This summer, we watched the entire series of The West Wing from beginning to end. After the marathon concluded a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I should have written more about my ideas during this epic voyage through the world of television.
To mark the 45th anniversary of Star Trek’s debut on NBC, we’ll revisit this topic. As it turns out, the only time a regular member of a Star Trek series cast appeared on TWW was in Season 5 of TWW. I’ll reveal it at the end if you think about it for a minute (don’t go to Wikipedia to find out).
Even though John Wells is no slouch, Aaron Sorkin must have left him scratching his head in the fourth-season finale, Twenty-Five. As President Bartlet had stepped down, he was replaced as acting president by conservative Republican Speaker Glen Allen Walken.
What comes to mind when thinking about Wells is him sipping whisky and spewing obscenities at an empty computer screen while the cursor blinks in frustration. The first episode of the fifth season, 7A WF 83429, is just as perplexing.
First, there are whip-pans, rapid edits, distorted noises and pictures (such visual trickery is a signature Alex Graves hallmark), and the audience is yearning for a glimpse of the pals they’ve missed since the finale of season 4.
By the time you do get a glimpse of them, they’re as unkempt and dark as we are without Aaron Sorkin’s familiar keyboard behind the scenes. We can all agree that the show has some wonderful moments, including the closing montage set to “Sanvean,”yet there’s simply something missing.
As I mentioned earlier today, seeing the West Wing after the departure of Sorkin is like going back to your favourite restaurant, saying hello to your favourite waitress, getting into your usual seat, grabbing for the menu, and discovering that the chef has been replaced.
To be sure, Sorkin seems to take considerable effort in ensuring that characters behaved consistently from one episode to the next, but this is difficult to confirm.
In many of the season 5 storylines, you get the impression that characters who would normally go left were being shifted to the right (no political pun intended) to meet the needs of the plot.
When he promised Josh Lyman “as long as I’ve got a job, you’ve got a job” in the pilot then took Josh Lyman out of the loop for three episodes after Constituency of One, does the Leo McGarry who saved Josh Lyman from being fired in the second season’s Noel truly do that?
Supposedly his genuine best friend in An Khe, would Leo leave Jed’s side to defend this other guy? We’ve never seen or heard of him before. After showing so much faith and confidence in NASA in Galileo, will the Bartlet government suddenly turn against them in The Warfare of Genghis Khan?
West Wing Season 5
It’s like if Robert Royce of Pennsylvania, who appeared in Season 3 of Jefferson Lives, suddenly became Senate Majority Leader.
“Majority Leader” was written with no one in mind, H. Richard Greene was cast before anybody realised he’d already performed this other role and the character was then dubbed Royce in a sort of retroactive continuity,” he writes.
To make matters worse, Season 5 suffers from a dearth of internal cohesion due to the fact that there were twelve rather than one writer working on it. We no longer consider these persons to be close friends of ours.. Man, things have changed.
In the end, it was in Season 5 when The West Wing transitioned from masterpiece to merely passable. There was one episode, though, that stood out as a true gem and offered some glimmer of hope that the magic may be restored.
Of course I’m referring to the Access episode. I’M FRUSTRATING! Not at all. It’s best to forget about that well-intentioned blunder. The Supremes by Debora Cahn is what I’m referring to.
The White House is under pressure from all sides as they try to pick a replacement for the ill Chief Justice, a young conservative Supreme Court justice who recently died, and the Senate.
As part of an all-star guest cast that must rank among the most expensive television specials ever assembled, actors Glenn Close, William Fichtner, Mitchell Ryan, Milo O’Shea, and Star Trek:
Voyager’s Dr. Robert Picardo lend their dramatic talents in support of what turns out to be an amusing and thought-provoking adventure that is both absurd and inspiring.
There was no mention of Season 1’s Justice Mendoza, but the episode offered a tiny bit of vindication for those of us who persevered with The West Wing, giving us optimism that all was not lost after all. It was like if we were reunited with old pals.
Season 5 would be the final season in which The West Wing operated according to its original plan, which is ironic. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into much detail about Season 6.
But suffice it to say that old acquaintances were replaced by new ones, new characters were introduced, and a major focus of the show was no longer President Bartlet’s administration but the race to succeed him.
Toby’s pronouncement on Bartlet’s new Vice-President, Bob Russell, is the greatest way for me to sum up West Wing Season 5 — and there could be more, but I’m trying to keep this under 1000 words. Our options were limited, so we had to make do with what we could get our hands on.