Sunday, April 02, 2006

First "West Wing" Election Episode Tonight

NBC is broadcasting the first episode concerning the election episode at 8PM ET.

You can watch the promo for this episode at or here (WindowsMedia) and here (Quicktime).

There are screencaps of one scene in the promo.

TV Guide Summary

Spoilers for this episode here.

Comments from TV Critics
From the Toronto Star:
"The West Wing still finds its way into my TV rotation every Sunday.

That's an increasingly isolationist position. After all, The West Wing regularly gets killed in the ratings these days.

NBC already has announced the show is not coming back next fall. And CTV has moved to the front of the queue by dropping The West Wing, since it can't match the numbers achieved by the Canadian network's other hot Sunday properties such as Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy.

The Sex Pistols-esque cries of "no future" in the background certainly have put a damper on the U.S. presidential race between Republican Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) and Democratic Congressman Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits). It somehow all seemed more crucial when Alda and Smits essentially were auditioning to be the future of The West Wing.

Be that as it may, the first of two "election episodes" airs tonight (8 p.m., NBC).

You won't find out who wins the election 'til next week. But the episode tonight provides fresh insight into how the show's writers have chosen to deal with the death of actor John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry.

Time spent watching The West Wing always seems to go by quickly, and that sensation surely will continue through to the series finale on May 14. But while the show continues to be a personal must-see, there's no denying it has been dumbed down in the past couple of seasons.

There are many opinions as to when, or if, The West Wing jumped the shark (perhaps the phrase "jump the shark" has jumped the shark itself, huh?). Anyway, here are a few candidates:

- When one of the daughters of President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) got kidnapped.

- When C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) moved from White House press secretary to White House chief of staff.

- The unrealistic shenanigans at the Democratic convention that led to the surprising nomination of Santos.

- When Donna (Janel Moloney) went from being a wide-eyed assistant to Josh (Bradley Whitford) to a media-savvy, inner-circle advisor on the Santos campaign team.

- When Leo went from being the rock-solid White House chief of staff to a bumbling and bewildered vice-presidential candidate.

- When sexual tension started to dominate the relationship between Donna and Josh (there are major developments on that front tonight, by the way).

Overall, it's obvious The West Wing is not as worthy of viewer devotion as it used to be. But it still is worthy of more devotion than it's getting as it slowly walks the plank in the cutthroat world of Sunday-night TV.

In at least one household, The West Wing sorely will be missed when it goes away in a month and a half.

But until that time, it won't be missed."

From the Globe and Mail:
"The end is near for The West Wing, but the show appears intent on going out with a bang, not a whimper.

The West Wing has spent seven seasons depicting life behind the scenes at a fictional White House. Viewers have become very familiar with the various movers and shakers in the administration of Democratic president-elect Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen). The show has won multiple Emmys (including Best Drama wins for its first four seasons) and has changed dramatic focus as often as it's changed producers and timeslots (it currently airs on Sunday nights). And since The West Wing has long adhered to the strict procedural confines of U.S. politics, the show is ending its run by putting a new man in the Oval Office.

The long goodbye begins with this Sunday's show, which marks the beginning of an extended prologue leading up to the finale on May 14. The West Wing has devoted much of the past season to the mounting presidential showdown between staunch Republican candidate Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) and idealized Democrat hopeful Matt Santos. The two men are diametrically-opposed political opposites, with appropriately polarized viewpoints.

Titled Election Day, the episode takes place the night before voters head to the polls. As with most outings of The West Wing, a good deal of screen time is devoted to the key members of the ensemble cast. Josh (Bradley Whitford), who has been running Santos' campaign, is already fretting about voter turnout and returns, while C.J. (Allison Janney) is fielding job offers from people who aren't even in office yet. There are likewise quantum life shifts in store for original West Wing character Charlie (Dule Hill) and relative newcomer Annabeth (Kristin Chenoweth).

More importantly, the weeks ahead will see the re-entry of a considerable contingent of West Wing regulars. Most notable is the return later this month of Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn, the savvy political insider he played from 1999 to 2003. Sam is the prodigal son.

Also scheduled to return is Mary-Louise Parker a recent Best Actress Emmy winner for the cable drama Weeds who will reprise her role of women's-right advocate Amy Gardner (who had a hot-and-heavy relationship with Josh over two seasons of the show). The closing weeks will also see the return of former recurring West Wing characters played by Emily Proctor, Marlee Matlin, Timothy Busfield and Tim Matheson and Gary Cole as, respectively, the good and bad vice presidents.

The final days of The West Wing should provide a respectful sense of closure for the fans who've stuck with the series' through its innumerable ups and downs over seven seasons. The finale will be preceded by an hourlong retrospective that will include a tribute to recently-deceased cast member John Spencer, who portrayed Leo McGarry.

At the same time, The West Wing has to make room for the arrival of a new president in the next few weeks, and NBC has promised the series will not close doors before the election results are revealed."

From the Houston Chronicle:
"Unless you're a West Wing junkie, you probably didn't realize the show has returned to NBC's lineup after a seven-week Olympics interruptus.

That's a shame, because while Wing's ratings are broken — it has slipped to less than 8 million weekly viewers and is No. 83 in the household rankings — its ambitious and scary-real election story line has been one of the most compelling of the 2005-2006 television season.

Even those who have only loosely followed the series since its 1999 debut might want to tune in now as the four-time Emmy winner for best drama series airs its final seven episodes. Sunday's is the first of a two-parter titled Election Day, an episode that will climax with the discovery that vice-presidential candidate Leo McGarry (the late John Spencer) is dead.

We know there are Wing nuts out there who may have missed an episode or two. So here's a post-Olympics catch-up followed by a peek at what will happen in the show's remaining episodes.

•March 12: The Cold, deals with the fallout of January's nuclear incident in California. The Santos camp, led by former Houston Mayor Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), catches up with the campaign forged by pro-nuke California Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). Donna (Janel Moloney) and Josh (Bradley Whitfield) celebrate the results with a kiss. Sheila (Patricia Richardson), Vinick's campaign manager, voluntarily resigns. Meanwhile, Bartlet (Martin Sheen) orders soldiers into Kazakhstan as Russians and Chinese approach.
•March 19: Two Weeks Out. Both campaigns go into overdrive, often running into each other. Jane (Melinda McGraw) is the new Sheila in the Vinick camp, an aggressive woman Bruno (Ron Silver) distrusts. She argues they should hit the South next, but Vinick wants to go to California and, after much cajoling, that's what happens. Santos goes to California, too, but he forgets his briefcase in Philly. Bruno finds it and discovers Santos is paying child support. At the site of the nuclear incident, Vinick takes all questions, hogging the cable-news feeds, shutting up the reporters. The Santos camp is alarmed how Vinick is stealing the momentum. Vinick meets Santos, advises him to come clean about the checks. Santos says he's covering for his brother's mistakes.
•March 26: Welcome to Wherever You Are. The Santos campaign is operating virtually without sleep. The candidate's wife, Helen (Teri Polo), is sent to Miami to appease a Latina organization but makes what Santos fears is a gaffe. As they photo-op their kids for Halloween, they bicker. Josh steps in and gives Santos a buckle-up speech.
Meanwhile, a special prosecutor threatens to throw the election by indicting Toby (Richard Schiff) for obstruction of justice for not revealing his source in the military-shuttle leak. Toby calls his bluff but the outcome is unknown.

•Sunday: the campaigns go through Election Day rituals. They vote, wave, wait, sweat and seethe. Or, if they're Donna and Josh, they hit the sheets. At episode's end, Annabeth (Kristin Chenoweth) discovers Leo is dead.
•April 9: In Part 2 of Election Day, the word of Leo's death spreads and the election takes on a different tone. If the Santos campaign wins, what happens? Is the election somehow void because the running mate died?
Earlier this year, West Wing executive producer John Wells outlined the plot point. The death of a running mate on election day is unprecedented in U.S. history, he noted, and the experts he talked to said a candidate would face two choices: either indicate his choice for replacement or go silent on the issue.

"If elected, it makes the most sense to wait until the inaugural and then try to get a candidate nominated and through Congress under the 25th Amendment," Wells said. "It's actually a very interesting kind of gray area, and certainly we wouldn't have gotten into this area without John's death."

•April 16: Requiem. The nation mourns Leo's death. The handling of the election becomes a Constitutional issue to be settled by the Congress.
•On the next three episodes — Transition, The Last Hurrah and Institutional Memory — a new government comes in and and old one exits. Andy (Kathleen York) seeks a presidential pardon for Toby. C.J. (Allison Janney) and Danny (Timothy Busfield) consider a future together. The Bartlet staff considers post-White House options. Bartlet reflects on his presidency.
•May 14: The series concludes with an Inauguration Day episode titled Tomorrow."

From the Hartford Courant:
""The West Wing" is not the water-cooler item it once was, long since supplanted by ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy." More recently, the Sunday night spotlight has been taken by the long-awaited return of HBO's "The Sopranos."

But NBC's "The West Wing," in its 8 p.m. slot, competes with none of those hits. And now that it's in the final seven episodes of its last season, it's time to tune back in before the still-smart show is gone for good.

Here are some reasons to get on board Sunday:

Election Day! - After what seems like years of campaigning (another mark of political realism on the show), it's time for voters to elect the successor to Martin Sheen's President Josiah Bartlet. Producers are mum on who will win, and it will be announced next week, but Jimmy Smits' Rep. Matt Santos has been surging in the polls, especially since a clip of Alan Alda's Republican Sen. Arthur Vinick supporting nuclear energy years ago was constantly being rerun after the meltdown of a plant in his home state.

Anybody's race - Ordinarily we'd say Santos long had the edge because his administration would provide jobs for most of the show's lingering characters, including Leo McGarry, Josh Lyman and Donna Moss. But since the January announcement that this would be the series' last season, anybody could win. In fact, having the moderate Vinick win could provide a more emphatic bookend to the Bartlet administration, which has been followed for the length of the series.

Death of a major character - The death of actor John Spencer Dec. 16 was a shock to "The West Wing" family; his Leo McGarry character, as chief of staff and then vice presidential candidate, was a strong pillar of the program. Several episodes already completed when Spencer died have been broadcast. The show will deal with the death of his character in Sunday's episode, as his chirpy aide Annabeth Schott, played by Kristin Chenoweth, discovers his body.

A history lesson - What would happen when a vice presidential candidates dies so close to the election? The writers investigated and wrote the conundrum into the drama.

Josh and Donna - Seven seasons' worth of sexual tension was broken two weeks ago when longtime co-workers Josh and Donna shared a lingering kiss in a hotel room.

"It was totally inappropriate," Josh said afterward. Donna tried to slip him her hotel key. But things obviously progress in the lull before the votes are counted: The preview for Sunday's episode shows them in bed together (it's not my spoiler; it's the network's).

Guest stars - The election episodes have been packed with familiar actors in strong roles. Besides the marquee names as candidates, there are Vinick campaign workers played by Ron Silver, Patricia Richardson ("Home Improvement") and Melinda McGraw; the Santos campaign has employed Janeane Garofalo and Stephen Root.

Returning stars - Rob Lowe is the biggest name returning to "West Wing" on or before the May 14 finale. Others include Mary-Louise Parker, Anna Deveare Smith, Emily Procter, Marlee Matlin, Tim Matheson, Gary Cole and Timothy Busfield. "

From TV Guide's Matt Roush:
"Question: You would have thought that the writers of The West Wing could have put more creative thought into these final episodes instead of more Santos campaign drivel (as per the March 26 episode). I know we're all in anticipation of the treatment of Leo's death, but the original cast has been largely pushed aside. And those of us who are longtime fans of The West Wing would have appreciated seeing the original crew hard at work at the end of Bartlet's last term. — Dan B.

Matt Roush: Can't really agree, but then, the ratings bear out the fact that few are all that excited about the election episodes of this final season (which NBC has effectively buried on Sunday nights). For me, and for most others I know who are still watching the show (not very many, admittedly), the election brought some storytelling vigor back to a show that had stagnated in its depiction of life in the lame-duck Bartlet White House. I thought the campaign episodes dealing with the fallout over the nuclear-plant incident, and the potential scandal of Bruno discovering Santos' left-behind briefcase, almost had the zing of classic West Wing (not to mention the at-long-last acknowledgement of the Josh-Donna flame). Back at the White House, the Kazakhstan episodes have had some oomph, as have Toby's indictment over leaking classified material, but otherwise, West Wing had been limping along for at least the last season or two. (The biggest problem, as I've stated before, is that Bartlet needed to clean house after his election, if only for creative reasons. Around the time that C.J. was promoted into Leo's job, I was about ready to bail.) I've had no trouble pushing aside much of the original crew in favor of telling fresh stories. But I find myself wishing, even as I enjoy some of these final episodes, that they'd all closed shop a while back, so West Wing wouldn't be seen crawling to the finish line.

That said, I am looking forward to these election-night episodes, and am steeling myself for the episode (which appears to be set for April 16) that deals with Leo's — which is to say, John Spencer's — death."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hope this'll appear in real time.
Can anyone steer me to a website for viewing tonight's episode _tonight? We've got "weather" issues here in Iowa/Illinois and our local NBC affilliate will, I just know, spend interminable time demonstrating their fancy weather gadgetry and their "concern" for us by sending out reporters to report "well paula, I don't see any damage here but it _is_ raining."

So if it is possible I'd sure like to get WW on the web because I know I will miss the program on TV.