Saturday, November 9, 2013

Classic, classy, television

I have a shocking admission to make.  We don’t have television at our house.  Well, sort of.  We don’t have current television.

We live out in the country, so no cable TV.  We could get satellite TV, but we’re gone most of the time and it just wouldn’t be cost effective for the one or two weeks we’re home every other month or so.  We live in a metal sided mobile home with signals so crappy that I often have to take my cell phone out to the porch to carry on a conversation because the call is liable to be dropped if I stay inside.  I bought a flat panel antenna to try and catch at least the local channels on their digital broadcasts, but I guess I’m just out of range for something inside the house.  Maybe if we started staying home more I’d seriously look into getting an outside antenna (remember those on the rooftop of every house?) that might get me the local channels, but so far it’s just been not worth it.

Instead, we have movies and especially “old TV.”  In addition to a fairly decent collection of DVD’s picked up over the years, mostly on sale, we have bought a few of our favorite TV series collections.  The entire “M*A*S*H” series.  “Home Improvement.”  Several season’s worth of a few of my all time favorite comedy shows.  We’re currently collecting the “NCIS” shows, 10 seasons worth so far.  I have all 5 seasons of what I think is the best science fiction show ever on TV, “Babylon 5.”  Chris is currently watching the “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” collection I got her for this coming Christmas (yes, we start shopping early, and don’t usually make each other wait).  And then there’s “The West Wing.”

Every so often, usually about once a year, I get the urge to watch “The West Wing” again.  As is true of most of the other series we work our way though repeatedly, we usually see things we didn’t notice on previous passes, or we catch little subtle things that passed by too quickly to catch before.  With “West Wing” especially we often stop the playback to discuss the politics or other dynamics of what is going on in the episode.  Occasionally there’s something that I just want to watch again because I liked the scene in one way or another.

The Season 6, Episode 16, “Drought Conditions,” contains one such scene.  I watched it today.  Three times.  I wound up describing it as “the coolest, hottest, 60 seconds ever on TV.”  Now I know that’s going some.  The tension between the characters of the old “Moonlighting” show set a high bar, and I’m sure there are others, as well.  But this scene?  Holy Cow. Imagine Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5,” which is the music playing at this point in the show.  Two characters, taking a break from the activity going on around them are standing together, pretending to talk to each other so that they don’t have to talk to anyone else for just a few minutes.  It’s a fancy event and they’re both dressed up FINE, if you know what I mean.  There have been hints up to this point in the series and episode that they are both somewhat lonely and possibly looking around.  And then, right in the middle of a larger set piece, we get this little scene of each of them checking out the other, while the other isn’t looking.  Close camera moves around them, focusing just on their faces as the eyes flick back and forth, in near perfect time with the drum thumps of the music.  Nonchalance on display as real interest is portrayed against the background of sparkling lights and set to the tune of one of the iconic cool music pieces of the 20th Century.

Fabulous!  Cinematic magic suitable for the big screen, but perfectly sized for the small one.  A sparkling gem set against the masterwork that is “The West Wing.”  A classic scene for a classic series.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s pass through the series so I can watch it again.  And again.  And, probably, again.


  1. My mother often has remarked that she doesn't understand how I can like "The West Wing" since the political orientation of the show is so at odds from my own. Well, first of all, it's television, not real life, so it doesn't really get into my business the way real life politics does. Second, I think that for a progressively oriented show (as most are), the writers did a pretty good job of conveying the oppposing or conservative view point, and did so without reducing that side to cartoonish characters (like "Boston Legal" did by making the lecherous, buffoonish, "old-timerish" Denny Crane the conservative spokesman who often gets his eyes opened and his views enlightened by the end of the show). And finally, I like well written shows with snappy dialogue. I enjoyed Sorkins "Sports Night" once I realized it wasn't about sports but about a TV show about sports.

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