Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Postmortem: The West Wing

It might be my attention span problem, but I wasn't as excited about the show during the last two seasons as I was in the first five. It was still a very good show, don't get me wrong, but with Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) running the Santos campaign, the show became very fragmented, and I found that to be much less enjoyable than the earlier seasons.

My biggest problem is with Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) himself [side note: nothing personal against him, but I didn't like his character on Dexter either]. I just didn't buy Santos as a competent presidential candidate, let alone as POTUS. Smits doesn't have that presidential presence that Martin Sheen has, and that alone made the new administration seem a lot weaker than Bartlet's.

Originally, Bartlet had a team of Josh as Deputy Chief of Staff, Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) as Communications Director, Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) as Deputy Communications Director, and CJ Cregg (Allison Janney) as Press Secretary; with Leo McGarry (John Spencer) as Chief of Staff, leader of the pack.  Not only do they, along with President Bartlet, seem like a close-knit group of people, the original team appear to be one very capable, well-oiled machine. From the pilot episode, we can see that these people are some of the best at their fields; they are strong characters that we can trust in leading one of the most powerful countries in the world.

Fast forward 3.5 seasons to the time Sam was leaving, the show starts to look shaky. Nothing against Josh Malina, but I just couldn't accept Will Bailey as a proper replacement for Sam. Maybe it's because I was too fond of Sam, but I couldn't warm up to Will's character, even if he didn't "betray" Bartlet's team to work for Vice President Bob Russell (Gary Cole). Suddenly, the previously solid team seemed a bit flaky; and this was before Leo's heart attack, Josh's running Santos' campaign, and Toby's leaking classified information. At the end, CJ was the only one left, and the administration appeared to be much weaker. However, they still had Bartlet as President; and his presence alone is quite reassuring.

The new team
I just couldn't find the same confidence in Santos. The only strength he had was having Josh as his Chief of Staff; who, according to Will, has "the finest mind in the Democratic party" after Leo, and according to Bartlet, might actually be smarter than Leo. Sam's return to the White House as Deputy Chief of Staff is definitely welcomed. I'm sure anyone working at the White House is very capable at their jobs, but I cherish familiarity; Sam is someone who we've seen is very good at what he does. It also would have been nice to see Josh and Sam's friendship again. I especially enjoyed the way Josh "recruited" Sam, just walking in the middle of a meeting, akin to how Josh got Sam into the Bartlet campaign. Again, I absolutely adore those two.

Even though I don't necessarily trust Santos' team as much as I did Bartlet's, I would have liked to watch a few episodes of the new administration. What would Santos do first? What's going to happen in Kazakhstan? How is the public's reaction to a new administration without an elected Vice President? These are just a few of the topics I would love for them to further discuss in the show; however, it was probably best that they ended when they did. A good show shouldn't be dragged on past its best.

President Arnold Vinick?

I read somewhere that they intended to let Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) win the election ahead of Matt Santos. However, with the passing of John Spencer that was written into the show, they didn't want Santos to lose both his running mate and the election at the same time. Although we're probably supposed to be rooting for Santos (at least rooting for Josh), I thought it would be more believable - albeit less intense - if Vinick had won by some margin.

I really am curious to see what the last few episodes would be about if Vinick had won. Would they actually show more of Vinick's team and the Republican party? Or would they push the election back to the very last episode, showing the win as the final scene?

In my opinion, we're preconditioned to support the main characters of a TV show and dislike their opponents; therefore, The West Wing had me loving the (very liberal) Democrats at the White House and disliking the Republicans as their enemies (not all of them, but most). I honestly don't know if I could "accept" the Republicans moving into the White House had Vinick been elected.Although, I think the transition period would be quite enjoyable to watch if they had to switch parties.

What's next?

The final scene showed Air Force One flying President Bartlet and Abbey Bartlet (Stockard Channing) to their home state of New Hampshire. What do former presidents do afterward? Sure a White House job is a temporary job, so they might have planned everything even before it started. But the president doesn't have to do any trivial things, he always has someone to do it for him and he only has to make the big decisions (Sheldon Cooper would love that). How do you go from Air Force One flying you everywhere, Secret Service agents protecting your every move, having a group of people dedicated to you and working their best to pull off the decisions you make, back to a relatively "normal" life? I know it would never be "normal", ever; and Bartlet would always be President Bartlet; but it's still a huge change. This is another thing that I would love to watch in a few episodes, what the Bartlets do next.

The West Wing really is one of those shows that are just smarter than I am, that I don't really know what to say about it except for that "it's great" (Sherlock comes to mind as a show on that list, along with a draft of a post for this blog that probably will never be published). It really is an amazing show; one of the bests I've watched, for sure. It's been a fun ride, but now I need to find another show to obsess over.