I'm one of the many, many people in America who flat-out hated The West Wing (though one of many fewer non-Republicans). It was a well-made, well-acted show with a compelling dialogic texture that featured, near as I could tell, no human beings whatsoever, and its hypocritical posturing (Great Moral Issues debated by hand puppets on Steadicam!) rubbed me much the wrong way. The infamous 'walk-and-talk' format that was its defining aesthetic feature was to me insufferable - too cute, too much concerned with gesturing toward intelligence - and since I personally never needed a fantasy gloss on the Clinton administration, I saw nothing to draw me to the show.
The big West Wing fans I knew were politics junkies or theatre kids. I see the appeal but feel none of it, though to a greater or lesser extent I am or have been both those things. I liked Sports Night, though my last couple viewings of episodes I found disappointing, mannered, similar to The West Wing and A Few Good Men but without their appropriateness of scale.
Over at The House Next Door, Todd VanDerWerff reviews the new show from The West Wing's creator, Aaron Sorkin: it's called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and the sample footage that was floating around a couple months ago is apparently all you need to know about the show. Todd absolutely spanks Sorkin in the course of a mixed review of the show. This is how he ends his essay, with a judicious and sly backhand:
Despite everything that Studio 60 gets wrong--and it should be noted that the pilot won't give anyone faith in Sorkin's ability to write sketch comedy--it gets just as much right. To fault Sorkin for a lack of subtlety in a medium as unsubtle as television feels like a bit of a cheat. It's nice to hear his rapid-fire banter again (nobody does it better), and it's good to know that Sorkin has managed to preserve his egalitarian views; in his world, it doesn't matter what race or gender you are, as you come ready to work. It's impossible to walk away from the pilot and not want to see the next episode. But the hard truth is, Studio 60 has more flaws that require immediate repair than any other drama in its weight class; the short list includes the potentially fatal mix of smug certitude toward, and near total disconnection from, the present day realities of the medium it's criticizing. While there's room for this style of broad theatricality on TV, it needs to come with a measured dose of realism; that's missing right now, and there's no point losing sleep awaiting its arrival. This is Sorkin-land, and we're all going to be lectured to.
People are fond of pointing out that 'nobody does it better' than Sorkin when it comes to 'rapid-fire banter,' but as verbal textures go, you'll get much more meaing from the frazzled, lived-in brutality of The Sopranos, the complex poetry of Deadwood, or any Joss Whedon show (the man can write in so many registers, often in the same scene, that people end up focusing on his cute witticisms as his 'signature' - but the naturalness of his polyphony is his great stylistic achievement). Hell, even House gets more pungency from its dialogue style, at least when the tremendous Hugh Laurie is delivering it. Sorkin's wit is appealing but its staginess - as Todd very effectively describes in his essay - keeps human complexity at bay. And Todd's right to call out the 9/11 episode of The West Wing, which is - on paper at least, as I've read the script but not seen it and feel no need to - a fucking abomination. Fortunately it ends with a good speech (from which the title is drawn), and has a couple of laughs, but even the jokiness of the script - the characters all end up in a roomful of kids arguing wittily about terrorism, a scenario so stupid I nearly threw my laptop across the room while reading, before realizing, y'know, it's my laptop - can't overcome its preachiness.
Anyhow so this is just a strong recommendation that you go read Todd's essay, which does justice to Sorkin's writerly shortcomings while praising his strengths. (A Few Good Men is a strong and very enjoyable film, which tries to outrun its staginess but can't - and it comes in for very sensible criticism as well.) Go!