Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Comments on Final "West Wing" Episode "Tomorrow"

Discuss the episode here.
Discuss the pilot episode again.
Write an open message to John Wells.

From the Washington Post:
"One of the best things about "The West Wing" was catching those Washington bloopers. Fortunately, Sunday night's finale contained some delicious whoppers spotted immediately by sharp-eyed political obsessives. For the record:· The show opens on a frigid Inauguration Day: "Who in his right mind decided that January would be the best time of year to hold an outdoor ceremony north of the equator?" asks the first lady. "Jefferson, Adams, Franklin," answers President Jed Bartlet . Wrong! Bartlet should know that presidents were sworn in on March 4 until FDR's second inauguration on Jan. 20, 1937. (It's the 20th Amendment, people.)

· It was supposedly 10 degrees, but there was no frosty breath or shivering. Where was the congressional leadership when President-elect Matt Santos walked through the Capitol? And where the heck were his kids on the biggest day of his life?

· The new first lady wonders if she has to wear nine different gowns to the nine balls. She waits until that day to think about her inaugural ball dress?

· Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg slips out the White House front gate and walks across a sleepy Pennsylvania Avenue -- mysteriously devoid of the crowds, reviewing stands and security folk on the inaugural parade route.

· The Bartlets leave for Andrews and jet home to New Hampshire, an 83-minute flight that seems to last hours and take them over open sea. Okay -- maybe if they got delayed by bad weather and maybe if they took the coast-skimming route between Andrews and Manchester.

And yes, that was "WW" creator Aaron Sorkin in a cameo shot during the swearing-in."

From the New York Times:
" Sentimentality tends to choke the spirit out of most series finales. It was inevitable that "The West Wing" would end on a pious note, but the mawkish fillips were disappointing if only because in the final season the plot shifted to a new president and a new White House staff that breathed new life and political machinations into the series. The finale turned the spotlight back to Josiah Bartlet, and seven seasons had already sucked all the poignancy from his presidency. There were no real surprises: White House workaholics at last found time for love, President Matt Santos was sworn in — by a female chief justice — and President Bartlet went home to New Hampshire.

Mostly, the final episode sought backstage catharsis by bringing the series's defectors back for a victory lap: Sam, played by Rob Lowe, came back late in the season to work in the Santos administration. In the inauguration scene, the camera panned the audience and stopped briefly on the face of the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, who quit in 2003. "

From the Associated Press:
"NEW YORK - It was an orderly transition Sunday night as President Jed Bartlet left office and "The West Wing" came to a graceful end.

After seven TV seasons (and two terms in his fictional White House), the heroic, quirky, often embattled chief executive played by Martin Sheen was succeeded by Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits). As the Bartlet administration came to its inevitable conclusion, so did the NBC drama.

"You did a lot of good, Jed, a lot of good," the First Lady (Stockard Channing) told her husband as Inauguration Day dawned.

Bartlet's mood at that moment must have matched many viewers': relief, satisfaction, gratitude and sadness that it was about to be over.

And later on, Abbie Bartlet said proudly, "Jed, you made it. You're still here" — after the assassination attempt, his battle with multiple sclerosis, and the punishing duties of his job.

Sentiment hung heavy through the hour, both for the characters and the audience. In particular, former chief of staff Leo McGarry, who had died suddenly on the campaign trail as Santos' vice-presidential running mate, was repeatedly recalled (as was, implicitly, the late
John Spencer, who played him until his death of a heart attack last December).

"I'm gonna take one final stroll around the joint, to make sure nobody's making off with the cutlery," Bartlet told his secretary (Lily Tomlin) after tending to one final presidential task: signing some pardons in the oval office.

Caution: Spoiler alert. Would he pardon Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), a trusted senior adviser who had leaked classified information out of conscience, then confessed; been fired, tried and indicted; and now was facing prison?

Though still torn between feelings of betrayal and affection — well, of course, Bartlet pardoned Toby.

For the episode, a full-scale inauguration platform was erected, where the ceremony would soon begin as, back at the White House, Bartlet staffers watched coverage of it on their TVs and finished packing up.

Then, at 42 minutes into the hour, Santos took the oath of office. An era was over. So, remarkably, was the brief inauguration scene.

"Nice speech," the former president told President Santos (viewers will never know).

"No JFK," Santos replied.

"No," smiled Bartlet. "But you've got time. Make me proud, Mr. President."

"I'll do my best, Mr. President," Santos said.

And Bartlet was gone.

In the unseen Santos administration ahead, "West Wing" favorites Donna Moss and Josh Lyman (Janel Moloney and Bradley Whitford) will be part of the team — and presumably will remain an item, a recent development after having been partners for years in TV's sexiest unconsummated, unacknowledged romance.

"The West Wing," which premiered in fall 1999, was the vision of Aaron Sorkin, whose genius was reflected in the pilot episode, repeated Sunday night just before the finale aired. Sorkin not only created the series, but wrote all the episodes for several seasons before leaving it.

Although a popular hit as well as a critical smash, the series in recent seasons dropped precipitously from its former Top-10 status and was canceled by the network.

Even so, this season's episodes have been strong, charting not only White House goings-on but also the campaign between Santos and his Republican challenger, Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda).

Viewers can be cheered that Sorkin will be back on TV: NBC has announced that his new series, "Studio 60 on Sunset Strip" will be on its fall lineup, with stars including "West Wing" alumni Whitford and Timothy Busfield.

And Sunday the final scene of "The West Wing" left the audience on a forward-looking note, too, even if expressed in a wistful tone.

"What are you thinking about?" Abbie Bartlet asked her husband as they flew back home to New Hampshire after the marvelous adventure they had shared with "West Wing" fans.

"Tomorrow," he replied."

From the Hollywood Reporter:
"It came on with a bang seven seasons ago, startling viewers who could scarcely believe a TV series could be so smart, thought-provoking, beautifully written and well-acted, all at the same time.

And with the final episode of "The West Wing" on Sunday, it seems a safe bet that it will be a long time, if ever, before TV again tackles profound topics like politics as policy with as much dramatic mettle.

The series, a contemporary video version of President Kennedy's Camelot conceived by Aaron Sorkin and upheld by John Wells, went out with its head held high. Instead of tackling thorny issues with compelling explosive story lines, the finale was a long goodbye, filled with emotional moments that evoked the richness of the show's past. These included references to Leo McGarry, the character played by late actor John Spencer. His death in December seemed to foretell the lowering of the curtain on this much-honored yet oddly underappreciated series.

Clinging to tradition, "West Wing" imparted yet another important civics lesson before leaving the stage for good. This time, it demonstrated the efficient and orderly way power is transferred from one administration to the next. Perfect timing, considering it was broadcast on the eve of the "upfronts," the annual week of TV transition."

From Nation:
"Illegal wire-tapping, millions of civilian telephone records turned over to the NSA, National Guard troops "temporarily" deployed on the Mexican border, "extraordinary rendition" of nameless suspects, "detainees" imprisoned in Guantanamo without due process, a limitless war on terror, an "axis of evil" -- sounds like the President has been reading Michel Foucault's Society Must Be Defended, a series of lectures given at the College de France that reverses Clausewitz's famous aphorism and explores how "politics is war continued by other means.

That President, however, is not George W. Bush. He's Democrat Josiah Barlett, who departed The West Wing after two terms, seven seasons and a raft of Emmy nominations. Yes, in last night's series finale observant viewers spotted Foucault's book among President Barlett's private possessions.

I'll leave it to TV critics to debate what this might signify. But note to the real Prez in case he decides to take the lead of his fictional counterpart and, uh, read: Though Society Must Be Defended "deals with the emergence...of a new understanding of war as the permanent basis of all institutions of power," it is NOT a how-to manual."

From the Washington Post:
"Washingtonians gathered around televisions last night for the series finale of "The West Wing," a program from a parallel universe in which the president is named Bartlet, terrorists come from Qumar and no one in the White House is allowed to finish a sentence.

The NBC program, which signed off its final broadcast at 9 p.m., was television's homage to Washington, from its regal theme music and iconic imagery of the city to its celebration of leaks, news briefings and spin control.

Viewing parties popped up across the region. "West Wing" was, in many ways, a home-town show, as "Cheers" was for Boston and "Seinfeld" for Manhattan. For some, it was a little too close to home.

"It was exactly like watching work," said Adam Levine, a communications specialist in the District who was an assistant White House press secretary for two years under President Bush. "You'd sit there and you would have just come out of a meeting in the Roosevelt Room, and you'd flip on the show and they are all sitting there having a meeting in the Roosevelt Room."

The show wasn't necessarily water-cooler material inside the real West Wing; people there work just as hard as their counterparts on the program and they haven't the time, Levine said. But it was a beloved weekly ritual for many former West Wingers, some of whom, such as Levine, consulted for the show's writers.

"I watched the show early on and haven't missed an episode in the last two seasons," said Scott Stanzel, another former Bush White House spokesman [who comments on this article on his blog]. He stopped watching only during what he calls the show's "preachy period," in the middle of its seven-season run, when the left-leaning Democratic administration portrayed on the program went a bit "over the top with its devout liberalism."

In an Arlington County apartment last night, six young Democrats watched the finale on a projection screen after an "all-American" turkey dinner. The core of the group -- twin sisters Morgan and Lauren Miller and Christy Gill, all 22 -- began watching "The West Wing" three years ago with their Democratic club at the University of California at Los Angeles and imported the tradition to Washington when they moved east.

Someone in the group noted how old everyone looked: NBC had replayed the show's 1999 pilot before airing the final episode.

"They're supposed to look old when they leave the White House," Lauren Miller responded. "Look at Bush; look at Clinton."

The general consensus among fans, insiders and TV critics is that "The West Wing" began as a riff on the Clinton administration. Critics say it continued down that path even as it strayed further and further from political reality, to the point that its fictional White House would find liberal resolutions to real-life problems faced by the right-leaning Bush administration. Some Republican detractors dubbed the show "The Left Wing."

Jennifer Palmieri, a press aide during the Clinton years, recalls when the real West Wing learned of an early concept for the show.

"We heard it was going to be about a young former Southern governor who was divorced and had a 13-year-old daughter. Does that sound familiar? Except for the divorced part," she said. Producers ended up giving the fictional president a New Hampshire background and three daughters and patching up his marriage.

Palmieri, who lives in the Old Town section of Alexandria, remembers when the cast came to visit their counterparts in summer 1999: John Podesta, Clinton's chief of staff and Palmieri's current boss, hung out with actor John Spencer; Press Secretary Joe Lockhart paired off with Allison Janney.

But she stopped watching the show after the 2001 season because "when Gore lost, it was like being at your ex-boyfriend's wedding, every week."

There are good reasons for the show's undeniable appeal to legions of Republicans, whatever its apparent Democratic bias.

Its accuracy in rendering real life in the West Wing was "jaw-dropping," said Levine, who was a consultant early in the series, down to "which staffers would talk to what people about what subjects, to what pins they would wear."

Do real-life West Wingers really talk as fast as the jabber-jaws who play them on television? No, said Levine: The real halls of power have "more the feel of a library." Yes, Palmieri said: "I don't think anybody ever finished a sentence in eight years in the West Wing, including Clinton."

Some of the program's best moments transcended partisan politics, as when, in a recent episode, victorious Democratic presidential candidate Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits, offers to make his vanquished foe, Alan Alda's Arnold Vinick, secretary of state.

Alda's character so eloquently expressed Republican views in the final weeks of the show that he changed some minds on the predominantly left-leaning writing staff, said Lawrence O'Donnell, an executive producer.

"It's Pat Buchanan's favorite TV show," O'Donnell said. "And that, for me, means that it's a very successful TV show."

Ultimately, "The West Wing" was not a program about politics, he said.

"I was always trying to write the best drama that I could write for television," O'Donnell said. "If it had been a politics show, it wouldn't have lasted a season."

Joel Bradshaw, 44, a computer consultant to a defense contractor, had "absolutely no interest in politics, or a show about politics," when he stumbled across a "West Wing" episode early on. The Fairfax resident was hooked by the plot lines, and "it got to the point where I planned my week around not missing an episode of 'West Wing,' " he said. "I've seen people around town with 'Bartlet is my president' T-shirts, and if I knew where to get one, I'd probably buy one.""

From the Chicago Tribune:
" And so the Bartlet era ends.

For those who have no idea what that means, and as a reminder to fans who've drifted in recent years, the term of Josiah Bartlet, fictional U.S. president on NBC's "The West Wing," ended Sunday as the series finished its seventh and final season.

Though down in the ratings, "West Wing" left with grace, typically mixing the elusive thrill of grand politics with the familiar emotions of everyday life: an apt, affecting playlet about the prickly sweetness of change.

An amusing and wry Lily Tomlin, as outgoing presidential secretary, warned her successor, "At some point, the president is going to ask you to suspend his wife's [Oval Office] walk-in privileges. Don't do it. No matter how much he begs."

Seven years bequeath fond memories, for cast and viewers alike. C.J. (Allison Janney), the show's emotional center, leaving the realm of power, was asked by an ordinary citizen just outside the gate if she works in the White House. Clearly content, she confidently replied, "No."

Meanwhile, Bartlet (Martin Sheen), who pardoned errant Toby in the eleventh hour, pondered a framed napkin promising "Bartlet for America" while aboard his flight from Washington. When asked by his wife (Stockard Channing) what he was thinking about, he answered, smiling, "Tomorrow.""

From the Boston Globe:
"Last night, after seven years of high-strung political drama, ''The West Wing" finally heaved a sigh. Famous for its huffing, puffing, and over-the-top twists, the NBC series said goodbye with an admirably restrained finale. The hour was a bittersweet coda with no big tears -- just a few heavily glazed eyes.

As President Bartlet and his staff moved out of the White House on Inauguration Day, a series of sad moments unfolded, none of which were milked shamelessly. Bartlet handed law-school-bound Charlie a worn copy of the Constitution. Bartlet opened a gift from Leo's daughter, which was the ''Bartlet for America" napkin Leo once used to get him to run. Bartlet and C.J. said farewell with not much more than significant eye contact.

The atmosphere was poignant, acknowledging the sorrows of the end of the Bartlet era but then turning toward ''Tomorrow," which was the title of the episode. ''Tomorrow" was also Bartlet's last word, after his wife, Abbey, asked him what he was thinking about.

Fortunately, the finale didn't need to resolve any big mysteries. Producer-writer John Wells has not been coy about how this series would end, once Jimmy Smits's Matt Santos won the election a few weeks ago. In recent episodes, we saw Josh and Donna finally relax into a sexual relationship and roles in the Santos administration. We saw C.J. choose Danny and turn away from the intensity of White House life. The only leftover question mark -- would Toby go to jail -- was answered last night when Bartlet signed a pardon shortly before leaving office.

And so the finale had the freedom to wind down, since we went into it knowing everyone's futures. Wells could let go of the show's trademark braininess in order to leave on a gentle note.

There was only one stunt, more accurately a stunt-ette. During the Inauguration, while Keb' Mo' performed at the podium, the camera caught the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, in the audience. It was a deserved nod to the man who made ''The West Wing" great, before leaving it in 2003. The hour also provided a glimpse of Sorkin's future, with a commercial for his fall series, ''Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," a dramedy about a late-night-skit show that will feature ''West Wing" star Bradley Whitford.

Last night's finale was preceded by an airing of the ''West Wing" pilot, since a series retrospective was scrapped after cast costs became prohibitive. Watching the pilot offered its own pleasures; it was fascinating to see just how complete Sorkin's overall vision of ''The West Wing" was from the get-go. Interestingly, Bartlet began and ended the series with a cane, first for a bike accident and later for his MS.

Certainly, the pilot's focus on Rob Lowe didn't last long, as Martin Sheen and other cast members, particularly Allison Janney, gained prominence. And the atmosphere got darker. But still, the show's intelligence, sincerity, levity regarding the media, and joy in democracy were well in place before the first commercial."

From Zap2It:
"During the inauguration scene in Sunday's series finale of "The West Wing," the camera panned to several people watching new President Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) being sworn into office.

There was outgoing President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), his wife, Abby (Stockard Channing), Santos' wife, Helen (Teri Polo) and Bartlet staffers-turned-Santos aides Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and Donna Moss (Janel Moloney). And also one other guy whom you may not have recognized.

During bluesman Keb Mo's rendition of "America the Beautiful," the camera settled on none other than "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin for a wordless cameo. Considering he brought the show's version of the presidency to life, it seemed fitting that he would be on the Capitol steps to watch Santos take over for Bartlet.

Sorkin, however, did not create Santos. He and fellow executive producer Thomas Schlamme left "The West Wing" at the end of the show's fourth season; the campaign storyline that carried the show through its final days didn't kick in until season six.

The finale, written by executive producer John Wells, was a fairly understated affair, focusing on the outgoing Bartlet staff's transition back into civilian life and the Santos administration's move into the White House. It also paid tribute to cast member John Spencer, who died in December, by having his character's daughter (Allison Smith) pass on a memento from the past -- a cocktail napkin with the words "Bartlet for America" written on it -- to Bartlet.

Sorkin and Schlamme will return to NBC in the fall with a new series, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." The workplace drama, about a "Saturday Night Live"-esque sketch-comedy show, received its first on-air promotion during "The West Wing" finale."

From the San Jose Mercury News:
""The West Wing'' made a very graceful exit Sunday night after seven seasons:Inaugural sentimental without being mawkish and still quick with the one-liner. One small flaw: Making whether or not President Bartlet would pardon former aide Toby Ziegler, under indictment for leaking classified information, something of a cliffhanger. Anyone who was paying attention to the opening scene of the season's first episode -- the one set in the future at the opening of the Bartlet presidential library -- already knew that Toby didn't spend time in the slammer since he made it to the opening.

A couple of curiousities in the hour:

A nice inside moment during the inauguration ceremony when the camera cut to a closeup of "West Wing'' creator Aaron Sorkin -- who left the series after season 4 in a dispute with Warner Bros. -- sitting in the crowd.

As fans of the show know, the chief justice of the Supreme Court is Evelyn Baker Lang, played by Glenn Close in a memorable 2004 episodes called "The Supremes.'' Obviously, Close wasn't available for a finale cameo so the producers used an actress to double for her in long shot. (You never saw her face.) It was a bit like the actress who played the back of Patty Duke's head on the old "Patty Duke Show.'' (And my thanks to colleague Mike Antonucci, now back from his time at E3, for pointing this out.)"

From Salon.com

Commentary from TV Squad.
Commentary from Roger Catlin of the Hartford Courant.
Personal comment by Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star Ledger.
From the Broadcasting & Cable blog
Commentary by Matt Roush of TV Guide.
From the TV Guide Watercooler.
Blog by an extra in the episode.

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