Like many of you, I was a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. I almost always found it one of the most compelling, if not THE most compelling show on TV. Besides his excellence in conveying taut dramatic scenes, I especially admired him for his fearlessness in exploring difficult, ambiguous issues that do not present easy answers. Sorkin wasn’t afraid of intelligence either in his own writing or in his characters. You always felt that he was presenting political animals as human beings doing their best to do good. Sure, there was cynicism, lots of it. But these characters CARED for each other and for their fellow humanity.
In all honesty, Sorkin did stumble on ocassion. Remember the 9/11 episode in which a group of high school students were quarantined in the White House canteen during a security ‘lockdown’? The ensuing civics lesson delivered windedly by Sheen and the other characters was insipid and just plain talky. Sorkin is always ‘talky,’ but usually his long speeches are pyrotechnical, provocative, and erudite–a winning combination. This time they were showy without being convincing or dramatic.
Again like you, I trembled at what would lay in store once Sorkin jumped (or was pushed?) from the show. Sorkin’s writing is like nothing else on television or in film. How could anyone reproduce it? And if they wisely chose not to reproduce it, how could they possibly convey this story and these characters with anything resembling the wit, style and panache that characterized Aaron Sorkin? Sadly, this season has confirmed my fears. The West Wing is turgid, lugubrious, stagnant and just plain boring. Instead of engaging in witty, dramatic verbal sparring; the characters are reduced to talking at each other. Under Sorkin, the characters engaged each other in visceral ways. Under the new regime, the characters seem disconnected from each other.
I recently bought The West Wing first season DVD from Costco. For $39, I got the entire 22-episode season. Not a bad deal! Watching Sorkin’s drama from its inception in these first episodes is a true delight. Every time we turn on the DVD to watch a new episode, we look forward to a new adventure. The crackling suspense in this first season stands in sad contrast to the current season.
The show is on life support. Why does anyone watch it anymore? Why should we care? These are troubling questions that the producers need to ask themselves before they decide to continue the show beyond this season. At this rate, I’d also expect some serious defections from the cast given how low the show has gone.