Monday, January 07, 2013

The West Wing Lives On Twitter

Thanks to my Amazon Prime membership, with it's growing catalog of free streaming TV and movies, I've recently been reliving the delight of what was the 2nd best show ever to air on US television, The West Wing. The first 4 seasons, with Aaron Sorkin pitching fastballs every episode, are some of the smartest, engaging, and emotionally riveting television I have ever seen, and they hold up, even today.

One interesting phenomenon I've discovered, however, is that these characters, although off the air for nearly a decade, have gained a second life on Twitter, of all things. It started when I found the Twitter account for President Josiah Bartlet, the president so many of us wanted to be real. With great excepts like "Working with the Solicitor General to see if I can revoke citizenship for one Congressman an hour until a deal is reached." and "If we're making a list of the mentally ill in this country, start with anyone who remains a member of the NRA after that "press conference.", you truly get the sense that this would be how President Bartlet would indeed use Twitter after leaving office. A wonderful tribute by a truly talented ardent fan.

But then I noticed something stranger: @Pres_Bartlet would occasionally tweet a reply to various other West Wing characters on Twitter. And I found Twitter accounts for Josh Lyman, the fictional former deputy chief of staff (and eventual chief of staff to Bartlet's successor, Jimmy Smits' Matt Santos, who, you guessed it, is on Twitter). Josh's old assistant and love interest Donna Moss is on Twitter, too, trying to goad Josh to get into Downton Abbey. A bit more macabre is @LeoMcGarry, the deceased former chief of staff to President Bartlet, who coyly confronts reports of his demise with tweets like "If I had died, then communicating with me would make you a necromancer or spirit medium. And everyone knows those aren't real."

But there's more. Danny Concanan is here, too, fresh from the West Wing press room, and, eerily, is now listed as an "ACN special correspondent." Who is ACN? Why, the venerable Atlantic Cable News from Aaron Sorkin's new HBO show, The Newsroom. Does this presage an appearance, and a link of universes?And yes, the wonderful Newsroom anchor, Will McAvoy, is here, as well, in all his educated grumpiness. I'm sure the list goes on and on.

I have heard of fan fiction before, and read many, but this verisimilitude of fictional characters taking on their personas in Twitter is hardly new (see the FakeSteveJobs account), but there's something both wonderfully engaging about using this immediate medium to have them come alive, as well as something a bit sad when they are not true to the character (Donna, you have to offer something other than just replies, please?). I will say they all pale compared to the President Bartlet one, but that may be because the character was so perfectly positioned for this medium, or that the author(?) is just wonderfully gifted. Still, to see these characters in a near state of animation, tantalizingly close to alive, is a far cry than the stilted fan fiction or reunion videos that bring a wistful smile to our faces.

Not every show's characters lend themselves to this medium, of course. Can you imagine Scully and Mulder tweeting their findings? Archie Bunker offing racist screeds on Twitter? No, but Aaron Sorkin characters seem uniquely suited to this environment; I'm just delighted that there are so many talented writers who have picked up the mantle and brought these folks back to life for all of us.

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