Monday, April 10, 2006

Bye, Leo, we'll miss you. Now LET'S DANCE!

When John Spencer died, I know the writers of "The West Wing" were placed in one of those impossible situations, but last night's episode really pissed me off. Would it have been so hard to wait a week, keep Leo off-screen during the election stuff (I think the audience would have accepted whatever excuse they gave for Leo not being on stage for the acceptance speech) and deal with his death more fully at a time when we could devote an entire episode to the reactions of the original characters?

And yes, I know that that's exactly what next week's episode is going to be about. But the initial reactions of the characters is half of what I wanted to see, and with the exception of Josh and, to a lesser extent, Jed, we didn't really get them. How do they skip over Margaret finding out about the heart attack in the first place? How do they cut away just when C.J. and the prez are about to have their first conversation? How do you leave Toby out of the episode altogether?

And how do you end the episode where the most beloved character in the show's history dies with a scene where everyone's dancing and cheering and happy? I know, I know: for the new people like Bram and Otto and even Santos, they didn't know Leo long enough for the grief over his passing to overwhelm their joy at winning the election. And they did have that beautiful bit at the end where Josh said, "Thanks, boss." But after getting genuinely involved with the campaign storyline in the last year and a half, I felt angry that these interlopers were having themselves such a big ol' party; didn't they realize how much we, the people who'd been around for seven seasons, cared about Leo McGarry and John Spencer? It was realistic, and yet a slap in the face, and it's really killed my interest in any transition scenes in the remaining episodes.

Well, not entirely. Predictions on the replacement veep? Vinick seems too obvious and corny even for this show, and while Rob Lowe's coming back, Sam Seaborn has all of Santos' young and inexperienced liabilities, only moreso (Santos at least served a few terms in Congress; Sam has never held any elected office that we know of). So my guess is either Bingo Bob or John Hoynes. Gary Cole and Tim Matheson are both coming back, both characters have experience in the job and would probably have an easy time getting confirmed in the wake of Leo's sudden death. Plus, if either of them ever has any aspirations of running for president again when Santos is done, they'd have to take it. My money's on Bob, since he doesn't have any scandals in his past like Hoynes.

Moving on... About nine years ago, my friend Mike Schneider (you may know him from such websites as Franklin Avenue and Variety.com) were joking around about how "The Simpsons" should do an episode where Patty and Selma meet Richard Dean Anderson, are horrified to discover he's nothing like MacGyver, then imprison him in their apartment, "Misery"-style, until he finally escapes by cobbling together everyday household objects. So what happens? Nine years later, they freaking stole our idea, man! I mean, yeah, we never actually told anyone about it, or wrote anything, or copyrighted it, or... but you get the idea. Intellectual property is intellectual property, and... ah, nertz. As Mike put it, if we cared, "maybe we should have written it nine years ago." And now that I think of it, the other plot we came up with for that episode was Bart getting a job at the comic book store, and they did that one, too. Does Matt Groening have some kind of psychic powers? Is there any way we can get residuals?

Actually, the thing I'm most surprised by is that it took the "Simpsons" writers seventeen seasons to get around to bringing Patty and Selma together with the object of their obsession. (I think the last time they even mentioned "MacGyver" was 11 years ago in "A Star Is Burns.") And what a weird episode overall. The Homer goes to India plot felt like large chunks of it were missing, possibly pasted over by the MacGyver scenes, and the entire thing was basically an excuse for the Bollywood number at the end. Now, who am I to complain about a good Bollywood number, especially one that has Carl sporting two extra arms? That's the kind of gratuitous dance scene I can get behind.

13 comments:

Mase said...

Jeff Greenfield wrote a good novel a number of years back called The People's Choice where the President-elect died just after the election, but before the electors voted. In the novel, which was very well researched, the eventual President was decided by the the electors (as, remembering way back to 9th-grade civics, voters are not technically voting for a candidate, but an elector who is promising to vote for that candidate [and running mate]).

It will be interesting to see how the West Wing handles the constitutional question.

More importantly, I want to thank you for your articles and weblog entries. Watching a lot of (and reading a lot about) television, I can say without caveat that you are one of the absolute best commentators out there. You get it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Excellent description of what many long-time viewers were feeling about the death/party juxtaposition. As for replacement Veep, I think they'll dig into the (not too distant) past and pull CJ into the job. Wouldn't be the first time she replaced Leo and placing her in the position wouldn't be any more unbelievable than her promotion from press secretary to chief of staff. The first election night episode might have even hinted at the idea with the focus on CJ's job offers, Charlie's comments about how CJ could rule the world and Charlie's desire to keep working for her. Going that route would tie up the loose ends for at least two characters (though it might create some continuity problems with the opening scene from this season)

Anonymous said...

My guess for the new VP is either current VP Russell (Gary Cole), Governor Baker (Ed O'Neill), NSA Nancy McNally (Anna Deveare Smith), or former DNC Chairman Barry Goodwin (John Aylward). Out of those four I doubt it will be Russell - they will want someone better. McNally would be a great choice, but it could seem like the show wants another minority on the ballot. Plus, she is not really into the politics. Choosing Goodwin could be seen as choosing someone like Leo which could be good and bad. Goodwin is old and questions of his health (which we have no history of) would have to be raised. Therefore, my money is on Baker. He made a strong one at the Democratic nomination until word of his wife's illness came out. Regardless of that, I think he would make an interesting nominee and a solid one. The only problem with him is a potential lack of foreign policy experience.

Matt Hunter said...

If they hadn't gone and haphazardly killed off Adm. Fitzwallace a couple of seasons ago he'd have been the perfect choice. I believe he was even talked about as a possible replacement for Hoynes during the reelection campaign.

But since that's not gonna happen I'm gonna add my vote to Gov. Baker or Nancy McNally. They've been mentioning Nancy a whole lot lately too...

Rob Rogers said...

I've enjoyed reading your comments about The West Wing, but I'm not quite in agreement. I'm also a long-term fan and have been looking forward to seeing how they deal with the loss of Leo. On the face of it, I agree that tying Leo's death in with election night ran a risk of cheapening the death of the character and the actor. Given your review of the episode, I was expecting to be annoyed with the creative team for making the episode less about him than about the election.

But I found myself being impressed with the result. Yes, we missed out on a few reaction shots. But Leo seemed to be present in every scene, every moment. We didn't see Margaret finding out, but we saw her face, her thoughts, in a brief glimpse, and that seemed enough. Yes, the staffers danced and were excited about developments, but I could practically feel Leo in the room with them, celebrating the victory, while I could also feel the sense of incredible loss from those who knew him best.

The president's phone call with the first lady. Josh's reflection in Leo's room. Vinnick's reaction to hearing about the death of a man he respected. All of these bits resonated with me. If we didn't have an episode coming up devoted to memorializing Leo, I might feel differently, but I thought that the juxtaposition of his death and the election fever was handled pretty gracefully.

I'm sorry you were disappointed, but I, at least, really enjoyed the episode.

On another note, I tend to agree that, as a practical matter, the new VP might well be the Gary Cole character. But I have a feeling that the writers are going to go another way. My money right now is on Sam, despite the lack of experience, but I could see it being someone else. And my wife and I were wondering, after CJ's conversation with the president about whether he would have run again, continued to serve, if he'd been able, if perhaps they were suggesting that he might be the vice president. I'm not sure if that would even be legal, and I think it would really be a silly, implausible stretch. But I wouldn't be absolutely shocked if they went that route.

Brent Thompson, DNSc, RN said...
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Brent Thompson, DNSc, RN said...
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Brent Thompson, DNSc, RN said...
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Brent Thompson said...

I think your headline best described the episode. It seemed everyone sure got over the most tragic event in American electoral politics awfully fast. Just hours later the acceptance speech focuses on the challenger instead of the fallen colleague.

I think they are setting up a Vinnick VP as the series fades away. That would be in keeping with current discussions that pair McCain with Leiberman as a way to stake out the center of the electorate. The debate show seemed to announce that WW wants to promote a centrist view. Santos nominating Vinnick would create some dramatic tension for the final weeks and provide some speeches about the need for centrism in a split nation.

Anonymous said...

I tended to disagree. I think that this was the episode where Josh grew up. His father figure died, and so he had to stop being the "guy screaming randomly at people and always wanting to be on the attack just because he could." His sorrow mixed with his need to be more professional was, I thought, a great tribute to Leo. And the scene in the hotel room?

Oz said...

The season-opening glimpse of the future, in which Leo was absent, to me suggested that Santos was going to win, but then die in office so that Leo would be revealed as the President. I doubt they'll want to kill Santos now-- way too morbid-- but revealing that Sam somehow becomes Vice-President would seem to be the only good way to end that scene. Not terribly realistic that Santos would pick such an inexperienced VP, but then again this is a show in which a Democrat won South Carolina.

Ted said...

I think you underestimate how wacky TWW writers are willing to be -- how can the veep be anyone other than Vinick? Any other choice doesn't Send A Message about our partisan politics.

Alan Sepinwall said...

But you see, John Wells has always tried for a "realistic" approach to this show, which was his excuse for all of the senior staff to suddenly hate each other for his first two seasons, and for the Republican Congress to defeat every one of the administration's grand plans.

Of course, realism doesn't really explain the nominations of either Santos or, especially, Vinick (no way in hell does an agnostic, pro-choice, socially moderate Republican survive Super Tuesday), but I just have a feeling Vinick's going to wind up with a cabinet post while either a former veep or, maybe, Nancy McNally winds up replacing Leo.