An Unfortunate Episode – The West Wing S5:E18: Access

CJ comfortably talking-heads that she’s the second most visible person in the administration1 and wants to dispel the idea that the press secretary is there to conceal the truth – quite the opposite! she notes. And then three-quarter jokes they should call off the interview because it was a terrible idea. The line that launched a thousand recaps, ladies and gentlemen.

Archival footage of presidents and occasionally press secretaries in front of the media, and our narrator drones a touch before rhetorically asking how the office is changing amidst the current ‘media explosion'2 and how the person who is the press secretary ‘defines America’s relationship with the White House’. And then we get a shot of CJ awkwardly flapping her jacket on so she can go get hounded by the press corps. The narrator – completely unexpectedly, I should add – narrates that Access’ cameras captured a day that was anything but ordinary. More teasering about what momentous things happened, and then the Strings of Somethingorother play over normal opening credits.3

We’re back, and the narrator narrates how they made this film, noting that, for national security reasons, it couldn’t be released until the administration left office. The hey? Why would national security issues be tied to the administration’s timetable, and not the broader national security institutions? Whatever. All this is over documentary-style establishing shots4 that would be much more enjoyable were it not for the fact that this narrated documentary approach – executed perfectly fine here – runs completely counter to the show-not-tell aesthetic that made The West Wing so watchable. Rant over. For now.

  1. The first, obviously, being our dear, departed Mandy. Girl would cut you if you were between her and a camera, amiright?  
  2. Decent band name. Someone write that down.  
  3. Just a note to the long-ago producers – illustrating a media explosion with a lot of very quick cuts to types of media just makes me not want to watch your media.  
  4. You know what I mean… low angles and pretty pictures and people doing things.  

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