Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, May 15, 2006
      ( 5/15/2006 01:23:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"THE CONTENTS OF THIS COMPUTER HAVE BEEN ARCHIVED" – First question overhanging the series finale of The West Wing was one this fan had been wondering about for weeks: "Are they gonna attempt to reconcile that misbegotten flash-forward used to open up this final season? You know, the one with Leo still alive at the opening of the Bartlet Library?" The second was a trace less urgent (the show could barely work up the energy to hold us in suspense) if no less nagging: would exiting President Jed pardon Toby Ziegler for his act of whistle blowing? And lastly, would the series' finish, helmed by John Wells, go out on a note that adequately echoed its glory days?

For the record, the answers are "No!," "Yes!" and "Nah, Not Really!" That "future moment" at the library dedication was never acknowledged; Bartlett, after holding Toby's pardon on the one spot of his desk where it'd be whitely lit, finally let the guy off the hook; while an ad for outsted Wingman Aaron Sorkin's upcoming Studio 60 series only served to remind us of those long-lost years this show was at its crispy best.

Still, even in its declining days, the show's central given – of a super-bright government so engaged with the act of governing that it tackled each big problem as more than just an opportunity to push a pre-packaged political agenda – remained appealing to the end. Wells and his writers have stayed true to this vision, even if some of the tactics chosen (making former Republican opponent Arnold Vinick Secretary of State in the new cabinet, f'rinstrance) strained credibility big time. If this season's focus on a new presidential election made the show overly diffuse (there were characters who we often didn't see for weeks), its take on the mechanics of the democratic process remained enthralling. We saw this in the final episode, which none too surprisingly largely concentrated on the logistics involved in transferring from one administration to the next on Inauguration Day. Lots of focus on White House Chief of Staff C.J. Craig in this ep, but, unfortunately, little of it played to actress Allison Janney's considerable strengths.

In fact, if anything, this ep conspicuously underused many of its core actors (bringing back Rob Lowe only to have him largely stand on the sidelines was an especially perverse act), emphasizing the fact that this was no longer their show by deliberately limiting what they were allowed to do. Thus, we get three at-loose-end staffers (Charlie, Will & Kate) deciding to spend their Inaugural Day afternoon at the movies, only to have one of these three workaholics ask, "Is there even a movie theater around here?" All this time working in the neighborhood and none of 'em even know if there's a movie-house in the area. Actually, I believe it . . .

A MAJOR CORRECTION THAT I DECIDED NOT TO MAKE IN THE ABOVE POST: Per Larry Young in the Comments and contrary to my addled memory, Leo didn't actually appear in the abovementioned flash-forward. This unofficial continuity guide has the specifics. Advantage: the self-correcting blogosphere!
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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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