Thursday, 30 September 2010

The West Wing: Season Six

After a period of not much happening in Season Five, the sixth is where everything seems to happen at once. After the first few episodes most of the cast are in hospital (alright, two, but they were in perfect health until now). Leo's near-death is especially powerful. You could watch the end of the 'The Birnam Wood' fifty times and still be convinced he's going to die. Nobody's supposed to come back from a heart attack in the woods. There was even soft piano music. This kick starts the season, which is defined by job changes and elections. CJ's first days as the new Chief of Staff are a highlight, showing that these super-human people do feel stress after all. They were starting to get a bit too comfortable. When it's all shaken up the show seems fresh again. If the fifth season was the transition, this is the confident start of a new era. Half-way through you suspect that the show might have changed for good, as it focuses on Josh's campaign with Santos (played by Jimmy Smits, who dubiously appears in the credits before he's mentioned in the show). Now Will's departure from the White House begins to make sense, as the division between the Russell and Santos camps is made clear. It almost starts to turn into the Josh Lyman show, as the other characters are pushed to the side. Poor Toby is left behind, and his and Josh's relationship never really recovers after they actually start hitting each other (although arguably it was never that good to begin with). And Vinick is the Republican who sounds like a Democrat, meaning that the other side look like a credible threat for the first time. The campaign is compelling stuff, but completely alien. When the show shifts back to the West Wing it's like settling back into a comfy seat, where nothing has changed and everything's (mostly) in its place.

The real joy of The West Wing doesn't come from the events, but from the strength of the writing. In that respect this season makes back a lot of points. It remembers how to be funny, even if it's sometimes a bit inappropriate (why are CJ and Josh arguing about donuts when Leo's close to death?). It starts to reference season one when Leo gives another 'let Bartlet be Bartlet' speech. It remembers how to be a bit subversive. It remembers how to be energetic. The middle episode of Season Five was called 'Slow News Day', here it's called 'A Good Day'. This is more like it.

No comments:

Post a Comment