Tuesday, July 7, 2009

West Wing Pilot

Here we go. Like I mentioned before, everyone will review these episodes in their own way and have their own styles. This first one pretty much will be how I will do all of mine. I will probably find new things to add and adapt over time but this will be the basic look of it. I will try to add time stamps in parenthesis so if you want to go back and look at a scene you can. I will try to add some screen shots as well. I will also be looking to add little tidbits from websites like TV.com Without any further delay lets jump right into it.

Love the opening sequence here. At 4:37 it was probably the longest teaser of any episode in the series. If someone can think of a longer one please mention it. Sorkin magic at its best. Multiple plot lines developing even and getting you thinking even before you have any clue what on earth is going. Who's Josh? Why is he being fired? I love how every staff is finding out very early in the morning about "POTUS in a bicycle accident." Keep in mind that this was 1999 and as Aaron Sorkin mentions in the commentary of this episode this was before terms like POTUS, VPOTUS, FLOTUS, SCOTUS, etc. became common knowledge.

For those not aware when this pilot aired they went straight from the teaser into the scene with Leo walking into the White House. There was no commercial break. Yes, as we do this I will try to insert tiny, useless, crazy, funny tidbits that I've run across over the years as I've watched the series multiple times and read up on it just as much. The "walk and talk" is an art that this show mastered. I haven't seen it done as perfectly by any TV show or movie....ever. I'm pretty sure I never will either. Major credit to Thomas "Tommy" Schlamme who directed a lot of the episodes in this series. I love Leo interacting with a lot of the junior level staff. Honestly and surprisingly I can't remember any other time that Leo and Donna ever spoke to each other (except for maybe one other point that is coming up in another episode in season 1) but this scene always comes back to me when I look back at the West Wing. They did a great job casting the character of Donna Moss. I really can't picture anyone else in that role. She played it perfectly as it evolved over the years. Another reason I love the "walk and talk" is because I believe it captures the White House life perfectly. Now I've never been to the White House but as you can see with all the issues that get touched on before the Chief of Staff even makes it into his office. It's a fast paced life and the way this show captures it is perfect.

Ok, back to the scene. We meet Mrs. Landingham in the Oval Office. I think I'll just turn this into a little game. She's another of those characters that was cast perfectly. I can't imagine anyone else in that role. In your feedback to this episode list if there are other Actors/Actresses that you think could have portrayed each of the stars in this series as good or better. I love I love Josh's little "split finger" comment. At about 9:30 into the episode right behind Leo's desk you see a little electronic device. In the commentary of this episode Tommy Schlamme refers to it as "a toaster". I think they made this error in one other scene. What that device does is give the exact location of the entire First Family and other key figures. So obviously it shouldn't be facing out like that where everyone can see it.

"Let's talk about Josh." There it is again. Just what is it that they keep teasing here? And there it is. The crazy people on the right again. I have to say this show, especially during the Sorkin years handles religion related issues very well. I love the banter between the staff. Makes the White House "normal" if you will. Sorkin had you caring about the characters even before you knew what they stood for and what they had done in their pasts. (15:17)

There she is. Mandy. It's a shame they never defined her role more clearly. I loved her work on the show. A smart, politically savvy woman who spoke her mind. Back inside the White House we see Leo getting completely polar opposite predictions of where the Dow Jones Industrial Average will be in a year. They're showing you how pretty much every conversation in Washington has two different sides and just as they're discussing a relatively serious issue, they bounce back to the Cubans and manage to inject some humor into the scene. Again, I love how Sorkin managed to do that throughout his years with the show. The show handles the balancing act between drama and comedy very well. In that brief little period they want from a political discussion with a reporter, to an economic meeting, to the Cubans off the shore of Miami, to Josh's future with the administration to a possible primary challenge. By the way "is that the same suit you wore yesterday?"(18:12)

Oh man...fellow political nerds! If this episode was shot in 2009 instead of 1999 we would see see them send a little tweet before going up to the two of them in that cafe. You just never know where this show will turn to next. The press secretary walks in as the Chief of Staff is arguing with someone over at the New York Times? By the way, can you spell Gaddafi? Did you notice that they mentioned the President there? Where is he anyways? (21:26)

There's Ed and Larry. Honestly to this day I have no idea which one is which. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if at some point during the series they swapped their names too as an inside joke. Gotta love how they setup the future scenes. Kathy (I don't think we ever learn her last name) walks in to give a message from the Chief of Staff's wife. If you have the DVD or have this episode recorded pause at the 23:06 mark as Sam's pager goes off. Notice who that is in the background in Toby's office? Go ahead...check it out. I'll wait.


How cool is that? For those who don't have the episode handy here is a screen shot.

Dedication. As is mentioned on the commentary right from the get go there was a total commitment to make show work. Main stars working as extras in a scene? Gotta love it.

Back to the show. Uh-oh. Sam got his pager switched. Thank God for the advances in technology. Those pagers did use to look all the same. Thankfully cellphones don't have the same problem. It's crazy that is only 10 years ago and pagers are the common thing and not cell phones. How crazy does that sound in 2009? Even the cell phones that are there (see Toby in the opening scene) look ancient. Back to the pager. So what we know so far about this Sam guy is that he gets in trouble with women a lot! First the Chief of Staff's wife....and now a call girl? Great start. Fits right into Washington (or a Governor's mansion....zing!). There's the Josh thing again. Is he being fired? You think they could have saved some of the troubles the staff was getting into for episode 2.(25:05)

Wait, a religious Democratic politician? What? God likes Democrats too? Don't tell the right wing that. We haven't even seen the President yet and he already wants one of his aides fired? Awkward Sam moment....seems to happen a lot. (28:47)

Let's take a tour of the White House? Imagine having to do anything to do with your boss' daughter. A tour of the work work place? To Sam's credit his version of White History is probably more entertaining then the real one you get while on tour. Look...there's CJ and Toby again in the back ground at 32:06.

Gotta love it. Nice little recap of his day. Oh...and that's Leo's daughter? Guess he screwed that one up! (33:31)

That guy looks like Jerry Falwell. Gotta love how Sorkin handles the transition here. Typical Washington fake outrage. Go crazy and feel violated on TV while behind the scenes you're spinning it to your advantage. Can I just say how much I love Toby in this scene (even with his factual error....keep reading for more on that)? Look who it is! The President FINALLY makes an appearance at the 37:05 mark. Speaking of which, love his entrance into the show here. Crazy to look back in retrospect and know that the President wasn't supposed to be a regular on this show. The show was supposed to revolve around the supporting cast with Martin Sheen only appearing every 4th or 5th episode.

I love the closing sequence here. First with Bartlett's little talk to Josh, to Mrs. Landingham to the overhead shot of the Oval Office. Great camera work. And of course who can forget "What's next?"

What a pilot episode! So they covered the President's bicycle accident, low poll numbers, a political gaffe, Cubans on a raft, the Christian right....did I miss anything else? Looking forward to your feedback as well as reviews from other people.

Before I wrap this up thought just want to add some little tidbits. These are courtesy of TV.com


* Aaron Sorkin based the character of Sam Seaborn on George Stephanopoulos, President Clinton's Communications Director and 1992 campaign adviser.
* In the argument over the commandment "Honor thy father", it is first claimed that it is the first commandment, and Toby corrects them and says that it is the third. In fact, neither is correct, "Honor thy father and thy mother" is the *fifth* commandment (Exodus 20, verse 12).
* Sam tells the fourth grade class that the Roosevelt Room was named for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Mallory corrects him, saying that it was named for Theodore Roosevelt, whose picture is on the wall behind him. In fact, the room is named in honor of both men.
* Sam mispronounces Toby's last name when he talks to the fourth graders.


*C.J.: You can have a normal life. You’d be amazed at how normal I can be. See, it’s all about budgeting your time. This time, this hour, this is my time. Five a.m. to six a.m. I can workout, as you see. I can think about personal matters. I can meet an interesting man. Her beeper goes off The trick is...

* Bartlet: Now I love my family and I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover so I want you to tell me from what part of Holy Scripture do you suppose the Lambs of God drew their divine inspiration when they sent my 12-year-old granddaughter a Raggedy Anne doll with a knife stuck through its throat? You’ll denounce these people, Al, you’ll do it publicly, and until you do you can all get your fat asses out of my White House. CJ, show these people out.
Mary Marsh: I believe we can find the door.
Bartlet: Find it now.

* Mary: I can tell you that you don't believe in any God I pray to, Mr. Lyman. Not any God I pray to.
Josh: Lady, the God you pray to is too busy being indicted for tax fraud.

* Sam: No. No. What I was gonna say is this: Is it possible, that in addition to
being a law student and part-time bartender, that you are what I'm certain would
have to be a very high-priced call girl. I, by the way, making no judgments.

* Sam: Ms. O'Brien, I understand your feelings, but please believe me when I tell you that I'm a nice guy having a bad day. I just found out the Times is publishing a poll that says a considerable portion of Americans feel that the White House has lost energy and focus. A perception that's not likely to be altered by the video footage of the President riding his bicycle into a tree. As we speak, the Coast Guard are fishing Cubans out of the Atlantic Ocean while the Governor of Florida wants to blockade the Port of Miami. A good friend of mine's about to get fired for going on television and making sense, and it turns out I accidentally slept with a prostitute last night. Now. Would you please, in the name of compassion, tell me which one of those kids is my boss's daughter.
Mallory: That would be me.

* Laurie: Tell your friend POTUS he's got a funny name, and he should learn how to ride a bicycle.
Sam: I would, but he's not my friend, he's my boss. And it's not his name, it's his title.
Laurie: POTUS?
Sam: President of the United States.
* Toby: Mind-boggling to me that we ever won an election.
* Van Dyke: Show the average American teenage male a condom and his mind will turn to thoughts of lust.
Toby: Show the average American teenage male a lug wrench and his mind’ll turn...

* Leo (on the phone): Seventeen across. Yes. Seventeen across is wrong. You’re spelling his name wrong. What’s my name? My name doesn’t matter. I’m just an ordinary citizen who relies on the Times crossword for stimulation. And I’m telling you, that I’ve met with the man twice, and I’ve recommended a preemptive Exocet Missile attack against his airforce. So, I think I know how to...

* Mrs. Landingham: I don’t understand. How did he...?
Leo: He’s a klutz, Mrs. Landingham. Your President’s a geek.
Mrs. Landingham: Mr. McGarry, you know how I feel about that kind of talk in the Oval Office.
Leo: I apologize.
Mrs. Landingham: Just in this room, Mr. McGarry. That’s all I’m asking.

* Leo: He was swerving to avoid a tree.
Donna: What happened?
Leo: He was unsuccessful.

* C.J.: Is there anything I can say except 'The President rode his bicycle into a tree.'?
Leo: He hopes never to do it again?
C.J.: Seriously, they're laughing pretty hard
Leo: He rode his bicycle into a tree. C.J., what do you want me...'The President, while riding his bicycle on vacation in Jackson, came to a sudden arboreal stop'. What do you want from me?
C.J.: A little love, Leo.

* Leo: Margaret, please call the editor of "The New York Times" crossword and tell him that "Khaddafi" is spelled with an "h" and two "d"s, and isn't a seven letter word for anything.
Margaret: Is this for real, or is this just funny?
Leo: Apparently, it's neither. edit »

* Toby: We're flying in a Lockheed Eagle series L10-11. It came off the line twenty months ago. It carries a Sim-5 transponder tracking system. Are you telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?


* The original Josiah Barlett, a physician in New Hampshire, spelled his last name Bartlett; his direct descendant spells his name Bartlet.

* This is the only episode of the series that does not have a teaser.

* Music: The song playing in Mandy's car when she gets pulled over is Bif Naked's "Moment of Weakness".
* Life imitated art when President George W. Bush had a biking accident at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

* Awards and Nominations:
This episode was a 1999 DGA Award Nominee for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series Night.

This episode won three 2000 Emmy Awards: Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series, Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series, and Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series.

This episode was a 2000 Emmy Award Nominee for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.

This episode was 2000 ACE Eddie Award Winner for Best Edited One-Hour Series for Television.

This episode won the 2000 ADG Award for Excellence in Production Design for a Television Series Episode of a Single-Camera Series.

Won the 2000 Artios Award for Outstanding Achievement in Casting in Drama.

Won the 2000 ASC Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Movies of the Week/Mini-Series'/Pilot.

Won the 2000 Eddie Award for Best Edited One-Hour Series for Television.

Won the 2000 Shine Award in the scene stealing category. edit »


* Toby: What to do when the Nina, the Pinta, and the Get-Me-The-Hell-Outta-Here hit Miami.

Reference to the ships that Columbus took with him on the way to the New World (the Americas). There were called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

* Sam: 'Cause Alger Hiss just walked in with my secret pumpkin.

Alger Hiss was imprisoned in the 1950s after being convicted of spying on Americans for the Soviet Union. The documents he allegedly recorded during his "spying" were kept in a hollowed out pumpkin. The use of this allusion is just a spy joke to reference the fact that he thinks that Laurie is spying on him in the bar.

While listening to the commentary also found that Allison Smith who plays Mallory is the longest running "Annie" in the history of broadway.

If you have any questions feel free to ask them here, by e-mail or via twitter.

What's next?

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