I think we all know my resolution a few weeks ago to stop watching West Wing marathons was merely so much hot air, and in fact the obsession continues. I admit I watched a few episodes when it was originally aired, but at the time I wasn’t paying attention to the writing. (Yes, I admit, I was paying attention to Rob Lowe, but really, weren’t we all?) This time around I find myself envious, yes, absolutely envious, as the writer’s get away with things that I have always told not to do. The “errors” these writers commit would be egregious in the book world. They bring introduce and dismiss characters at the drop of a hat. They start new plot lines without any warning. And the characters frequently don’t explain themselves to each other, let alone to the audience. Basically, the writing hews closer to real life. Is it because they’re on TV? Is it because they’re better than me? Is it because they’ve got 156 episodes to practice with?
For instance, during one episode Sam Seaborn (did I mention Rob Lowe’s dreaminess) is upset and off-balance because he recently found out that his father has been keeping a mistress for decades. Up until that episode, the audience had never heard mention of his parents, and after that we don’t hear of them again. But in a real life work place frequently co-workers are thrown for a loop by family issues. And you do what these characters did, which is express sympathy and try to prevent them from letting home issues become work issues.
So the question remains – do the writer’s of West Wing get away with their realism because they are so good at it? Or do we allow this kind of realism because it isn’t on the printed page? Is there something about being in a book that makes us want storylines and characters wrapped up in a neat little bow? Admittedly, the very format of a printed page makes things like overlapping dialogue a little out of reach. However, isn’t there something annoyingly formulaic about a sequel that inserts a little synopsis of the previous book? What do you think? Should we challenge readers more than we do?