Last night’s Big Premiere was The West Wing.
I originally sought solace in the arms of The West Wing after the cancellation of Sports Night: they share Aaron Sorkin as creator and writer and share Sorkin’s Mametesque “faster and more thrilling than life” approach to dialog. After watching Sports Night and early episodes of The West Wing I was left with an odd, pleasant after taste: I wanted my life to be that breezy.
Alas, if Wednesday’s premiere is any guide, the writing on The West Wing has gone from compelling and breezy to confusing and muddled. There were entire sequences in the two-hour opener that simply passed me by.
Perhaps I’m simply too stupid, or not in tune enough with the US politcal situation, but chunks of plot like “Toby and Josh get lost in America,” while perhaps interesting in some abstract metaphorical way, were unintelligible and tired.
Combine this nonesense with the whole “how many times can there be some horrible crisis in some country with a made-up name that causes everyone to get stressed out” and I worry for the health of the show.
The final blow may be the departure of Rob Lowe from the series. He’s obviously already in the process of being ushered out, as his role in last night’s episode was minor and of no consequence. I always thought that The West Wing was about Rob Lowe’s character Sam Seaborn, in the same way the WKRP was about Andy and M*A*S*H was about Hawkeye Pierce. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying he’s as much of a linchpin as either of those characters, he was the archtypical snappy talker, and every other characters bravado seemed descended from his.
That all said, there are some reasons for hope: Dule Hill as the President’s assistant Charlie is taking on a larger role in the show, and I really enjoyed his performance last night. Lily Tomlin (bias: I am a big Lily Tomlin fan) is going to do wonderful things too, I think. And Allison Janney really, really deserved the Emmy she received last week: she’s a great actor.
I’ll keep watching, but some of the magic is gone.