Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A reasonable snapshot

of me can probably be captured by the three programs I chose to preset the VCR for whilst I was away on holiday - Buffy, South Park & West Wing. Buffy & West Wing were repeats - the former near the beginning of its second season, the latter the last episode of its second season - & though South Park was supposed to be first-run, it turned out, no doubt seasonally induced, to be a repeat of the episode where Santa brings Christmas to Iraq.

I've always liked Buffy, especially the episodes that Joss Whedon wrote. Strangely, he reminds me of the late British playwright Dennis Potter, someone whose work was destroyed when translated into American (if you ever get the chance, see Pennies from Heaven with Bob Hoskins, & the Singing Detective with Michael Gambon). Whedon works on many levels. He throws away lines that could be the premises for treatises, & Buffy still remains the only tv series I have seen where a couple of its characters discuss William S. Burroughs quite seriously.

South Park is, well, South Park. Outrageous, totally politically incorrect, but oh so funny.

If you like West Wing, & you live in Australia, then you have a problem. Commercial television doesn't know what to do with it. It was probably first bought as a job lot with something like Friends, or Sex in the City, languished unscreened until it started winning Emmy after Emmy, was then put on, probably 18 months after it first appeared in the U.S., at 9.30, 11.30, 10.30, 12.30, sometimes Monday, sometimes Wednesday, sometimes Thursday, sometimes Tuesday. You needed a higher degree in Quantum Mechanics or Chaos Theory to keep track of its programming. Cable TV, who are far less concerned with ratings, at least show it on a regular basis, start at the beginning of a series, & run it through at the same time on the same night. But they can't show it until it's been on free-to-air tv. So, I watch the reruns, & am still entranced by them.

The episode I taped was the final one of the season, where Martin Sheen's President Bartlett, having just admitted to the nation that he has MS, is deciding whether or not to run for a second term. It's an episode full of rain, of motorcades, of the National Cathedral, of tension, of hubris, of sadness, & finishes off with one of the best uses I have come across of music as something beyond soundtrack, Dire Straits "Brothers in Arms" underscoring & overarching the drama of the piece.

I agree wholeheartedly with Ron Silliman's conclusion to a recent post mourning the death of John Spencer who played one of the strongest parts in the show.
"Whether it continues or not, the first three seasons or thereabouts of West Wing will remain as good as any television drama has ever been."


Anonymous said...

could never
get into buffy

watched much
of it though

Ron said...

The episode you taped, "Two Cathedrals," which includes Martin Sheen swearing at God in Latin in the National Cathedral ("shit god" is about the one phrase I could make out, but it's been 40 years since I last took Latin), is the single best show of any dramatic tv series ever filmed, bar none.

Geof Huth said...


Yes, one of the greatest TV episodes ever, that episode of "The West Wing." I haven't watched a single episode since September 11, 2001--at which point the real world began to seem even more real than before--but this episode ends with one of the best and most cinematic sequences in television.

"Pennies for Heaven" is good in its own way, but give me "The Singing Detective" any day. That is a remarkably eerie and compelling "musical" mini-series. A masterpiece.