Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sunset on Pennsylvania Avenue
You may have heard over the weekend that NBC has made official what we've suspected for a long time--this will be the final season of The West Wing. It's not going to be all that hard to see it go, given that it's been creatively moribund for the last three seasons. The campaign storyline of the last two seasons (which will be resolved in a two-parter on April 2 and 9) has morphed the show into something like those rock bands from the 60s that play county fairs every summer. You know the ones--one original member and four hired guns making music that is supposed to be like the real thing, but has something missing at its core.

I'd be perfectly happy to fast-forward through the campaign stuff, because it's been as perfectly free of drama as the channel that scrolls public service announcements. The only reason I'm still watching is to see the stories of the people The West Wing has always been about--Jed and Abby Bartlet, Leo McGarry, C.J. Cregg, Toby Ziegler, and the rest. (And Charlie--what have they done with him?) And Josh Lyman, too--senior-aide Josh, not Pod Josh, who's supposed to be the confident manager of a presidential campaign, but who looks as though he's seen the same thing the rest of us have--that his candidate isn't ready to be a senator, let alone president. The final episode on May 14 will involve the inauguration of the new president--but let's hope, now that the producers now know it's the final episode of the series, that it will focus on the characters who are leaving, and not on the ciphers coming in, whose lives we won't see and about whom we don't care.

Salon asked some of its writers whether they'll miss The West Wing. Some will, some won't. A couple of them get at a critical point--when the show debuted in 1999, it was still possible to imagine the White House as a place where the people's business got done in the people's interest. No longer. And that, as much as anything, might explain it's why time for The West Wing to go.

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