The West Wing: Season Six

"Good"

The West Wing: Season Six Review


The death of veteran actor John Spencer -- who played Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, the coolest head among the cast of The West Wing -- was sad news, and it was the final death knell for the once-popular NBC series, now finishing its seventh and final season. That's a shame, because in some ways the show is still getting better.

When creator Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing abruptly in 2003, many people wrote the show off. Sorkin imbued the show with his naïve left-liberal bias and scripted much of its glib dialogue, and his leaving seemed to guarantee an identity crisis. In fact, The West Wing was really nothing more than Sorkin's personal wish fulfillment: What if we elected a strongly moral liberal Democrat as president? Or to put it a different way, what if President Clinton (who was still president when the show started, in 1999) had been even more liberal, and not horny all the time? Sorkin's answer was Jed Bartlet, the imaginary president played by Martin Sheen. Bartlet is sort of a Ted Kennedy with gravitas -- a sententious, northeastern liberal Catholic who, because this is TV, is always right. (With John Kerry we actually had a chance to elect someone like Bartlet, minus the intellectual rigor, and not too surprisingly, the electorate didn't go nuts over him. Of course, Kerry was not as telegenic as Martin Sheen.)

Sorkin's exit was hard on The West Wing at first -- the same actors still rushed around the same faux-White House corridors, but their fast-talking wit was missing. But then a funny thing happened -- the series regained its footing, and even got better. Sorkin's liberal cant had gotten pretty far removed from reality during the Bush years, anyway, and the liberal agenda in general was hurt by 9/11 (along with a lot of other things), so it was probably necessary for The West Wing to reinvent itself.

The sixth season was one of the show's most entertaining, mainly because of the campaign to elect Bartlet's successor. The season's best moments were on the campaign trail, partly because the primaries pit some of the more appealing characters against each other, such as the good-natured political operative Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and his long-suffering former aide Donna Moss (Janel Moloney). The presidential campaign also took the place of the overly dramatic and contrived story arcs which were the show's worst post-Sorkin tendency (the president's daughter gets kidnapped, the president gets MS, the president has to defuse a nuclear showdown, an aide is wounded, etc.).

However, a few sixth-season episodes suffer from misguided storylines based on foreign conflicts which are seemingly written only to give more screen time to the most boring and unbelievable character, a CIA agent-turned-security advisor (Mary McCormack). It's hard to care about a made-up crisis in Turkmenistan when there are so many real flashpoints in the national news on a daily basis. (Don't they know that Americans prefer reality TV to TV that tries to imitate actual reality?) And the show occasionally backslides into preachy Sorkin territory, especially at the end of the episode "365 Days," in which Bartlet's staff reaffirms its commitment to save the world in one year.

Speaking of unreality, the two candidates that emerge from the primaries are both appealing personalities without obvious real-world parallels: an idealistic Hispanic Democrat played by Jimmy Smits (his name, Matthew Santos, is presumably a reference to his messianic saintliness -- after all, he is a Democrat) and a liberal California Repub, Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda with surprising conviction. Both are portrayed as having uncommon personal honesty and intellectual quickness, qualities which most real presidential candidates utterly lack. Campaign issues are thoughtfully presented and the candidates' positions are not quite as predictable as they would be in real life. For example, the populist Vinick supports abortion more strongly than Santos, who has moral scruples.

But nuance doesn't help ratings, and neither does a Sunday night time slot -- so viewers seem to have deserted The West Wing in favor of Commander in Chief, a knockoff with the ridiculous premise that the U.S. president is Geena Davis. Oh well, catch the last episodes while you can, and rent the sixth season to enjoy sharp dialogue, gorgeous sets (the season finale features an impressive mockup of a presidential convention), and strong acting. It's too bad that with the show's demise, neither of the imaginary candidates will get to be president. In the real world, Alda's Vinick would probably be corruptible, and his efforts to shrink government unsuccessful (no one even talks about shrinking government any more), but at least his plain talk would be a nice break from the posturing and prevaricating of both real-world political parties. Likewise, Smits' Santos would probably be a terrible president, but it's nice to pretend that someday, a normal, likeable person might run for the world's highest office again.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Cast & Crew

Producer: , Debora Cahn

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Advertisement
Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

With heavy overtones of Hitchcockian mystery and intrigue, this stylish thriller is the enjoyably melodramatic...

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

The 1989 Muay Thai action movie Kickboxer starred a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who pops...

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.