The Cap’n and I used to go to movies. Sunday night was usually date night, and with babysitters in Israel charging in shekels what the off-duty nannies we could get in the U.S. were charging in dollars, movie-going is not the wallet-stripping experience here that it once was.
And then it hit: the Great Movie Slump. I don’t know if the studios are turning out only garbage these days, or if the good stuff just isn’t coming to Israel. But in the last six months, we have seen “Mamma Mia!” twice (liked it the first time, were desperate for anything watchable the second time), “Quantum of Solace” (we love Daniel Craig’s Bond, though this wasn’t the best plot we’ve seen), “Tropic Thunder” (amusing, but seen more from desperation than from any other motives) and “Stepbrothers” (ditto). “Duchess” had two weeks of showing at prime time at the art film house, and then was bumped to Shabbat showings and Tuesdays at 5 PM. “Doubt” looks interesting, but I’m not in the mood for Catholic school angst right now.
Then I remembered when I was teaching years ago how hooked the other members of the history department were on the TV show, “The West Wing.” (That year, the Cap’n and I were hooked on the last year of “Star Trek: Voyager” at the time. Remember that post I did a few weeks ago on nerds?) At the time I didn’t take it too seriously because for me the experience of watching TV in the U.S. was a punishing one; I found the advertisements annoying, and the programming even worse. And yet over the years I’ve remained curious about that series and how it managed to hook the brainy history faculty.
So with the movie scene moribund and no television or cable in our house in Israel, I decided to try to get my hands on the series. After sending out a query on the Efrat chat list, I managed to acquire the complete series (and the series “Get Smart” as a bonus gift).
So now the Cap’n and I are hooked on “The West Wing.” Any time we have 43 minutes to spare, we postpone all other activity, plunk ourselves down in front of the computer, and take in another episode. The fascinating characters, witty dialog, blend of the personal with the political, and treatment of a wide variety of contemporary social and political issues are amazingly entertaining. (We’re even able to stomach the ultra-liberal views adopted by most of the administration, since some of the time they get corrected by experience or Republicans or both.)
My only question is, Since when did television get so high-brow? The Cap’n suggested that the market share interested in programming like “The West Wing” may be a relatively small one, but it’s also probably more affluent, and expected to make a reasonable return on the advertising. Beyond the bottom line, though, the notion of an American president with a Nobel Prize in economics who hires people who disagree with him and who is comfortable in his skin as the leader of the free world but doesn’t let it go to his head is understandably seductive for American viewers. I imagine it was a delicious escape for those disgusted with Clinton’s shenanigans and lapses in professionalism, as well as Bush’s tunnel vision and known dislike of contrary opinions. (What would viewers be escaping from the Obama White House? I wonder.)
I dread the day when we get through all seven seasons of the show. I suppose we’ll have to ask the same question President Bartlet is always asking: What’s next?
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