Monday 1 January 2024

The Opposite of Necessary

Doctor Who and Sherlock's Steven Moffat has declared his wish: to make a British version of The West Wing. He says "it's necessary". This is because Moffat has a theory about why politics is crap:
We’ve got a problem — we think that being cynical is sophisticated, but that’s how adolescents think. Our cynicism about our politics has resulted in cynical politicians. If you tell a child they’re bad, they become bad. If you tell politicians they’re a bunch of egotistical maniacs, then where is the value in trying to be anything else?
Good grief.

The West Wing, for those who've never watched it or have repressed the memory, was a centrist fantasy about how US politics works. Set in the White House following President Bartlet and his lackeys, it spoke to every middle manager in middle America as the team had to handle competing pressures and interest groups, keep an eye on the polling, but making sure that everyone does the right thing. This is the essential core of the show for Moffat: its celebration of selfless public service. If we had more of that, then our politics would be better.

You don't need Holmes to realise there is a market for this. The people who listen to the George Osborne and Ed Balls podcast and watch the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony on the day every year. Moffat will have met the moneyed people, the celebrity people, the sensible people in his circuits around the entertainment establishment. Everywhere he goes there is the desire for "stability" and "proper" politics. This, on paper, is what Keir Starmer offers. And he himself always emphasises how keen Labour is "to serve". The problem is that even a portion of his natural base aren't convinced. Indeed, thinking about politics in 2023 it seems Starmer and his Tory opponents have concluded that you don't need to persuade the punters any more.

If Moffat is able to realise this project, it can only ever be naff. British politics right now is is not just naked, but is proudly parading itself in the buff. Its obscenities put off far more than it attracts and therefore unlikely to be commercially. It is sure to run cringe, earnest story lines that aren't believable. They run against the grain of the real. SW1 will love it, especially if it's called The Village. But that won't be enough to sustain it beyond a single season.

Bourgeois politics needs its fairy stories. On that Moffat is right. But there is no guarantee it can generate enough of them with the power to convince.

Image Credit


Ken said...

The British version of The West Wing was The Thick of It.

Rodney said...

This seems the worst time to pitch such a show. A big part of The West Wing's appeal was that it served as an escapist fantasy during the W Bush years for liberals. It allowed them to pretend how things would be like if they were in charge.

Now though liberals, both in the audience and amongst the influential, are not going to want a show contrasting how much better a liberal government should be than the dross Starmer is delivering. Why that's practically Tory enabling!

Also if it does get commissioned it's unlikely Moffat's very narrow portrayal of "strong women" to the point of sexism would be well received by the kind of audience a British West Wing would be targeted at. This video by verilybitchie gives a good overview of "I really like strong women, how can I be sexist?" outlook:

Anonymous said...

It sounds terrible: 'What if the PM was like Harold Saxon but not, you know, evil?' FWIW, it's a bit like hoping Sally Wainwright will write a British Borgen (same intentions as Moffat, but a bit more liberal feminist). What's really needed is something more like Trevor Griffiths' Bill Brand, especially in its dissection of power and how Britain *really* works. Maybe Christopher Eccleston could play the lead.

Anonymous said...


Philip Finn said...

I recall Steven Moffat is personal friends with ex Labour MP Tom Harris, who I think was New Labour? On one level, it feels odd that he is critical of cynicism as his stint on Who could be seen as the darkest of the new era. He was, however, notable for constantly bringing back characters from the dead, so ‘wanting to make everything right again’. More generally, Who is an interesting barometer of BBC liberalism eg Pertwee as the intelligent individualist mediating between the punitive authorities and ‘hotheaded’ miners or green activists in the 70s. This political viewpoint is quite deeply embedded in the show, so the West Wing is only a small step. The classic media studies work on this is ‘Doctor Who: The unfolding text’ from 1983, which was a real eye opener to a young Who fan! Sadly, new Who has had some guest actors from the fanatically anti-Corbyn brigade, notably Tracy Ann Oberman and Frances Barber. Russell T’s ‘Years and Years’ is another interesting insight into BBC (and Who) political assumptions.

Anonymous said...

'Who has had some guest actors from the fanatically anti-Corbyn brigade, notably Tracy Ann Oberman [turned into a Cyberman] and Frances Barber [aka 'evil midwife'; death by eyepatch via Amy Pond].' Maybe they'll get to play Tories in Moffat's 'Village Idiots' Westminster drama.

Anonymous said...

It’s what my old dad used to call Yankee bullshit. We need Revolution French style.