Friday, 16 July 2010

The West Wing: Season Five

The problem with reviewing the fifth season of The West Wing is that I can't really remember what happened in it. Without Aaron Sorkin the show had to find its feet again with a bunch of new writers. But I'm looking at an episode list right now, and without the plot summaries I'd have almost no idea what went on. 'The Benign Prerogative', 'Talking Points', 'The Stormy Present' - I have no idea. Even when I read the synopsis I have trouble. The season is held up by its bookends - the conclusion of the kidnapping and the trip to Gaza for the finale. Even though Zoey is returned quite quickly, like they were trying to wrap up the Sorkin era, these two arcs are excellent. 'Gaza' and 'Memorial Day' are so good they seem to define the season, as they rise out of the relatively dull middle section with an explosion. The fact that episode twelve is called 'Slow News Day' says an awful lot. It's mostly standalone episodes that don't stick in the mind, that are about politics that don't seem to matter. It drifts by without having much impact.

Although, the lowest point of The West Wing is still good television. The writing, though not as sharp as Sorkin's, still keeps some of its quality. Determinedly. They had to imitate a style that appeared effortless and turned out to be quite hard. It lost its pace. 'They forgot to bring the funny'. And sometimes even the camera isn't very interested, slowly moving into a scene like they're not all in a rush. It might be fair to say that a group of writers can't sustain a year in the White House like Sorkin could. Where the remaining two seasons shake everything up with elections and job changes, season five is just a normal year. But unlike the first four it doesn't really know what to do. So it's a dip from season four. A big dip. Nobody loves it. But it sits there in the middle of the box demanding to be watched again, so you can find all the stories that you'd forgotten and forget them again. It has its place in the series: it's the stamp of a new era that starts on shaky ground, the harsh divide between the old and the new. It'll never be as good as it was, but it'll get close.


  1. Yeah, I didn't even buy this Season on DVD. Curiously enough, though, my favorite episode of "The West Wing" wasn't even written by Sorkin and occurs in the 6th Season...wanna make a guess of what it is?

  2. Or was it the 7th...I forget.

  3. Maybe a few things. Liftoff, Drought Conditions, Institutional Memory...Er, um, actually I can't guess.