My TV plate hasn’t been full since a couple years ago, when Buffy was on, Angel was still watchable (sort of), and 24 was in its first flush of youth. One by one, they’ve fallen away. I gave 24 one more chance this season, after watching the premiere, and it didn’t live up—it’s gettin’ the boot. I gave up on Angel a while ago.
All that’s left, other than a healthy Netflix queue, of course, is The West Wing. Like everything Aaron Sorkin’s done, it’s been consistently enjoyable for the dialogue if for no other reason. But West Wing provides other reasons, too, and not just for people who happen to like President Bartlett’s politics. The show is strongest, in fact, when it is least partisan and most involved in the nitty gritty of the characters’ lives.
Which is what has made the past couple episodes so very fine. We’ve had four years to watch our heroes being ever-so-clever, with only occasional dips into their foibles and weaknesses to make things seem, you know, three-dimensional. But the show has recently been all about the ugliness and failure of its protagonists. Josh is the centerpiece, but all the principals are adrift in one way or another. CJ and Toby are wracked with doubt and lack of direction. Bartlett’s marriage is on the rocks. Leo still has it together but you get the feeling his authoritarian streak is going to get everybody in trouble very soon. We see Toby and Josh being downright condescending toward new (and very likable) characters VP Russell and Angela Blake—they don’t come off as charmingly aloof, just petty. Even a moment we might take as Inspiring, like Bartlett among the tornado victims, is undercut by CJ taking him to task for dodging the real responsibilities of his office.
We know that towards the end of the season, the team will somehow be able to pull it all together in a way that is meant to be genuinely uplifting. And if the writers are on their game, it may even be just that. But in any case we’ll like these characters even more for having found reasons not to like them; we’ll care what happens to them more than we would otherwise. And we can rest assured that there’s still one show worth watching on TV.
And now, the obligatory “Which character are you?” tests. Eve Tushnet found one here that’s rather transparent and messy. It pegged me as Sam Seaborn, but lucky Eve got to be Leo—and she doesn’t even watch the show! No fair! This test is a bit more elegant, and pegged me as the Jedman himself. I’m not complaining.