In Praise of Rob Lowe

Last night I finished watching the second season of The West Wing, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Rob Lowe (with Aaron Sorkin’s help, obviously) turned Sam Seaborn into one of the greatest television characters ever. There’s an episode near the end of season 2 in which Sam discovers that his father has kept “another woman” for going-on thirty years; meanwhile, in typical Sorkin fashion, Sam’s hurt and disillusionment play out onscreen in a separate story involving a former victim of McCarthy-era hysteria who Sam once idolized and who Sam discovers, much to his regret, was, in fact, a traitor. What so impressed me about the episode is that, even during the final, most emotionally-rich scenes, Lowe never slips into scene-stealing TV actor mode. He never for a second drops Seaborn’s wide-eyed, choke-back-your-emotions-at-all-costs demeanor. Sam consistently answers complicated questions with “yeah” or “okay,” but always manages to invest the words with very particular emotions. It’s great writing and great acting.