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Oct. 27, 2004

"The West Wing" is still winging it

by Alex Mazerov, Page Editor
Following a creatively lacking but better-than-expected fifth season, "The West Wing" looks to rebound and return to its Emmy-winning glory days of its first four years. Unfortunately, the show opens its sixth season with an episode that foreshadows more uninspired television.
Martin Sheen on "The West Wing."
Martin Sheen on "The West Wing."

The 2003-2004 season was plagued by anticlimactic storylines (most notably the contrived kidnapping and sudden return of the president's daughter, Zoey), bland dialogue and aberrant character behavior. The once-complex Will Bailey (Joshua Malina) quickly became a shill for his new boss, the vice president, and the once morally rock-hard president was frequently guided and reproached by subordinates, such as C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) and Toby Zeigler (Richard Schiff). The show's premiere episode, while a bit more dramatic and suspenseful than usual, is beset with many of the same problems.

The premiere episode finds President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) dealing with an international crisis sparked by a terrorist bombing in Gaza that left several congressmen dead and White House aide Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) fighting for her life on an operating table. Resisting pressure from the American public, Congress and White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer) to retaliate with extreme military might, Bartlet instead works vehemently to broker a peace summit between Israeli and Palestinian leaders at Camp David.

The bombing incident, which is traced to Syrian terrorists, is linked by military intelligence to having a highly questionable connection to other terrorists in Iran. In the White House Situation Room, the president's military advisors suggest the U.S. attack both countries simultaneously, but Bartlet resists the recommendation to attack the ever-unpopular Iran based on insubstantial evidence. "I'm not bombing half the Middle East because it's gonna make us all feel better," the president says. The real-world parallels of this situation seem rather forced and are painfully obvious. "The West Wing" would never have been so blatant in the days of yore.

Meanwhile, Donna undergoes heart surgery with teary-eyed Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) apprehensively awaiting the results. This sorry attempt at heart-tuggery (unable to speak, Donna writes "scared" on a piece of paper and gives it to Josh before going under anesthesia) is better left to shows like "ER."

Hopefully, the season's much-hyped new storyline about the reelection of a new administration–with Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda facing off as candidates to replace the now lame-duck Bartlet as president–will breathe some new life, intrigue and wit into the four-time-Emmy award-winning show.

"The West Wing" airs Wednesday nights at 9:00 p.m on NBC.

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  • WW Fan on October 27, 2004
    I think that Congress should suddenly repeal the Two-Term Amendment and allow Bartlet to be reelected!
  • Another WW Fan on October 27, 2004
    Judging by the liberties the writers have taken this season, it wouldn't surprise me if the two-term ammendment was repealed. They've already killed off an original cast member and amazingly restored peace to the Middle East - it doesn't seem like you can rule out anything happening.
  • blah on October 27, 2004
    Mediocre review for a good show. You didn't even mention why last season was so bad; it was because there are new writers. Do your research. The entire show looked the same except for what was coming out of the actors' mouths.
  • ashley on October 27, 2004
    Leo! Is he really dead? I can't believe it. I wonder if they are writing him out of the show or if he wanted to leave...
  • DJ Johnson (View Email) on October 28, 2004

    I'm bothered by all the reviews that pick on the Donna-Josh thing. The show has done a great job of making us care about all these characters and what happens to them. Donna is closer to Josh than anyone else. Why wouldn't she reach out to him when she's scared like that? I think a lot of people who write reviews look for something to pick on. It's an attitude thing. There's also too much reading of other writers' reviews and jumping on bandwagons. I happen to write reviews for a living, so... there y'go. And by the way, while last season may not have been like other seasons in some ways, I still found myself glued to most of the episodes, and it was still the only show I looked forward to and refused to miss week after week. I know several others who feel the same way. Things change. We're just lucky that it didn't do a complete nose-dive, as was predicted.

    It sure does look like Leo's dead. The previews show them trying to figure out who'll replace him, though that could be a trick covering a storyline with Leo in the hospital temporarily. Good cliffhanger, though, huh?
  • Another WW Fan on October 28, 2004
    Leo's dead. If you look ahead two weeks on the digital cable guide, the description says that CJ is named the new Chief of Staff. That doesn't make sense to me either, since there have been may episodes throughout the years showing how CJ is never told anything because she's too friendly with the press.

    The show has gone downhill in the last two seasons because creator and amazing writer Aaron Sorkin was fired. A HUGE mistake by NBC.
  • ashley on October 28, 2004
    "Another WW Fan"--

    why did you have to go and ruin that fact about CJ for all of us?
  • Bill (View Email) on October 29, 2004
    with the death of Leo the show will never be the same.since we are having an election this year for president it would and could have been a real good opportunity to have an election on the show without killing off Leo.
  • oh come on (View Email) on November 3, 2004
    spongebob rules?
  • margot on November 4, 2004
    west wing is definitely going downhill i agree with alex. it happens with all great nbc shows, they start having horrible exaggerated plot lines etc. just look what happened to E.R. and Ed and now even American Dreams is on that track. its sad really.
    but i'll keep watching till it dies. and "another ww fan" ruined the next two episodes for me- thanks
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