By many accounts, The West Wing began its final stretch of new episodes Sunday night. When John Spenser died in late December, I did a lot of Googling to try to learn how the show might deal with the loss of possibly the most important actor / character on the show. I was only mildly surprised, though very disappointed, to learn that the show was already in jeopardy of cancellation.
While the show’s move to Sunday night has made catching it a bit of a pain during football season, and was a sign the show was in jeopardy of getting axed, I still make a point to watch every episode. There’s little doubt the show has slipped badly, and the number of mistakes the writers have made is killing the show.
I gave them the benefit of the doubt on some of the missteps that ironically began with Leo McGarry’s (Spenser) heart attack in last year’s season opener. I already knew they had decided to move the new election up a year, so I figured they were forced to start shuffling cast with actors started looking for new roles as The West Wing changed hands. The choice to replace McGarry as chief-of-staff with C.J. Craig (Allison Janney) and this season’s exit of Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) from the Administration got a pass for the same reason. But that excuse apparently wasn’t the reason for these plot twists — Schiff and, until his sudden passing, Spenser have been kept on the show.
The mistakes don’t stop there. Moving up the election may have been necessary, but to focus so much on another election so soon was a bad call. The live debate show was weak, simply because it was too much like an actual debate. And, why, exactly, did they drag this past November? Isn’t November a “sweeps” month? I guess they wanted to bring people back after the Olympics, but it’s just going on too long.
I was initially hoping they’d replace Spenser and keep the character, but that seems unlikely. Sunday’s show was one of the best in the last year, but, ironically, focused on Leo. If this is the show’s swan song, I’m guessing Leo’s funeral is the final episode. Personally, I hope the show is still on in the fall, and returns to its core of showing the inner workings of the White House . . . or at least a noble version of it.