As President Obama celebrates the end of his first year in office, and as I’m housebound through illness,I thought this might be a good opportunity to catch up with The West Wing. I really enjoyed Series 1 but I’m a little disappointed in 2. Disappointment is of course relative: the acting is impeccable, the dialogue is snappy and funny, the research is amazing, the sets likewise. But everybody is still just a bit too upstanding and idealistic and brilliant and resourceful and loyal. It’s not that I’m against an idealised view of politics, but I’d like to see more depth and flaws in the characters.
Mainly though, I find the episodes are beginning to seem repetitive: it seems like in each one, the Russians test a missle or some Chinese migrants arrive on a container ship, there are some tough choices and then President Bartlett remembers a Latin quotation and it’s all ok. Stories don’t seem to develop; instead mini-stories like Sam and the call girl appear and then get dropped in a seemingly random way. It’s quite telling that the ‘Previously on the West Wing’ intro is hardly ever necessary. In the episode I just watched, Josh suddenly developed post-traumatic stress disorder from the shooting in Series 1. Yet he seemed fine in the previous 5 episodes. Characters like the curly-haired annoying woman in Series 1, and Ainsley Hayes, and Joey, appear for about 3 episodes and appear to be big news, then disappear without a word. Oh, and the Malory-Sam romance is just beyond ridiculous.
I realise that for some people this is blasphemy, or kicking a puppy. If you are a big West Wing fan I hope you will forgive me. I want to believe. I will keep watching. But when will it be different? Gosh, these questions sound familiar. I sound like a fervent Democrat watching Obama’s State of the Union address. Except, I didn’t expect him to have fixed everything, or indeed anything, by now. He’s facing problems that are just not solvable in a year – or 40 minutes. I think we should stay tuned.