It was just a month ago that I was working my way through the fourth season of The West Wing, and now I’m proud (and not a little bit relieved) to say that I’ve now finished the whole series. Well, almost all of it, but I’ll get to that. I don’t want to get into a full essay about the non-Sorkin years, but here are some thoughts I have:
Season 5 is a goddamn mess — and even worse, it’s a boring mess. I was so bored that I ended up skipping most of the second half of it, and I feel like I made the right choice.
Although when I told people on Twitter that I’d skipped a lot of season five, more than one person told me I still had to watch “The Supremes,” so I did. It’s certainly more interesting than the rest of Season 5, but still imagines this ideal conservative judge who DEFINITELY isn’t racist or sexist At ALL. He just has a different point of view!!! That’s all conservatives are, the show is trying to say, and with all the hindsight that 2020 has given me, to that I say: Ha. The West Wing has always presented a more optimistic and idealistic version of Washington, but this one in particular made me do some very jaded cackling.
They just seemed to throw out plot ideas and then forget all about them? Like CJ’s ex-boyfriend who keeps calling and trying to make a date with her, and she finally kisses him in her office and promises him that she’s all in, and then I don’t think we ever see him again. I’m sure John Wells and the writing staff were panicking and frantically trying to recreate Sorkin’s voice, but y i k e s, Season 5 season sucked.
One good thing is that after Sorkin left the show, all the female characters actually seemed to display the intelligence they were supposed to possess, instead of just the male characters saying “gosh, these brilliant ladies” while the women would trip down several flights of stairs as a full turkey fell on their heads. CJ was finally written as the brilliant character I kept wanting her to be in the first four seasons, and I actually cheered when Donna quit working for Josh, who kept dodging her attempts to talk about a promotion. (If only she’d stayed away.)
Sadly, that’s cancelled out by how The West Wing seemed to just get whiter as the seasons went on. Dulé Hill, the only Black person the opening credits, gets less and less to do with each episode, and forget about him getting any real storylines in Seasons 6 or 7. The other two most prominent Black characters, Admiral Fitzwallace (Jon Amos) and National Security Advisor Nancy McNally (Anna Deavere Smith), are written out and replaced with white characters. Even adding Jimmy Smits to the cast as Democratic presidential candidate Matt Santos doesn’t seem to do much — Santos’s wife is white, and we don’t meet or learn much about his parents or siblings. Josh briefly has a Black assistant, but she quickly disappears, too. It’s not surprising for this show, but it’s disappointing.
The characters of Ryan The Intern and Rina The Assistant Who Wears Short Skirts seemed like the show’s attempt to make young people watch The West Wing, and when both characters disappeared without much explanation, I didn’t miss them.
Also, how the hell is Jesse Bradford so hot in Bring It On and so weaselly as Ryan? That’s acting, folks. Or maybe it’s just the oversized blazers the West Wing wardrobe people kept putting him in.
What an INCREDIBLE BURN ON JOSH that when Bartlett has to replace Leo, he chooses CJ to be the new Chief of Staff instead of Josh, who is THE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF. Like, Bartlett doesn’t even consider Josh a little bit. It’s amazing. Of course, the show presents it like Josh isn’t fazed at all, and that it’s not even a conflict, but the truth is, Josh should feel very insulted and it’s hilarious. (I know that they need Josh to leave the White House to run the Santos campaign, but still.)
The romantic plot between Kate Harper and Will Bailey is so weird and doesn’t ring true at all, and it just seems like the writers didn’t know what to do with those characters. Which, yeah, they probably didn’t.
Once the campaign for the president starts up and it’s Vinnick vs. Santos, the show gets exciting again — which is both good and bad, because after that happens, every time it cut back to the White House, I’d be like “Ugh.” Not really the reaction you want for a show that’s supposed to be about the White House.
All of Josh’s instincts on the Santos campaign are wrong and it’s hilarious every time. Whatever Josh tells you to do, just do the exact opposite, and you’ll come out on top.
That live debate episode, while an impressive feat of television, really was just 100% pure stunt and did nothing for the actual plot. The season-long arc didn’t move forward, there wasn’t really any character development; it was just watching a pretend debate. Too much thought about coulda, not enough thought about shoulda.
I know Alan Alda’s Republican candidate Arnold Vinnick was supposed to win the election but the writers decided against it after the death of John Spencer (they felt it would be too much both for the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate to die and for the Democrats to lose), but they really should have just stuck to their original plan. I’m saying this in the context of 2020, of course, when a candidate like Vinnick seems more left wing than either of the actual presidential candidates. Could you imagine someone like him as a Democrat, let alone a Republican in 2020? Again, The West Wing certainly imagined a kinder, gentler Washington, and it’s hard not to feel a little bitter when you compare it to reality.
Josh still sucks and Donna deserves better. Run, Donna! He’ll neg you death!!!
In conclusion, here’s a tweet that Jocelyn sent me after my last newsletter about The West Wing, and I can’t argue with any of it:
That’s all from me today, gorgeous! Talk to you soon.
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