Thursday, February 26th, 2004
Westing (By Musket And Sextant)
Since it debuted five years ago, The West Wing has been pretty much my favorite current television shows – certainly one of my favorites ever. Intelligent, funny and ambitious, I didn’t expect it to last more than half a season, so imagine my surprise when it actually found an audience and not only survived, but thrived. For four seasons, it was an example of how network television can sometimes screw up and put something worthwhile on the air, and it offered a sort of respite from the utter nonsense coming from the real-life White House. So with that kind of admiration for the show, it’s understandable why I’m finding season five to be so awful.
Alarm bells started going off midway through last season when Rob Lowe left the show (how’d that Lyon’s Den work out for you, Rob?) and a full panic set in when creator Aaron Sorkin and director Tommy Schlamme left the show a couple months later, leaving executive producer John Wells (ER) fully in charge. I gave Wells the benefit of the doubt – after all, he had been with the show since the beginning and was hardly a television neophyte, and surely the show had enough momentum of its own to survive the departure of it’s creator and top director?
Not so much. Obviously without Sorkin, the trademark rat-a-tat-tat dialogue was going to suffer. It was his hallmark and not easy to reproduce. What I didn’t expect was the abrupt decline in well-constructed plots and the exponential ratcheting up of treacley schmaltz. It must be painful for the cast to have to deal with the material they’re being given now, they seem like shadows of their former selves. There’s no energy, just this sort of dazed walking dead-ness. Worse is the addition of not one, but TWO smart-mouth sidekicks (Toby’s assistant and Josh’s intern). They are the dramatic equivalent of precocious children in sit-coms… DEATH. It’s also disconcerting how everyone has gotten haircuts. They’re so perfectly coiffed, it’s like they’re getting ready for their funerals. Which probably isn’t inaccurate. It still has its moments and if looked at objectively, is probably still one of the better shows on television, it now just seems like a soap opera whereas before, it felt like more. The sub-par quality of the current season is only made more glaring by the fact that I’ve been downloading and watching the first four seasons for the last few months. Talk about contrasts.
I don’t know how the ratings this year have responded, but part of me wants them to just pull the plug – a mercy killing. The other part of me wants desperately for them to make it through the last couple years of the Bartlet administration – it deserves to go out on its own terms and on a high note. Someone at NBC had better find Aaron Sorkin and make some mea cuplas to get him back. And bring him a fresh supply of ‘shrooms.
Oh yeah, season two is out on DVD on May 18. No idea is Sorkin will be doing commentaries. The press has also been musing on the current season of The West Wing – articles here, here and here. They’re more generous than I am.
And while on the topic of quality filmmaking… Bubba Ho-Tep opens at the Royal tomorrow night!!! Who’s going?
np – Versus / Secret Swingers