“The West Wing” … Okay, was this a resurgence or what?
Well … I kinda have to say “or what?”
Yes, look, the last few weeks, with the election plotline, were quite engaging. I think Matt Santos and Arnold Vinick are interesting characters and I look forward to this fall’s general election episodes with great enthusiasm.
But this really isn’t “The West Wing” anymore.
I’m stealing, liberally (ahem), from Dan Golub here, but check this out: “The West Wing,” when it premiered, was a show about policy. Somehow, it managed to pull astounding levels of entertainment out of a bunch of people in suits discussing issues, often in minute detail. Yes, Sorkin’s dialogue was the frosting that made this appealing, but the show had a heart, too, that of these living, breathing characters who cared so passionately about what was going on, whose private lives were completely tied up with what bills passed, what polls said what, etc.
And what is the show now? Well, now it’s about politics. It’s about the gritty, grimy process of getting a candidate elected.
Remember that flashback episode to when Josh quit the Hoynes campaign to join the Bartlet staff because as far as he could tell Hoynes was “in favor of winning and opposed to losing” and didn’t have any other positions?
Sometimes this “West Wing” 3.0 feels like that. Yeah, issues come up, but they’re macguffins, just plot devices to get into stories about primaries and conventions.
And, man, they sure have been digging pretty deep in the Constitution for plot twists, eh? Deadlocked at the convention? Yeah, parties let that happen all the time. The Speaker of the House has to become president for a short time, because there’s no Vice President, and the President briefly steps down?
I can’t wait for the thrilling three-part arc where President Santos debates whether to start quartering soldiers in citizens’ houses.
But, on the other hand, clearly the original “WW” is long gone. Sorkin left in 2003 and if they had just tried to imitate him it would have sounded like a parody … and I know a thing or two about that.
So I kinda can’t blame them for turning the show into the much-easier-to-dramatize political format. It certainly has given the show a big lift.
It has however, just about ruined all the original characters. The President is okay, personality-wise, but … man, the Bartlet administration sure hasn’t amounted to much, has it? I think it’s been a big mistake to stay so close to real-life events. I just don’t believe that Bartlet would allow the deficit to balloon to Bushesque proportions … how would a Republican congress pass his budgets if it required that much spending? I do hope they give Bartlet one last big victory before he leaves office.
But for the others … well, CJ is charmless and harried, Toby has crossed the line from grumpy to whiny. The plots actually set at the White House have been unwatchably dull … can we just ignore this Space Shuttle plot next season?
And I miss Sam … I was kinda hoping Santos’s VP pick might be the Junior Senator from California, Sam Seaborn.
And Josh … somehow I have married the only liberal woman who hates Josh Lyman. And I can kinda see her point. Josh is unrelentingly cruel to Donna, dismissive and arrogant to everyone else, and, for a liberal, more than a little chauvinistic. Again, I feel like he wasn’t like this under Sorkin, or if he was, somehow it was charming.
Leo … well, when they announced that he would be VP, Amanda and I both thought … what the hell? Why would you pick, for Vice President, an aging Washington insider, with poor health, a cantankerous personality, weird family issues, and … oh, wait …
But c’mon! I do not like the idea that Leo is Cheney. Come on. For one thing, he actually served in Vietnam.
Still, it’s kinda nice to have an all-“LA Law” ticket. Maybe Richard Dysart can be Secretary of State, or Blair Underwood could be Chief of Staff. Hey! How about Benny as Secretary of Defense? He couldn’t possibly be worse than Rumsfeld.
Hey, look, I really enjoyed this last season, at least the episodes since Christmas. To repeat myself: It’s not “Classic West Wing,” a brilliant show about policy. It’s “WW 3.0,” a pleasantly watchable show about politics.
Basically, “WW” fans are like Jimmy Stewart in the second half of Vertigo trying to transform a woman who looks kinda like the one we loved and lost into the genuine article. But it ain’t gonna happen. I’ve settled … and there’s always the reruns on Bravo.
Let’s go Santos!
Tuesday, April 12, 2005