West Wing Reunion: HBO Max Special review is a compelling fiction

West Wing Reunion West Wing Special HBO Max Martin Sheen

Supported by the excellent guidance of the great Thomas Shalami, the good intentions of the “West Wing” merits often compensate for their unresolved importance.

Most nights, once I respond to emails and review the TV, I grab a pen and start writing postcards. Sometimes the letters are in support of judges of the Ohio Supreme Court, sometimes they are for Congressional candidates in South Carolina. Headlines pour in from a nonprofit trying to help get out the vote, and postcards pile up on the bar cart by my door. With ink running low and my hands starting to ache – it turns out that writing all day and writing all night is not the way to a healthy wrist – I often wonder: Is this helpful? Like a lot of citizens desperate for change in November, I want to do something to help facilitate change, and me need to To do something to relieve my growing anxiety.

I’m talking about this only because I felt similar yearning during “A West Wing Special,” HBO Max’s reunion for Aaron Sorkin’s early drama on NBC. There is an express desire to make a difference, and not just because the staged recreation of “Hartsfield’s Landing” (Season 3, Episode 14) is being used as an advantage for When We All Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing participation in an election; And it’s not just that the hour-long special replaces 17 minutes of commercials with direct-to-camera addresses by the likes of former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama. Even Bradley Whitford does not explicitly state his goal at the top of the episode: to convert at least one person who is not a voter into a elector.

It is the “West Wing” itself that seeks to feel revitalized again, in an era when its fanciful version of the capital’s politics has died and gone.

As a reimagining of a powerful TV episode, the remake of “Hartsfield’s Landing” is beautifully played. The cast is returning to their roles as elderly rock stars who breathe new life into old songs. Sure, the dynamics of Josh (Bradley Whitford) and Donna (Janel Maloney) seem a bit inappropriate, but the whole episode is an act, no flirtation. Emily Proctor (who played Ainsley Hayes) is reading theater directives an odd choice, even though she did play Republicans and presumably a nonpartisan benefit.

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Sterling K. Brown interfering as Leo McGarry (originally played by John Spencer) was a notable exit; Spencer’s cushioned face and witty intelligence expressed the inherited history of the president’s chief of staff and his old friend, and was nearly 10 years older than Brown when he first took on the role. But Liu is not a big part of “Hartsfield Landing” and Brown transfers the necessary authority without inflating the part beyond its connection to this episode. (Plus, the behind-the-scenes footage of him dancing with Martin Sheen is invaluable.)

Sterling K Brown in “A West Wing Special”

HPO Max / Eddy Chen

Even with greats like Alison Janney playing pranks and Martin Sheen taking off his tortoiseshell glasses (new frames for his signature move), the star of “A West Wing Special” is his director, Thomas Schlamme. The Emmy-winning legend who helped make the original series a TV test, takes on a new, if similar challenge here: to recreate his signature energy of walking and talking without the space for hiking. Sorkin’s language has always been stage-ready. A lot of dialogue, a lot of speeches, a lot of explanation. But just like “The West Wing” can’t feel like a fencing lecture series, “A West Wing Special” can’t feel like a staged reading. (Originally, this was going to be a table read, but, most likely when HBO Max got involved, they decided to do so Something “more”.)

Once again, Shalam rises to the challenge. Not only does he devise visually appealing ways to present the scenes – like Donna’s shadow casting onto the exterior portals – but he’s pretty clever how he fills out the frame. Looming columns and interiors of the White House remain in the background of some of the shots to remind viewers of their whereabouts, but that doesn’t stop Schlamme from incorporating LA Orpheum’s empty theater seats into other frames, or even from pulling back. To show house lights above actors playing chess. It will even use neatly placed coffee mugs or popcorn bowls to accentuate the movement, all of which adds to a professional degree in maximizing the minimal amount of space; Directors who do the opposite – adapting plays for screen, rather than TV shows for theater – should look to this special program for advice.

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Once the handsome production ends, the question arises of what has been accomplished. For the years since the drama left NBC, “The West Wing” has remained as the Abundant power In how progressives view politics, thanks in large part to its accessibility on Netflix. New viewers embrace her charming patter and ambitious messaging, while veteran fans find her a unique blend of comfort and TV prestige that is highly watchable.

But, as Samuel L. Jackson clearly stated in his segment of the special, “Our politics today is a far cry from the romantic vision of The West Wing.” Anyone who uses the series as a benchmark for how DC works now lives in a dream world, and the special appears to wink the audience in between the shots, acknowledging the latest. Cash Against its fictional-like version of American politics – before moving forward with fiction anyway.

Whitford, with his modest rhetoric about how little actors are used in the struggle to vote, says a lot in the introduction. (Q: “What can we do,” The West Wing, “the People’s Choice Award nominee? […] So why not go to one of your little shows where everything finally works out? Jackson then spoke directly to the series being called “Fantasy” in Midway. “TV fiction is out of reach?” He asked. “Why?” vote.”

West Wing Reunion West Wing Special HBO Max Bradley Whitford Alison Janney

Bradley Whitford and Alison Janney for “A West Wing Special”

HPO Max / Eddy Chen

So, will they? Will the viewers end the special, spread the good word, and exercise their civic responsibilities? Or will they click on Netflix and watch more “The West Wing”? Will they remember what they saw in a day, week, or month?

I would argue yes, vis-à-vis all of the above, but whether the “special western wing” actually diverts anyone who is not voting to register, vote, or participate in the upcoming elections, that is a question that we will never be able to answer. Many viewers should be well-versed in the elections and their role in them, and it seems that this special – available only to those able and willing to pay $ 15 a month for HBO Max – is preaching to the chorus. (That “A West Wing Special” arrives at premium broadcast service the same day it offers its original network Free ads To Donald Trump, one more timeBy far the most frustrating thing about this particular show. Even Republican Robert Richie, Bartlett’s rival in the third season for the presidency From Florida, Would realize that the “West Wing” special has more inherent value to the electorate than anything it spews out with ultrafast.)

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However, the reunion’s determination to put its prolonged control of people to good use is an impressive development in the series’ ongoing legacy. As Jackson points out at the end of his talk, TV fiction can be aspirational, as long as no one confuses it with reality. People who complain about the realistic candidates and wish they could vote for Bartlett instead, should be able to decide who Bartlett will vote for himself (you know, if he’s real). A West Wing Special admits equally and urges people to see beyond imagination; Hear from a real president, a true first lady, real people ready to inspire and inform.

Donations, text banking, volunteer work, social media posts, postcards: sending anything into the void for a purpose that requires little hope; A little confidence, a little imagination. Do I think someone picks my postcard out of their inbox and thinks, “Well, I think I’ll do that will Voting this year? “Probably not. But I have to try. We all do – even” the West Wing. “

Degree B.

“A West Wing Special To Benefit When We All Vote” is aired on HBO Max.

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