I first caught "The West Wing" for two reasons: 1) our school was AGAIN on strike and 2) I had a crush on Annabeth Gish from "The X-Files", and I'd heard she was going to be in the Season 5 premiere. I watched a few eps on Bravo to get a little background so I wouldn't come in completely cold (my very first ep was "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet", which is still in my top ten). It took me awhile to get used to Aaron Sorkin's writing style, but by this point, it's my absolute favorite show.
I think that the idiot Republicans who b**** about the "liberal bias" are, well, idiots. The show is written by a very openly liberal guy, so why are you surprised? It's not like AS is a Republican, and NBC forced him to write a "liberal" show. THEN you might have a case for complaining. Besides, very few Republican characters are presented as "evil". Besides the obvious (Ainsley Hayes and Cliff Calley), most of the other guys are presented as against the president's agenda, which DOES NOT EQUATE WITH EVIL, unless maybe you are an intolerant far-right Republican who thinks people against the war in Iraq like Martin Sheen are "evil" and "un-American" (I was for the war personally, and I'm not saying ALL Republicans). There are a few guys, like John Diehl's Claypool, or the congressman from "Bartlet For America", or Bruce Weitz and Paul Provenza, who are portrayed as rather unlikeable, but they are an aberration on this show. And most Republican view points are given a fair airing, at least.
That said, there's not a whole lot I can say about this show that hasn't already been said a hundred times over. The writing, acting, and direction is arguably the best in television history, and I now prefer it to "The X-Files". Besides the marvelous starring cast (save Moira Kelly and Joshua Malina), there's also an excellent supporting cast as well, and fantastic guest casting. Tim Matheson is my favorite non-regular character as the egotistical, self-serving yet intelligent and likable Vice President Hoynes. Then there Timothy Busfield, Anna Deveare Smith, Marlee Matlin, Roger Rees, Emily Procter, and John Amos, and many other very memorable characters. My favorite one-shot guest star has to Karl Malden's Father Cavanaugh from "Take This Sabbath Day" (the death penalty episode).
I think that all of the main characters do outstanding jobs. Martin Sheen is really the glue that holds the show together, so I'm glad they decided to make him a regular. He isn't THE star, but he is simply wonderful, and his interaction with the cast is a focal point of the show.
The whole cast, indeed, provides us with one of the best ensembles in television history. Rob Lowe did a much better job than I expected he would with his role as Sam, the deputy communications director. Stockard Channing simply blows the doors off the place as the First Lady. Dule Hill never has a whole lot of screen time as Charlie, Bartlet's personal aide, but he usually injects a fun shot in the arm. Janel Moloney is really cute and side-splittingly hilarious as Donna, Josh eager-beaver assistant. Allison Janney as CJ, the press secretary, is a bit of a sore spot for me, however. In the first few seasons she was great, a character with intelligence and a great sense of humor. However, in recent years (and this I blame on the writing) her character has devolved into a whiny feminazi (see "The Women of Qumar"), just a notch above Mary-Louise Parker's Amy Gardner (a character I like, but most people don't). However, Janney is a talented enough actress to largely overcome this. Richard Schiff is fantastic as Toby Ziegler, the prickly, mumbly Communications Director. And then there's John Spencer as my favorite character, chief of staff Leo McGarry, a recovering alcholic, drug addict, and Vietnam vet who represses his emotions very well, but has a very deep sense of loyalty to all his friends and employees. Spencer gives a bravura performance week after week, and he is totally believable in the role. His greatest moments were his dialogue with the fired White House staffer in "Take Out The Trash Day", and the very end of "Bartlet For America" (of course). Wonderful actor. And then there's Bradley Whitford, as the egotistical but good-natured Josh Lyman, Leo's deputy, who is as every bit as loyalistic as Leo. (BTW, I hope that Josh and Donna NEVER get together; remember Mulder and Scully on "The X-Files", anyone?) Whitford starred one of the best episodes ever, "Noel", where he overcame his bout with PTSD. And of course, Martin Sheen I've already commented on. Moira Kelly and Joshua Malina are fine actors, but they were given rather poor characters to work with, and just didn't fit in to the fabric of the show.
As to the departure of Sorkin: certainly the show has declined in quality, is less humorous, and there have been a good amount of stinky episodes this past year ("Access", anyone?), but Season Five of "The West Wing" is still almost infinitely better than anything else on TV. "7A WF 83429", "The Stormy Present", "The Warfare of Genghis Khan", "An Khe", the rightfully well-loved, Sorkinesque "The Supremes", "Gaza", and "Memorial Day". BTW, quit ragging on Gary Cole as the new VPOTUS, guys, just because he was in "Office Space". Tim Matheson was Otter in "Animal House", and I didn't any of you bring that up when he first showed up.
My favorite episodes are "Take This Sabbath Day", "And It's Surely To Their Credit", "Lord John Marbury", "A Proportional Response", and "Noel". I'm sorry I didn't too much deeper, but really, what could I say about this show that everyone else here hasn't already.
A bazillion stars for the greatest show in television history IMO.
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