Yesterday, we learned that this season will be The West Wing's last. Given the declining ratings and changed time slot (it's rarely a good sign for a show when its slot gets changed, especially when they move it from a glamour spot like Wednesday night to the wasteland of Sunday evening), this is hardly a surprise, and given John Spencer's death last month seemed inevitable.
While I'm sad to see the show go, it is not that much of a loss in its present state. Ever since Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme left after the 4th season (leaving us with that egregious "24"ish cliffhanger) the show has only fitfully reached the heights of the first four seasons. In fact, were I to pick my top ten episodes, there is exactly one from the last season which makes the list:
10. The Midterms. First episode after the two-part season two premiere. Not really a great episode overall, but Bartlett's ending rant against a "Christian" radio host was not only good tv, but more or less encapsulates the way I feel about much of organized religion.
9. Celestial Navigation. Season 1, Josh's Secret Plan to Fight Inflation, Toby and Sam have to bail an angry Supreme Court nominee out of jail. Hijinks ensue.
8. In Excelsis Deo. Season 1 Christmas. The homeless guy with Toby's jacket gets found. Would be higher if I hadn't seen it 300 times, I think. Bonus points for Lt. Daniels from "The Wire" (or the actor, Lance Reddick) making an appearance.
7. Two Cathedrals. I always thought the show was best when it used flashbacks, and the young Bartlet + Ms. Landingham bit was priceless. Martin Sheen got to use his Latin, which is always nice. Good non-cliffhanger cliffhanger as well (If you payed attention, of course he's running again.
6. The Supremes. The best post-Sorkin Episode. Of course, hard to go too far wrong with Glenn Close and William Fichtner as your fictional Supreme Court nominees. Fichtner's character is what the optimist in me hopes John Roberts to be.
5. Isaac and Ishamel. The post 9-11 special episode. Good enough on its own merits, but when you add in that it went from concept to airing in under 3 weeks, a pretty amazing accomplishment.
4. In The Shadow of Two Gunmen. Season 2 premiere. Ok it's really two episodes. So I cheated. But the flashbacks of how the band gets together are fun, especially C.J.'s diatribe at the studio head. Wherein I find it appropriate to mention that movie sales are down because the movies, "they were all bad."
3. Bartlet for America. Leo's best episode, and essentially the Christmas episode from season 3. Bittersweet watching it now, even moreso listening to the DVD commentary track featuring John Spencer, who's personal history gave him some insight into Leo's relapse. Nice payoff from "Noel", a guy falls into a hole.
2. Noel - Season 2 Christmas episode. Or "The One with Yo-Yo Ma". Even without the Josh needs therapy plotline, Yo-Yo Ma is in it.
1. Holy Night - The Christmas episode from season 4. The one where Toby's dad shows, the ex-gangster, shows up to visit. Sorkin always brought the big guns to bear on the Christmas Episodes (all 4 are represented here) yet this was the best.
Update: Via Jake, WaPo has a piece on the show coming to an end:
Martin Sheen, who has played our fantasy president for seven seasons, was asked to reflect on what the show has meant to the country over the years.
"We can be very cynical about the people that lead us," he said, adding that he hoped the show managed "to make people realize that being a public servant is an honor . . . and that so many good and decent people do it and never get any credit."
"We were a fantasy but we had a parallel universe to reality," he continued. That changed radically, he said, when the Bush administration came into office and then 9/11 happened and "the country moved much further away from the center and we felt we were dead in the center and we gave everyone a fair shot."