From The West Wing to Devs

From The West Wing to Devs May 29, 2020

I came to The West Wing twenty years too late. I say too late, but the show doesn’t age. Yes, it’s set in the late 90s and early 00s, with all that entails. But as a political drama, displaying the machinations of the White House and political campaigning, it is timeless. And as a drama that develops characters, and for its acting, it is superb.

I loved it, and some 156 hours of TV later, I have a massive West Wing hole in my life. I loved the characters, I loved the acting, I was devastated at the real-life death of John Spencer and was interested to see how they wove it into the narrative. I cried as the actors cried for real in those scenes dealing with his death.

In fact, being the paragon of masculinity, I cried my way through the last episode, constructed almost perfectly.

The West Wing is so much poignant now and this is perhaps the best time to be watching it as we see Trump deconstruct every political bastion and relationship he can, undoing the good work of previous administrations. The idealistic view of Aaron Sorkin is so starkly juxtaposed to what we see in the White House today. The West Wing allows us to dream of a better world, to almost touch it.

Yes, it is now my favourite series. Ever.

Sorkin is an unabashed liberal, but he does try to cross those line, and he does president counter-arguments and the other side of the coin when it is reasonable to do so (i.e., when there are actually counter-arguments that can be portrayed as reasonable). Though he left after the 4th season, the final two series that concerned themselves with Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) were superb, paving the way for Obama to be elected. Indeed, many of Obama’s campaign foot soldiers were supposedly inspired to action by the series.

This is my requiem for the end of the show and for, barring a miracle, the notion that the entire range of those characters might ever get back together.

So, where now?

Well, my philosophical bent gives me one of two options:

Westworld and Devs.

I have watched Westworld season 1. It deals with what it means to be human, what consciousness is, free will and morality,  and so on. Indeed, one of the main concepts is one I dealt with in a piece I wrote about Red Dead II: the idea of being violent to robots that are indistinguishable from humans (or computer-generated characters). What is the moral evaluation of this? Shooting a rock is broadly morally neutral, but shooting a humanoid robot that acts indistinguishable from a human? Hmm…

Anyway, I have seasons 2 and 3 to catch up with there.

Then there is Devs, Alex Garland’s new creation, which I have chosen for its shorter 6 episodes. Alex Garland (of The Beach fame seems to be moving, over time, in the direction of the more philosophically literate (Sci-Fi) genre. I have now watched the first episode on the BBC (I don’t know who carries it in the US), and it is squarely about free will and determinism. Right up my alley. Already, in the first episode, it has set me up with a determinism quandary that I am sure will form the central core to the narrative.

This is where we are these days: the simple fact that there is (lockdown aside) so much output of TV means that there is something for everyone and I am sure that certain genres have become more cerebral than they otherwise would have been a few decades or so previously.

When you have The Good Place, Westworld and Devs dealing explicitly with philosophy, having philosophy as the driving theme right through the centre of the shows, then we should be in for some treats.

(First Episode spoiler alert:)

Eat your heart out.

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