Since the new year started, I’ve been watching “The West Wing” on Netflix. I’ve just finished, so it’s clear I took my time working through the seven seasons; in part because I wanted to savor them. The show definitely took a dip after Aaron Sorkin left following season four, but it finished really strong (and yes, I cried during the last two episodes. I’d lived with these characters for eight concentrated months).
The last two seasons run the cycle of the presidential election with Alan Alda playing the Republican candidate and Jimmy Smits the Democratic candidate.
It’s impossible to overstate how strong Alda is as Arnie Vinick. I grew up watching him on “M*A*S*H,” and Vinick is the opposite of Hawkeye Pierce. It’s been so much fun to watch him play a character that gets by on his substance, not his charm.
The other night, “California Suite” was on AMC. The 1978 movie is based on Neil Simon’s play. Alda plays a divorced writer whose relationship with his ex, played by Jane Fonda, is brittle to say the least. He’s great in that too. I’m pretty sure he’s never been bad in anything.
I think I had a little bit of a crush on him when he was on “M*A*S*H,” that changed to a feeling of respect as I became an adult. He seems to be on the side of right on most issues (or maybe we just agree), whether it was women’s issues or the environment, and I love that he’s been married to the same woman for 56 years.
He’s also managed to have a life outside of acting, including indulging his fascination with science. In fact, Stony Brook University houses the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. According to its website, the center “works to enhance understanding of science by helping train the next generation of scientists and health professionals to communicate more effectively with the public, public officials, the media and others outside their own discipline.... We believe that scientists have a responsibility to share the meaning and implications of their work and that an engaged public encourages sound public decision-making.” The Center also offer traveling workshops. I’m a big fan of simplifying what seems complicated. For me that’s science and math. That’s why I loved how Commander Chris Hadfield tweeted and explained what it was like to be in space. It’s also why I love Neil DeGrasse Tyson. They understand that they could speak in language that none of us lay people ever understand, but that want to share their knowledge with us. So does Alda.
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