify trends, tipping points, hot button issues and hopefully present themselves to fall on the winning side of those issues. For the politician, it’s about serving their best interest which generally means doing what is required to get re-elected. The day we discover a politician that is willing to fall on the grenade, throw away his lifestyle, security and career away for standing up for an issue they believe in is the day that politician decided to stop being a politician. My more pressing concern is that of the electorate. The people need not adopt the attitude and persona of the politicians they vote for. And that my friends is the crux of my issue.

I am sure it hasn’t always been this way. I remember watching my grandparents around election time. My Grandmother was a blind democrat. Put simply, she grew up the daughter of farmers and believed Democrats were for farmers. She really needed no other criteria. My Grandfather who did lean Democratic at times was much more open. He took the approach of “Show me what you’ve got, you have to earn my vote” and he would have no problem voting the other way. So by the time I was 10, they would not even speak to each other about politics. If the conversation had the potential of going south, they’d prefer not to talk about it, then vote however they were going to vote. That sense seems to be gone now. They both paid attention, both took in the debates of the issues of the day, but never dug in their heels to belittle or attack someone who disagreed.

Take a step back from the details. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Trump supporter, Clinton supporter, or even a steadfast Sanders or Johnson fan . Maybe it’s the 24 hour news cycle. Maybe it has something to do with how social media and technology have made the world smaller. I think the clear takeaway is that no matter who you think you’re going to vote for, it is a lesser situation. Despite popular belief, I do not think Trump’s attack on political correctness would fly 50 years ago. Similarly, I can’t imagine anyone 50 years ago voting for a candidate with real trustworthiness issues. I’m not going to so far as to call this a lesser of two evils, but it is less. Less than we should expect. Less than what came before them. We are not raising our expectations for our future President we are diminishing it. We are so used to looking at the landscape and thinking, “That’s the least crappy candidate. That’s my pick. The one I hate the least.” When did we decide this was good enough. Both parties want to believe they are rolling out Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. It may not be a choice of lesser of two evils, but there is no doubt the expectation has become lesser.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Idealistic as it may seem, we should expect more. For the moment, forget the issues. Forget the economy, forget foreign policy, forget education reform, forget national defense. We should expect more from the candidates. College educated shouldn’t be enough. Serving two terms as a Senator who took a vulnerable seat shouldn’t be enough. To be completely transparent about it, this aspect of the conversation isn’t left to Trump or Hilary. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but no President I’ve been legally of age to vote for fits that bill. Not Trump or Hillary. Not Obama, not George W, not Bill Clinton. Maybe George Herbert Walker Bush, maybe. Ask yourself if any President in the last 25 years even comes close to measuring up to what you once believed a President should be. The one thing that Herbert Walker on back had (Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Kennedy, etc not even talking about the Lincolns, Roosevelts, and Washingtons of our history) was gravitas. The moment they spoke there was a reverence. The idea that issues aside, we are in good hands. Intelligent hands. Hands of a leader in control. We can debate the subtle merits until we’re blue in the face, but the bottom line is that these candidates in today’s politics lack most of that. The sensibility of intelligence, leadership and gravitas.

Sam: Before I look for anything, I look for a mind at work. No one’s saying a President has to have a tenured share in symbiotics, but you have to have

Ainsley: What

Sam: Gravitas.

Ainsley: And how do you measure that?

Sam: You don’t. But you know it when you see it.

Political correctness made its way back into this discussion.  Again, with no intention of pumping up one or discrediting the other, this needs to be addressed.  When did we decide treating all people with the same level of reverence or respect was a bad thing?  Political Correctness is necessary.  It sets a guideline for acceptable language in scenarios that call for it.  Am I going to request political correctness when I’m watching Monday Night Football with the fellas? No, but I do think it has a place in dialogue by governmental leaders.  And when did we decide telling it like it is was anything other than excusable bad behavior?  To take that further, when did we decide we wanted average Joe’s in positions of power and leadership?  Despite what some said years ago, Joe the Plumber would make the worst public servant imaginable. To quote a completely different Sorkin show, “I’m a fan of credentials”.  I want my leaders to at the very least create the illusion that they are more educated than me, more cultured than me, more aware than me, more adjusted than me, and better at working with people and solving problems than me.  We all really, should want the best the country has to offer.  And being just another guy/girl, ‘being just like the rest of us’, or being plain-spoken are not good things to look for in the leader of the free world.  At the end of the day, if our leaders are just like the rest of us, then get everyone in the mix and work off shear numbers.  If the sample size was larger, maybe the cream would rise to the top.  Barring an asinine theory like that, give me the smartest, most qualified, engaged people this country has.  Or in other words, I want a heavyweight.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

I know that it flies in the face of what we’ve been programmed to believe, politically. We now live in a very divided America. Granted, I could suggest any number of topics from Black Lives Matter to the 2nd Amendment to Military Funding to the Economy. Chances are pretty good that anyone chosen is likely to fall any number of ways on those issues. As if we use the issues to define us. To say, I am different from you because of this. Why has that become the approach we take? Why is our default position to be combative? Black Lives Matter ALONE seems to have divided the nation in half. There is no middle ground. At least 20 years ago, two adults could discuss the issue of Abortion or Gay rights or Government spending and they could have that conversation with it never getting anywhere near the verbal violence such debates incite now. The fact of the matter is and has always been that what we are arguing about are slight. We all support free elections. We all believe that all of our citizens deserve certain rights. We all want our children to grow up in safe schools where education is a priority. We all want a strong America. We just disagree on some of the nuances of how to get there. A sentiment that is beautifully articulated by Sitting President Walken (played wonderfully by John Goodman).

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

This brings me to a point that is bound to rub some people the wrong way. The fact that any subject is given the distinction of being an ‘issue’ generally means it is important to enough people who it is worthy of the discussion. However, I have always seen ‘issues’ as rankable and not just some grocery list absent of order. Towards the top, we are always going to have ‘issues’ like the economy, education, taxes, citizen’s rights, foreign policy, right to choose, and military issues. Those and some others have always inhabited the top. In sports rankings we tend to refer to that as the top tier. Grouping certain things of like importance together.

It may not be an important first step, but it seems logical that certain issues should take a back seat. To cite specific instances from The West Wing (just for the fun of it), changing the name of North Dakota to just “Dakota”, Topography Equality, Legal protection against the burning of the American Flag, campaign finance reform, a ‘wolves-only’ highway, all should not be the thing that derails your opinion of a would be public servant. Now yes, some of that is done to make light of the point I’m trying to make. But I have run into many of the “Amy Gardner’s” or “Lt. Commander Jack Reese’s” of the world. Those who will weigh one thing that is particular or special to them allowing them to rationalize the derailing of bigger issues.

Yes, the amount of money set aside for Military spending would be important to someone like Lt. Commander Reese. But should that really be the deal breaker? Reese in the show cites military spending as the end all be all for why he planned to vote for Ritchie (Bartlet’s opponent in the re-elect). Similarly, Amy Gardner. Amy is actually one of only a handful of characters among the 250 some recurring characters on this show I admittedly ‘hate’. Mary Louise Parker is a very attractive woman, but politically speaking, I have a problem with anyone who has that one ‘deal breaker’ issue. In Gardner’s case the ONLY issue that existed was that of a pro-women’s issue agenda. Now that is an important and worthwhile issue to support. However, any deal breaker issue becomes a problem when it derails other positive legislation.

Referencing the show. Gardner does her level best to sink a bill that would provide revenue to the education system along with a few other very important causes because the language of the bill did not advance Gardner’s women’s issue enough. To some degree these deal breakers become weighted just as much as issues like the economy, education and foreign policy. Now I’m sure one could argue they are just as important. I would just politely argue that cannot possibly be true from an objective logical perspective.

Not all issues are equal in weight. That’s factual. How Donald Trump feels about Daylight Savings Time or how Hillary Clinton feels about Congressional Term Limits should not in any way come close to say the economic state of this country. Yet there are people who seem to put too much value in smaller issues. Maybe even issues that aren’t an urgent concern. We should be able to focus on the bigger issues and find ways to seek common ground there before tackling some smaller issues or even issues that really might not be urgent issues to begin with. A notion that was addressed shortly in an episode called, “20 Hours in LA”.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television


Let’s be perfectly clear, issues are and should be the driving determining factor for any voter. By no means am I suggesting that the issues important to me should overshadow what is important to you. What I am proposing is that we all accept that there are some macro issues that should always take priority. Consider your own financial/bills situation. There’s no one reading this I’m sure that is going to consider their Netflix bill as being more important than their mortgage. Yes after a long and stressful day at work, maybe knowing you can unwind and binge watch a little West Wing is monumentally important. But if you don’t have a home to watch it in, how important really is the Netflix subscription. Yes, I may be underselling the importance of secondary issues with that analogy, but the bigger point should be obvious.

While we’re considering the difference between big universally important issues and those that have a particular significance to an individual, can we also look to shed the combative nature of American Democratic politics? As has been mentioned previously in this article, “the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us”. Using that idea, it’s high time we take a step back and see the bigger picture. Like an artist painting from six inches away, sometimes taking a step back can re-calibrate our perspective.

At times, the electorate are divided among issues like foreign aid, military involvement, economic bailouts for suffering countries, base closings, support of allies and potential military presence in countries that may or may not appreciate our presence. These issues and questions can often be just as divisive as social issues like a woman’s right to choose or gay rights. At the end of each of those conversations, one very obvious question needs to be asked. Are we for Freedom or are we not? Because if we are for freedom, it can’t be limited to…well anything really. The very nature of the concept of freedom is devoid of limitations.

To say that we’re for freedom within our borders or as long as it doesn’t cost us anything is contradictory to the very notion of what freedom represents. So if you think pulling out of conflicting nations is strategically recommended, don’t think we should put troops in harm’s way, or take the approach that we need to completely fix 100% of our own problems before we put even a single resource on someone else’s soil, then you have a fundamental conflict with being the democracy we are. That is perfectly fine by the way, but call it what it is. When you can realistically identify that a person is against those things just mentioned, then that person needs to come to grips with the reality that they are not for an American Democracy.

The fact of the matter is that if America is the leader of the free world. If America represents what it is supposed to represent, then every one of its citizens has to be in support of Freedom. And not just conceptually. You have to be for Freedom everywhere and for everyone. Now that same Freedom that allows us to choose our own religion, where our kids go to school, what we do for a living, also has to extend to less admired Freedoms. Burning of the flag, saying whatever one wants, the freedom of assembly. Freedom only works if its free across the board. It must also extend to Freedom for all of its citizens even if you don’t agree with other citizen’s choices. It must extend to all religions, even those absent of any such a faith at all. It must extend do those who disagree with you. And yes, it must extend to those countries and peoples who are not quite there yet. Those countries that have yet to break free from the oppressive rule of a mightier and less Freedom loving power.

Never has such a sentiment been more adequately portrayed than in the episode “Inauguration Part II: Over There”. In this fictional masterpiece, one very obvious theme is that this particular President does not, will not put American lives in danger lightly. Often there have been points of conflict. The reluctance to put soldiers into the equation almost always is overshadowed by the greater good of the pursuit of Freedom. Which absolutely is a prime virtue of this American Democracy.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

As the episode progresses, it is clear that Jed Bartlet’s epiphany on whether the troops should be used to ensure those that want Freedom can pursue it, is not the end of this motif. While the President battles over to do it and risk lives vs not to and let tyranny prevail, his staff deals with a similar angle. Senior staff being what it is, is naturally concerned with the political fallout of the decision either way. Regardless of what side of the fence you may be on, Aaron Sorkin (as he does often in this series) provides a very simplistically beautiful way to see this issue. Sometimes, you just have to back up and see the whole picture. And sometimes that picture is very simple and lacks complexity.

C.J.: The guy across the street is beating up a pregnant woman. You don’t go over
and try and stop it?

TOBY: Guy across the street is beating up anybody, I like to think I go over and
try to stop it, but we’re not talking about the President going to Asia or the President
going to Rwanda or the President going to Qumar. We’re talking about the President
sending other people’s kids to do that.

C.J.: That’s always what we’re talking about, and in addition to being somebody’s
kids, they’re soldiers and sailors, and if we’re about freedom from tyranny,
then we’re about freedom from tyranny, and if we’re not, we should shut up.

TOBY: On Sunday, he’s taking an oath to ensure domestic tranquility.

C.J.: And to establish justice and promote the general welfare. Stand by while
atrocities are taking place, and you’re an accomplice.

TOBY: I’m not indifferent to that, but knuckleheaded self-destruction is never
going to burn itself out, you really want to send your kids across the street into the fire?

C.J.: Want to? No. Should I? Yes.

TOBY: Why? And don’t give me a lefty answer.

C.J.: A lefty answer is all I’ve got.

TOBY: Why are you sending your kids across the street?

C.J.: ‘Cause those are somebody’s kids, too.

Now while that may be a little lefty heavy, the sentiment remains. The very foundation of Freedom suggests that the pursuit is never over, especially when “Someone is getting beat up”. As a free nation of power and influence, we are inherently compelled to assist when Freedom or the pursuit of Freedom is threatened. An idea that is made clear yet again in the same episode. This time President Bartlet finds a way to promote Will Bailey to Deputy Communications Director and drive home the bigger point at the same time.

BARTLET: Will, I think some of these people don’t know who your dad is. Will’s the youngest son of Tom Bailey, who’s the only guy in the world with a better title than mine. He was Supreme Commander, NATO Allied Forces Europe. We didn’t know we were going
to do this. I would have asked you to invite him.

WILL: Well, you got quite a response from him watching on TV, sir. I think he’s going to reenlist.

BARTLET: Actually, I meant he could be here now when I tell you Toby’s asked me to
commission you as his deputy.

WILL: I’m sorry, sir?

BARTLET: Toby wants to make you deputy.

WILL: Pardon me?

BARTLET: I’m appointing you Deputy Communications Director. It covers a wide range
of areas of policy and execution and counsel to me.

WILL: To you… the President?

BARTLET: [to the gang] That’s what you want to hear from your new Communications–
WILL: I-I accept.

BARTLET: There’s a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make. Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?

WILL: It’s the only thing that ever has.

BARTLET: …and affixed with the Seal of the Unites States. And it is done so on this day and in this place. Congratulations.

BARTLET: [holding a piece of paper in his hand] You know, it’s easy to watch the news
and think of Khundunese as either hapless victims or crazed butchers, and it turns
out that’s not true. I got this intelligence summary this afternoon. “Mothers are standing
in front of tanks.” And we’re going to go get their backs. An hour ago, I ordered
Fitzwallace to have UCOMM deploy a brigade of the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Air Assault,
and a Marine Expeditionary Unit to Khundu to stop the violence. The 101st are the Screaming Eagles. The Marines are with the 22nd M.E.U., trained at Camp Lejuene, some of them
very recently. I’m sorry, everyone, but this is a work night.

The final point I’d like to drive home and reinforce with context from the West Wing is the nature of how we view politics in this country. The founding fathers of this country and the framers of the Constitution had a few things at the forefront of the construction of this country’s government. 1) Most decisions structurally were made in a reactionary manner to reject anything adopted from the British model (let that marinate for a moment-might alter the way you see ‘how this country was made) 2) Freedom of its citizen’s will be paramount to almost anything else. 3) The party system wasn’t instituted to divide the country but to allow the electorate the opportunity to be heard, view or debate the minority idea. Yet in 2016 within this American Democracy, we have grown not only divisive but almost angry and combative. The divisions are stark and clear. With the addition of the 24 hour news cycle and social media making the world smaller, we have taken a structure meant to encourage debate and the sharing of ideas and have replaced it with emotion filled, borderline verbally abusive tactics to convey that I am right and you are wrong.

Cable news might be the worst contributor to this notion. Any number of networks claiming to be fair and balanced or always in pursuit of the truth, when in fact, those ideas are conceptually false. Fox News is not fair and balanced as they admittedly support a strict adherence to the Conservative agenda. CNN is not the most trusted name in news either as they can’t be completely trusted if they are slanting left consistently. Ever want to have a great bit of fun during an election? Watch the cable news coverage of that election based on who is losing. Watching those anchors and analysts fidgeting in their chairs as if they are actually watching the end of the world is entertaining no matter who you are. So instead of shaping our news coverage based on a model that would more likely mirror the sense of the founding fathers encouraging debate and the explanation of perspective…our news media takes sides.

Now the influence of news media may not mean a great deal to each individual’s decision. It is fair to assume that most of the electorate can read between the lines. However, the presentation of this ‘sharing of ideas’ (if we can even call it that anymore) has illustrated just how far we’ve fallen. For me it started with the McLaughlin Group back in the 1980s and it continued from there from everything from Meet the Press to Face the Nation to each and every hosted program on cable news. Go watch Anderson Cooper or Bill O’Reilly (no spin zone, that’s funny) without noticing one person disrespectfully talking over the other. From a tv production standpoint, what we see now unconditionally assists more than anything else into this condition we find ourselves in. My beliefs are what’s right in the world while your beliefs (if they differ at all from mine) are stupid and therefore what’s wrong with the world. The day I hear a cable news anchor/host say, “That is a fair point, no allow me to counter.” is the day I will get off this news soapbox.

The 24-hour news cycle, social media, advances in technology and a society that is often fearful that the world is getting progressively worse and worse with each passing year all contribute to an angrier electorate. Now while I’ve heard “worst election ever” each and every election I’ve witnessed since George Herbert Walker Bush, I do believe that this 2016 election is actually the worst. Now, again, I am not referring to the candidates themselves. Granted, I could make that argument as well, but that isn’t the focus of this piece. The shear vitriol that the voters seem to be throwing at each other is the bigger issue. I am a dog person. However, I can absolutely understand and grant the notion that there are people who would prefer to be cat people. Not my choice, but cat people are not lesser people. They are not heathens for preferring cats. They are not sub-human for not wanting to choose dogs over cats. While the analogy is simplistic is it really that unrealistic? Of course not. It only seems ridiculous because of how we approach political conversations amongst ourselves. We have conditioned ourselves somewhere in the last 25-50 years that those that disagree with us are stupid and a detriment to this country as opposed to viewing the conversation as an opportunity to evaluate all perspectives.

The perspective extends further than conversations at the work coffee machine or the danish cart. It is apparent that the voters are not the only ones taking an adversarial view. The very leaders we elect also subscribe to this idea of Party over Country. At every step we should be asking “is this best for the country” and the sad thing is that question is never asked in all honesty. The question generally comes down to “is this best for the party”? The two-party system has become a contact sport. Democrat vs Republican and there needs to be one clear winner and one clear loser. Thus, is our problem.

I will give one very hot bed example. Apologies in advance, this is not the political portion of this piece either just a random issue that is very divisive and should identify the point. The slight alteration to the second amendment to hopefully decrease the number of mass shootings and violent crimes or refusing to even talk about the second amendment because no one wants to make any sort of legislative compromise even if it means saving American lives. Now I’m not saying that gun control will eliminate violent crimes. I am also not saying that to fix the problem we must remove 100% of guns. However, the bigger point to be made is that even an issue such as gun control that has very clearly drawn lines of support vs opposition should still create some level of compromising discussion. However, I dare you to bring that up in a public forum and count the seconds that pass before people resort to name calling and profanity.

We have become angry and party-centric. The two-party system wasn’t created to inspire adversaries. It was created to appropriate all perspectives into the dialogue. Yet, the government and the people who vote them in all seem to be on the same page. It’s almost brand loyalty at this point. If party A is not the winner, then they must be the loser. That’s where the concept needs to change. We all, from voters to The President need to all get on board with the idea that we collectively should be making decisions that benefit all and not just those that belong to one party over the other. The West Wing has been a beacon for what we should strive for, not what we currently are. And yes, I know, some of what is seen in this series is unrealistic and ideological. However, a great deal of it is not that far-fetched and should be the inspiration for what we hope to be.

Both sides should see ways to identify with the other. We should be able to shed the party-centric mentality and give credit where credit is due. Not everything needs to be an opportunity to advance one party past the other. Never should ‘beating the other side’ be a motivating factor, but it often is. We should in every way, every conversation be trying to advance the country not the party. Anything less than that is irresponsible.

AINSLEY: Well, it President Bartlet, I’m on the government payroll. And I believe that politics should stop at the water’s edge. To be honest with you, I think it should stop well before that but it turns out there’s no Santa Claus and Elvis isn’t cutting records anymore. See, I don’t think you think the treaty’s bad, I don’t think you think it’s good, I think you want to beat the White House.

KEENE: Yeah.

AINSLEY: You’re a schmuck, Peter. Today, tomorrow, next year, next term, these guys’ll  have the treaty ratified and they’ll do it without the reservations he just offered to discuss
with you.

Every now and then, there is a moment where the above is not the sentiment shared. Go to any travesty, any devastation that befalls this country because it befalls all of it equally. 9/11, mass shootings (at least before they became so frequent that we are almost desensitized to it), or any natural disaster. Americans come together. Without hesitation or qualification. Why does it take tragedy to bring out the inner American in most Americans? Well, the artistry in some of what Sorkin creates is Art imitating Life almost literally. We won’t even mention how the young, engaging minority democrat wins in a Presidential election over the old white republican Congressional stalwart and go straight to a story line commonly referred to “The 25th”.

In “the 25th” we discover the President’s youngest daughter has been kidnapped. The President is so beside himself over the issue at hand that he acknowledges that he is unable to preside over the country objectively. He does what he must and invokes the 25th Amendment turning over the office of the President to the next person in the line of succession. In this case, that would involve turning over his office to the highest ranking official on the other team. Yet, Sorkin again finds another way to articulate the approach we should have and not the current approach we cling to.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The West Wing on its own, in a vacuum is the greatest achievement in television history. Beyond that simple idea it continues to breed more than that. New information presents itself with each viewing. It may have you question your convictions or maybe it will solidify them. It is more than a show. I could go on and on about the genius of Aaron Sorkin, but that’s not what this is about. Ask me later, I have no hesitation in discussing the West Wing on any level relating it to any topic, but for another time I guess. Beyond the obvious form of entertainment which it swings for the fences at every turn, it is the ideology of what we as Americans engaged in the political process should constantly strive for. Even the show is not perfect. It is not a documentary about political utopia. But it does consistently show how people of differing perspectives can come together for the greater good. Or put in other words, “The West Wing can serve as an oasis from our own political madness” or at least the current level of political madness of the 2016 Presidential Election seems to be.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Lord John Marbury: A Case Study Of Greatness

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

All West Wing fans in particular were saddened to hear the news of the passing of actor Roger Rees. A Welsh actor of both stage and screen died late last night of what has been only described as ‘died from a brief illness’. His television and movie acting credits reach into the 90’s and are widely considered secondary to his stage resume. Most recently seen performing in the Broadway musical “The Visit”, which a number of sources claim he was forced to leave mid run due to the illness that would take his life. Depending on your age and exposure, there are any number of roles you may be familiar with spanning the spectrum. From Cheers to The West Wing. Boston Common to Robin Hood: Men In Tights. He was a skilled actor whose mark on acting will be sorely missed for anyone who had the opportunity to witness it.

Today in reverence of his passing, we will focus on a few episodes of his short, but unforgettable run on what I believe to be the greatest television show ever produced. The West Wing. Amidst the very American portrayal of life, relationships and conflict resolution inside the offices of the United States White House, a story line develops that introduces us to the very layered character known as Lord John Marbury. His full title is Lord John Marbury, the hereditary Earl of Selborne, Earl of Croy, Marquess of Needham and Dolby, Baronet of Brycey and England’s Ambassador to the United States. That last part comes later. In the wake of a fictional ‘skirmish’ between India, China, and Pakistan over the controlling stake of Kashmir, President Bartlet extends an invitation to what he describes to his Chief of Staff as “an Indian expert”. His Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry knows almost immediately to whom he speaks. And is not in the slightest bit enthusiastic about such an invitation.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Upon his arrival, Lord John Marbury is visibly drunk and has no problem suggesting as much when he describes the flight over as “intoxicating”. This is the first sense of Lord John Marbury’s overall demeanor. It’s also the image the Leo keeps in the front of his mind whenever Lord Marbury’s name is mentioned. However, it is in no way the beginning and the end of this character. While Marbury seems to be at the very least a connoisseur of Scotch, he is also a very educated man with serious opinions about serious issues. The Indian conflict only being the very first one.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

During the concern over the Indian/Kashmir issue Marbury makes it abundantly clear that this is a conflict of religion and the United States government need only blame themselves (or Congress specifically) for being as uninformed of the nuances of the conflict as well as permitting these nations to move towards a nuclear standoff. In the West Wing, this is the first time an outsider is introduced into the President’s small circle of advisers. As if that were not contrasting enough, the character of Lord John Marbury is literally a walking and talking contrast to virtually every other character involved. This is a tightrope that only a well skilled thespian can deliver. And deliver, Roger Rees does.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

To suggest that Roger Rees effectively portrays the British Ambassador would vastly diminish his performances. Rees literally steals every single scene he’s in. Whether we are referencing his humorously condescending turned term of endearment, “GERALD” or delivering a very eloquent position on an issue of global importance, he always steals the scene. All the way down to something as simple as his response to “Can I call you John?” The West Wing has a cast absolutely saturated with top flight acting talent of the time. I still maintain that it is the only show in history that can boast over 100 cast members of note. Probably none of which except Roger Rees that could have pulled off the performance of Lord John Marbury.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

As a relative contrast from his first appearance in the aptly titled episode “Lord John Marbury” to the more adamant episode titled “Dead Irish Writers”, we begin to peel back the layers. As if it were a running gag in the writers room, Marbury repeats many many times, “Brendan McGann cannot visit the White House”. As the episode progresses we see the subtlety that few actors possess. The ability to slowly, snails crawl slowly, transition from forcefully committing to the statement as if it were his own strong conviction to the eventuality that his own actual opinion is quite the contrary. Now this transition almost literally spans the length of the episode. At the conclusion of which, Marbury makes it clear that the United States must invite Mr. McGann in an effort to resolve tension. Even if it is the English government’s firm stance to not associate with a man responsible for death and destruction brought through terrorist acts against England as well as Ireland.

Marbury: A terrorist is a terrorist even if he sings, Danny Boy. Brendan McGann cannot visit the White House.


Toby:Then what can we do but talk to him?

Marbury: Nothing. You must talk to him.

Toby: What?

Marbury: Toby, despite appearances, I do have lucid moments, and I know that England is… running out of turns in this particular… but as, uh, Ambassador to Her Majesty’s Government, I must tell you that…

Toby: Brendan McGann cannot come to the White House.

Marbury: Yes.

Toby: Understood, Mr. Ambassador.

During season 2 in an episode called, “The Drop In”, there is a very simple matter the ceremonious duty of naming Lord John Marbury to the post of England’s Ambassador to the United States. So simple that Marbury gets pushed back later in the day due to so many such ceremonies being performed in a single day. This opens the door for Chief of Staff Leo McGarry to try an solicit support for a missile defense shield program from his greatest adversary, the about to be newly commissioned British Ambassador John Marbury. Support McGarry will not get.
Leo: And you’re an expert in the field. And I hope I can count on your support.

Marbury: You may hope for it but you’ll not have it.

Leo: Why not?

Marbury: Because the NMD is an absurdly wasteful military boondoggle that will never produce a working missile. It violates any number of elements of the ABM treaty. And any argument you make in its defense will surely be moronic.

There are a number of characters throughout this series who display a desire to beat the other side for the sake of winning. Admitting up front and with no hesitation that the issue or legislation in question has nothing to do with what’s best for the American people. That the goal here is to win. Or more specifically beat the White House. This is not the case for Marbury. He is not out to beat Leo. However, his convictions, knowledge of the issue at hand, and overall understanding of how the world works puts him in a unique situation to battle with Leo and often effectively articulate his side of the debate. Often still, converting those around him to that side of the debate.

The character of Lord John Marbury is more specific and in need of being delivered in just the right way that not just anyone would be capable of delivering it successfully. While we have only looked at three different scenes found in the first half of the series, Roger Rees’ contributions to the series were almost immeasurable. The show in total is so completely magnificent that calling Lord John Marbury the flower amidst the desert would be disrespectful to the rest of the product. Like so many characters in this show, his contribution is impressive. To even suggest the concept of the show without his performance would downgrade the product overall. As it would the performances of John Spencer, Martin Sheen, Allison Janney and many more too numerous to mention.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The West Wing is a phenomenal production in television history for two very significant reasons. The first of which that never seems to go unnoticed is the level of writing that the fans of the show herald as the genius of Aaron Sorkin. The second is the contributions or the interpretation of said writing brought to life by the actors. I cannot speak to whether the character of Lord John Marbury was created from the beginning or if he was created along the way as the story line evolved. What is certain, is that Roger Rees brought Lord John Marbury to life. Each and every moment Rees is on scene, he brings that character to life. Arguably the most colorful and entertaining cast member of maybe the most decorated and lauded cast ever assembled.

It’s important to acknowledge that Rees’ contributions to art of acting by no way is limited to five episodes on an American television show. However, his work therein seems to exemplify the actor that he was. Whether you were introduced to him early or late, stage or screen, Roger Rees brought a certain commanding quality to his craft that not everyone brings. There is a difference between doing the job and excelling at the job. At this point, it goes without saying that Roger Rees excelled at the craft of acting. In today’s age of instant streaming, DVRs, and on-demand libraries, I would strongly recommend you look into the contributions of one “Roger Rees”. Personally, I would suggest starting with The West Wing, but clearly that would be biased on some level.

Roger Rees, who died doing what he loved, passing at the age of 71. He and his contributions will be genuinely missed.

Courtesy of Twitter
Courtesy of Twitter

Forever: Diamonds, Diamonds, Who Stole The Diamonds?

Photo Courtesy Of ABC
Photo Courtesy Of ABC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Although NYPD Medical Examiner Henry Morgan, keeps his private life private, the same can be said for his partner on the ABC series “Forever,” Detective Jo Martinez, keeps her off-duty life to herself. We found out in the pilot that her husband died in an accident a few years ago, but precious few details of her life are known by fans of the show. That curtain of mystery, surrounding her, cracked open just a wee bit in the series latest episode, as we got our first glimpse of her late husband New York District Attorney Sean Moore.

Our first image of the evening is a New York City jewelry store, where we see all types of diamond jewelry, as we hear Tony Bennett singing “Rags To Riches,” on the soundtrack. Along with the song, we soon hear the sound of breaking glass as a man in a ski mask’s breaking the display cases and stealing the jewelry. The thief then finds the shop’s lock-box, quickly breaks it open and finds a velvet bag filled with loose diamonds. After he pockets the bag, he reaches above him with his crowbar and smashes the security camera.

We’re now outside in a different part of the city and we see a young blonde-haired men wearing a stocking cap, running as fast as he can. He runs up the steps of one of the brownstone building and raps on the front door, shortly thereafter we realize it’s Detective Martinez’s home as she answers the door, but nobody’s there.

The next morning, Martinez, Detective Mike Hanson and Morgan check out a homicide, of what appears to be a hit and run and we see the victim’s the guy who knocked on Jo’s door the night before. Morgan, informs the detectives, that this wasn’t a hit and run, the car went out of its way to hit the victim, then backed up over him to finish the job.

After Henry’s done his examination of the body he tells Martinez that the victim’s body shows prior damage leading Morgan to believe that the victim had a criminal record. They identify the victim as Aaron Brown, sent to jail in a case prosecuted by Moore. Hanson looks at the file when Martinez leaves the room and wants to kick himself when he realizes that her husband handled the case, that sent Brown to prison for robbing a jewelry store.

Martinez and Morgan interview Brown’s widow and she said her husband turned over a new leaf after he got released from prison, he stayed on the straight and narrow, trying to provide for his wife and son. Jo asks her if he had heard from any of his old cohorts and Mrs. Brown tells her that Aaron wasn’t involved in crime any more. When the widow leaves, Henry asks Martinez why she doesn’t believe Brown became a new man, she responds that in her years on the force, she’s yet to see a former criminal change his stripes.

We get our first flashback of the episode as a graphic tells us we’re visiting London’s Southwark Prison in the year 1816 and we see Henry in one of the cells trying to adjust to his manacles. Suddenly we hear a voice telling Henry to calm down, he’s been transferred from the Insane Asylum to the prison. The man’s a Catholic Priest and tries comforting Henry, a gesture he’s received from no one in many years.

The Priest says Henry appears to be a gentleman and Morgan says he once was, but after spending years locked away, he’s not sure what he is any longer. The Priest asks Morgan if there’s something he wants to get off his chest and Henry laughs, telling the cleric he’d never believe him. The Priest says when he’s ready to talk, he’ll be there to listen and at that point we realize that the Priest’s a prisoner as well, sharing the cell with Morgan.

Back at the station Jo informs Henry, that Brown’s the main suspect in a jewelry heist the night before. They head to the shop and Martinez sees a familiar face, Detective Hugh Dunn, who she attended the Academy with. Morgan then goes through the motions of the thief and as he concludes he says that Brown didn’t rob the store, but got set up to take the fall. Henry says the actual thief’s right-handed and used his left hand to make it appear to be Brown, he then says that the dead man couldn’t have smashed the camera above him as he had a torn ligament that would have kept him to reach that high.

When Henry and Jo return to the station, Lucas informs Morgan that they found the ski mask worn by the thief. He smells the mask and then asks Lucas to smell it and his assistant says it smells like pancakes. Jo and Mike watch the videotape of Brown being questioned and the man questioning him is Sean Moore. Near the end of the tape, Moore takes a call from Jo and tells her he loves and misses her and Martinez looses it and has to run out of the room. Henry comes in seconds later and sees the paused image of the tape and asks Hanson if that’s Jo’s husband.

Morgan finds his partner in front of a vending machine as the machine takes her money but refuses to drop the gum she selected. Her frustration’s immense and she tells Henry she doesn’t want to talk about her husband. Morgan agrees and she asks him why he’s looking for her and he responds he’d like her to smell some perspiration.

After Jo and Hanson identify the smell as pancakes with maple syrup, Morgan informs the detectives, that the odor’s a symptom of untreated diabetes. He then immediately picks out who he believes is their suspect, Brown’s former accomplice Diego Rodriguez, due to his skin discoloration. Mike says that Rodriguez is still in prison, but a call informs them that Rodriguez got let out three months before on good behavior. They have his address as a warehouse.

The three detectives head to the warehouse and find Rodriguez and another guy, who quickly flees the scene as they go after Rodriguez. The three detectives split up and Mike gets shot in the arm, we hear another gunshot and Dunn tells Jo he killed Rodriguez.

When Henry and Lucas perform the autopsy, they find a diamond inside Rodriguez’s abdomen, then soon discover that he swallowed a condom filled with Diamonds. Henry brings the stones to Abe, who tells Morgan that the stones are flawed and not worth much, contradicting the value that the store owner said they were worth.

Jo and Henry go to visit Mike in the hospital and Hanson says the case’s solved, Rodriguez was the thief and killed Brown, but Henry says there’s something wrong as the stones were supposedly much higher quality than the lot found in the abdomen. Mike asks Martinez to summon his doctor as his pain meds are wearing off, then asks Henry to drop the case, as it’s killing Jo.

Henry decides that he and Lucas will do the detective work and they trace Brown’s steps the night he got killed. Morgan realizes the red paint on Brown’s hand came from a red door of the house they just discovered, he knocks at the door and Jo answers it. He tells her he believes Brown knocked on her door the night he died and she recalls going to the door, but no one was there. They then realize that Brown came looking for Sean.

They interview Brown’s widow again and this time Jo tells her that she believes Aaron was an innocent victim and he might have tried to find Jo’s husband the night he got killed. When Mrs. Brown finds out Sean Moore’s Jo’s husband her face lightens up and says that Sean got Aaron’s cell reduced so he could have a life with her and their son. She then tells Jo, she’s got the greatest husband and Martinez thanks her.

The pair end up in a bar and she tells Henry she just wants to drink and stay silent, Henry says he has to say one thing, a splash of water will bring out the full flavor of the rye she’s drinking. After about ten seconds of silence Morgan tells his partner that she needs to deal with Sean’s death sometime and she says she will, but not tonight.

She wakes up the next morning at Henry and Abe’s and asked how she got there, Henry explains Abe picked them up after the bar closed and they brought her to their place so Abe could give her his famous hangover cure. She takes a sip says it’s awful but her head’s clear. Abe believes somebody robbed a statue from his store and Jo asks how much it was insured for and Henry says nothing because the statue was a fake. Abe then says he can use his blanket policy and likely recoup more than the statue’s worth. Immediately Henry and Jo deduce that the store owner may have set the whole thing up, to get a windfall from his insurance company.

When they arrive at the station, Dunn’s there and Martinez tells Dunn she thinks Phil Fleishman, the store owner set the robbery up and Dunn and Jo drive to Fleishman’s store.

Back in 1816, Morgan’s told the Priest his secret and the cleric not only believes him, he says they were both sent to the prison for a reason and the Priest’s reason’s to help Henry. He talks Henry into hanging himself and tells Morgan, that when he’s reborn to move far away and put this life behind. When Henry’s neck breaks, his body vanishes.

Hanson comes into the morgue and suddenly Morgan questions if it was really Rodriguez that shot him, they act out the scenario and realize that Dunn actually shot Mike, then killed Rodriguez and planted the gun on his body. Hugh and Jo are driving to the store when they get a call that Fleishman’s not at his store and must be at his home in the other direction, so Martinez pulls the car around and starts driving the other way. However Dunn blew his cover when he mentions Jo lives in Washington Heights. Her address was kept secret to keep Sean protected, she slips a blue-tooth receiver in her ear and calls Hanson’s cell phone.

Dunn soon realizes she knows what’s going on and pulls his gun on her. Henry tells her to smash the car into an upcoming barrier and make sure she hits the middle of the barrier. She does and survives the crash with just minor abrasions.

She returns to the station and Mike tells her to head home or she can come to his house and have dinner with his wife and children. Jo says she’s heading home, but she grabs the videotape from Brown’s records. She sits at home playing and rewinding the tape, when there’s a knock at the door, Henry thought she could use some company.

They sit on Jo’s front steps each holding a mug and she tells Henry her lost conversation with Sean was an argument, before he traveled to Washington where he got killed. She says she never got to apologize and Morgan tells her they were in love and Sean knew she was sorry.

The Story Continues Tuesday February 3, at 10:00 pm on ABC.