By Andrew Williams
July 23, 2014
Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and the rest).
Now, this is a story all about how… President Bartlet’s presidency begins to wind down, and the Democratic and Republican parties begin the long nomination process to find their own successors to the throne.
Happy days? Anyone who enjoys American politics (even in a watch-it-through-your-fingers sort of way) knows that their Presidential elections can be absolutely enthralling. Trying to corral a massive (and massively diverse) country into making a single decision between two potential leaders is a gargantuan, almost foolhardy task. The incredibly complicated path to making that choice is a fascinating thing to behold, and one of the most fascinating things about it is the primary process, which determines who the two respective candidates will be.
They say no one wants to know how the sausage gets made, but the sausage making in the last two seasons of The West Wing creates some compelling viewing. The John Wells-led version of the show is a much more cynical and matter-of-fact version than the one Aaron Sorkin originally created, concentrating much more on how it is than how it might be. Yet, it’s thrilling all the same as we race through primary season to determine the Presidential contenders to replace Martin Sheen‘s Josiah Bartlet. Will it be the Obama-like Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits? The opportunistic Bob Russell (Gary Cole)? Or the blisteringly intelligent and very popular liberal Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda)? One thing’s for sure: it’s a lot of fun to watch.
The final frontier: Though Season Six of The West Wing is not the same show it once was, that doesn’t mean it’s not still a great show.
Best episode: 22) 2162 Votes. The madness of the Democratic nominating convention is spectacularly handled by director Alex Graves and writer Wells; it’s a brilliant portrayal of the kind of wheeling and dealing required to win such a coveted and controversial role. And by ending the season on both a cliff hanger and a note of hope, Wells proved there was still a little bit of Sorkin left in the show after all.
Worst episode: 2) The Birnam Wood. There are things we understand are possible in this alternative, still relatively optimistic political universe: solving a government shutdown, winning an election comprehensively in a single debate, taming the press with a few charmingly self-deprecating gags… however solving the crisis in the Middle East is a bridge too far, even for this show. It’s representative of a wider problem with Season Six, which is that the White House plots became somewhat less compelling than the election material.
Season MVP: This is a weird one: whomever was in charge of casting for The West Wing deserves some sort of medal. Season Five aside (curse you, Jesse Bradford!) the casting is impeccable: Smits & Alda are perfect additions, as are traditional comedy actors like Ed O’Neill (who knew?) and Gary Cole in dramatic roles. But for Smits & Alda alone, the casting director of The West Wing (along with John Wells) gets this prize.
Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:
The West Wing is available on Quickflix.