Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Go West, Young Man

When I blogged about the podcast Song Exploder a few weeks ago, I noted that its host, Hrishikesh Hirway, co-hosts another podcast I've been listening to. That's The West Wing Weekly, which episode by episode is working its way through all seven seasons of the TV series The West Wing.

I don't believe I've ever written about the West Wing here before -- in part because it concluded its run some time ago. But it's certainly a favorite of mine, and I think it writer-creator Aaron Sorkin's best effort on television. (Though Sports Night does make a close contest of that.) The West Wing was an aspirational utopia in which people of conscience and skill run the White House, a TV series centered on politicians who seek to improve the lives of Americans -- and actually achieve some measure of success at it.

I do have to wonder how quaint that all might seem today.

While I haven't actually been watching the old episodes themselves, I have been slowly working my way through the podcast. It's in the middle of the series' third season now, though I'm still early in the second in my listening. There are an awful lot of podcasts out there that focus on just about every television show you could think of, and most of them seem like crap. But a few elements make The West Wing Weekly worth the listening.

First, the other co-host is actor Joshua Malina, currently on the show Scandal, but (more importantly) cast member of The West Wing beginning in its fourth season. Not many podcasts have the involvement of people who actually know anything about the mechanics of making a television series. I can't think of any others that actually have one of the stars of the show itself. I'm particularly keen for the podcast to get to episodes Malina himself appears in, to see him dive into memories of actually making the show.

Second, despite the presence of Malina (or perhaps in part because of it), The West Wing Weekly doesn't just fawn over the TV series indiscriminately. The show was indeed one of the best of its time. Some would even call it one of the Top 100 TV shows ever to air. But not every episode was always perfect, not every moment flawlessly polished. Hirway is more the doting fanboy, but both he and Malina are at times willing to point out when The West Wing misfires a bit (in an episode or just a scene), which lends more credibility when they lavish praise upon it.

Third, and definitely because of the involvement of Malina, the show is regularly able to score interviews with people who were involved in making the show. Different episodes of the podcast have featured other members of the cast, directors, even Aaron Sorkin himself. They'll land interviews with real politicians who offer comparisons between the fiction and the reality. They'll talk to heads of charitable organizations when their real world causes are mentioned in the West Wing episode up for discussion that week. It's a well-rounded podcast with a lot of good insights to offer.

When I'm looking for a podcast that pokes loving fun at a favorite TV show, The Greatest Generation is my choice. On the other, more thoughtful end of the spectrum, I've now got The West Wing Weekly in the rotation. I give it a B+. If you want to get into it, here you go.

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