Why this drama is funnier than many comedies
Another week, another award for ”The West Wing.” In this case, the Producers Guild of America honored the NBC series for the second year in a row as Best Drama. But hasn’t anybody noticed how funny this show can be? For my money, it elicits a lot more laughs than the series that won for Best Comedy, HBO’s ”Sex and the City.”
The March 6 episode, ”Dead Irish Writers,” is a perfect example. Sure, it had its serious moments: British ambassador Lord John Marbury (Roger Rees) protested an IRA political leader’s invitation to the White House; Sam (Rob Lowe) helped an old college professor (Hector Elizondo) suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; and First Lady Abbey Bartlet (Stockard Channing) decided to forfeit her medical license for the rest of her husband’s term, rather than face suspension for surreptitiously administering him medicine for MS.
Yet creator Aaron Sorkin (who penned the script from a story by Paul Redford) slipped in plenty of wisecracks. The episode took place at and around Abbey’s formal-dress birthday party, where the flamboyantly drunk Lord John greeted her by asking, ”May I grab your breasts?” (”I’m standing right here!” the President fumed.) In a running joke from his previous appearances, the ambassador also repeatedly referred to Chief of Staff Leo (John Spencer) as ”Gerald.” Even his objections to the respectful treatment given to Sinn Fein (the political wing of the IRA) were wittily stated: ”A terrorist is a terrorist, even if he wears a green necktie and sings ‘Danny Boy.”’
Sam’s ex-physics teacher, meanwhile, was played to deadpan perfection by Elizondo, who’s clearly learned a bit about comedic timing from his many cinematic collaborations with Garry Marshall (”Pretty Woman,” ”The Princess Diaries”). When Sam asked what he could find out about superconducting supercolliders in 10 minutes, the prof quipped, ”If you pay close attention and stay very, very quiet, I might be able to teach you how to spell it.” His ire over the White House’s ban on smoking also yielded yuks, as he pointed out that FDR regularly lit up, and ”he got reelected six or seven times.”
Then there was the hysterical sight of the First Lady getting soused with press secretary C.J. (Allison Janney), feminist leader Amy (Mary-Louise Parker), and assistant extraordinaire Donna (Janel Moloney). Abbey called her husband ”an enormous jackass,” Amy was searching for a pen to make notes for her future memoirs, and Donna was reeling from the news that she was legally Canadian because her Minnesota hometown now fell on the Manitoba side of a new border. Asked if she was feeling funnier as a result, she cracked, ”No, but I am developing a massive inferiority complex.”
It should be noted that all of this humor was intentional, as opposed to the unintentional kind practiced on ”ER” these days. Did you see that ad with Carter (Noah Wyle) and Luka (Goran Visnjic) literally fencing for the heart of Abby (Maura Tierney)? Hilarious!
What do you think is so funny about ”The West Wing”?