“Before you send $30m of my money to Mexico I want to ask some questions!”

Saturday, March 18, 2006 by

The seventh – and last – series of The West Wing has begun transmission on More4. Having previously bailed out from the show on grounds of it no longer being not even a faint shadow of its former mighty self, it’s proved impossible not to be drawn back to see how the whole sprawling mess tries to resolve itself.

The penultimate series had blown the whole format apart, ditching what was left of the original structure of carefully plotted self-contained episodes exploring weighty matters of state for an increasingly preposterous sequence of melodramas involving, among other things, yet another Middle East war, someone bringing a blob of plutonium into the White House, Martin Sheen lying on the bathroom floor unable to move his legs, and an asteroid threatening to collide with the Earth.

The thing jumped the shark so many times it got boring reserving a space on the beach. Nobody behaved how they should. Long-established character profiles were ripped to shreds. People who’d spent five series being the closest of friends now had bare-knuckle fights with each other. The press secretary, someone whose career prior to politics had been plugging Hollywood movies, was made Chief of Staff. Alan Alda turned up as a Republican candidate to pontificate like he used to do every week in M*A*S*H. And right at the very very end, Leo McGarry, who’d had two heart attacks in the woods a dozen episodes earlier, was suddenly announced as a candidate for Vice-President.

So what did the new series have to top this? As if pressing on with the main themes of last year wasn’t bad enough (everyone hates everyone else and the President is a lame duck, literally) so far we’ve had one episode begin with – shudder – a dream sequence and another with – ditto – a musical montage. Once the show’s writers would have raced a good few country miles before resorting to either of those kinds of winsome cliches. But not now. All the schlock and schmaltz that was once carefully kept in check is now allowed to run amok.

Yet despite it being the last series, the budget appears to be enormous: fighter planes, conference halls, thousands of extras … The producers are seemingly throwing everything at The West Wing in the hope something sticks in the memory. Unfortunately what does stick is the impression of a once great TV ship of state slipping all-too slowly into quicksand.

There are 100 days of this fictional Presidential campaign left to run. Someone will end up the winner. And it won’t be us.


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