Friday, November 12, 2004

OK, can we have good writing AND continuity now, please?

(West Wing season six spoilers here, for readers in the UK and elsewhere)

Like many people, I found the first couple of West Wing episodes of this season really overwrought, overly downbeat, and dramatically dull. This is, I notice, a general characteristic of John Wells's shows -- ER has always tended toward extreme pathos, and I can't even watch Third Watch because just from watching the NBC promos for that show it seems like they kill off a major character every third episode. ("This week, on a Third Watch you'll never forget, one of these treasured characters will breathe their last breath...join us as we all say goodbye, at ten o'clock, after an all-new Vegas in which lots of people gamble and have sex.")

But the third and fourth episodes of The West Wing got back into something of a groove, approaching the kind of thing Aaron Sorkin used to do: lots of fairly fast storytelling, with complex dialogue, occasional funny lines, and a sense that this "public service" thing doesn't completely suck. There was a pretty funny scene the other night when, as CJ is just starting her first day as White House Chief of Staff (we'll say nothing of the awful "super-dramatic heart attack" Leo McGarry suffered), Toby hands in his letter of resignation. It's early enough in the episode that we think he just might be annoyed over not getting the job himself. And then Josh hands in his letter of resignation, and we still think it might be real. But then President Bartlet enters and tells CJ he's resigning too, and everyone cracks up. It was a nice moment, the kind that Sorkin used to do really well and that's been in short supply since he left. I'd say that the last two episodes have been roughly as good as the average episode in seasons three or four (but still not as good as the first two years, when Sorkin was really at the top of his game on this show).

But now, a geeky continuity complaint. In an episode last year that purported to be a PBS documentary of "A Day in the Life of the White House Press Secretary" made after the Bartlet Administration left office, the narrator says something to the effect that "To this day, CJ Cregg is the only woman to serve as Press Secretary for an entire Administration." That's nice, except that the writers have now made CJ White House Chief of Staff, which directly contradicts what was established in that "pseudo-documentary" episode. I remember thinking, at the time, that making a statement like that might be too limiting for the writers in the future, but they appear to have solved this problem by completely ignoring what they did last year. Oops.

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