Monday, January 23, 2006

West Wing Speech Patterns

Let me start by saying that the writing on The West Wing has greatly improved this season- just in time for the show to be cancelled.

This week’s episode (“Duck and Cover”) continued the trend of greatly improved writing up until the last 5 minutes- when the writers decided to employ the overused pair of angry-president/thoughtful-president speeches.

Angry-President/Thoughtful-President generally goes like this:

  • President’s angry speech (dangers of nuclear power)
  • Speech interrupted by important news (nuclear disaster has been averted- but engineer has died)
  • President’s thoughtful speech ( related childhood experience i.e. “duck and cover”).

In this episode, the angry president is arguing with Alan Alda about nuclear power. This scene really could have worked- and that’s the sad part. Because Alan Alda’s character is so likeable and well informed, it’s really hard to take sides. It’s a complicated issue and, of course, it should require some thought. You shouldn’t be able to easily choose sides.

But in the Angry-President speech, Bartlet always needs to get in some emotional last word- forcing the viewer to take sides- so the writers decided to add this horrible, cliché line:

“Take a nuclear chain reaction 20 times more powerful than Hiroshima - run it through a power plant every day near families…”

Come on. Measuring nuclear power plant output in terms of Hiroshimas is like measuring the size of small, foreign countries in terms of Rhode Islands.

And as if that weren’t bad enough- the show ends with the President telling CJ about the duck and cover drills he did as a kid- and how they eventually stopped doing them.

“I guess they realized a piece of plywood wasn’t going to protect us against an atomic blast.”

Given that this episode aired on the same day they announced the show's cancellation, I suppose this is a fitting line.


Blogger James Aach said...

Actually, the whole nuclear scenario on WW last night was silly, not just the speech. If you would like to see how a nuclear accident would really be handled see for a novel on the topic by a longtime nuclear engineer. There's no cost to readers.

12:57 PM  

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