Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, April 01, 2005
      ( 4/01/2005 11:51:00 AM ) Bill S.  

STILL WINGIN' IT – With just one more episode of The West Wing scheduled for this season, now's a good time to do a check-in on this once mighty teledrama. Amidst stories about the show’s ratings slippage, Wing's producers have brought in a whole slew of familiar teevee faces to prop up a new presidential election plotline. Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits are the biggest new headliners, but also within the new ensemble are such stalwarts as Patricia Richardson and Steven Root. The show, in prepping for a changing of the guard that sure feels at least a year too soon by its own established timeline, has obviously been looking 'round with an eye toward actors who could fill the cast once a new administration steps into the office vacated by the Bartlet presidency.

With so much focus on the politics of presidential electioneering, many of the series' long-standing regulars unfortunately have been left in the dust, though. Smart move to get Brad Whitford's Josh and Janel Moloney's Donna on competing Democratic campaigns, even if it seriously toppled the enjoyable sexual dynamic that existed between the two. But Richard Schiff's Toby has been given precious little to in his new role as Press Secretary, while I still don't buy Allison Janney's CJ in her new role as John Spenser's replacement: her character remains too damn earnest to be effective as Chief of Staff. I also seriously miss the little-seen First Lady, but that's mainly because I continue to have a serious thing for Stockard Channing.

I've enjoyed the campaign strategizing storylines, even if they don't have the Big Stakes intensity of, say, the Bartlet Administration struggling with Qumari terrorism. With Wing, the real pleasures are outside the characters' politics and within the ways that working in this high-pressure world impacts on these characters' lives. When Smits' Matt Santos had to consider putting up his house mortgage just raise the funds to continue staying in the presidential race, though, it was one of those moments that reminded you of just how personally and financially risky the political life can be. Watching that ep, I frankly wasn't sure which step Santos should take.

The producers are keeping tight-lipped about who wins the White House for next season, which is probably wise. At this point, the Republican candidacy has been sealed, and the season finish'll be primarily focusing on the Dems, as Bartlet and his staff struggle to stave off a too chaotic seeming convention. I've got no strong leanings toward either of the highest profile candidates, Alda/Arnold Vinick or Smits/Santos, though it'd probably provided a bigger series shake-up if Alda's moderate Republican took the White House from the Democrats and started to reshape it to his agenda. Think all dem "Hollywood Liberal" writers could actually manage it without seriously squishifying the character over the length of a season?
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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