Earlier, I mentioned West Wing as a show that had survived the departure of a popular showrunner. It’s one of my favorite television programs ever, and available on netflix, although a few episodes aren’t worth watching. On President’s Day, it seems appropriate to provide a list of the better West Wing episodes.
Seasons 1-4: Pretty much every episode is worth seeing. It’s Aaron Sorkin at his best, with a truly impressive cast, dealing with subject matter that hadn’t been explored on a program of this caliber. The big question is whether one should stop with the Season 4 finale.
The strongest episodes of the series may be the Season 1 finale “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” and the Season 2 premiere “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen” so that be a good introduction to the series, if you want to see if it’s up your alley. A slight problem is that “Two Gunmen” has a lot of flashbacks dealing with the characters before they joined the Bartlett administration, so part of the fun is seeing how everyone was different before the show began. It loses some impact if you haven’t seen 22 episodes of the cast after they had all become coworkers.
Season 5:This is weakest season, but the first four episodes were pretty good, as the Bartlett administration deals with the fallout of events from the end of Sorkin’s run. “7A WF 83429” and “Dogs of War” resolve the Season 4 cliffhanger. “Jefferson Lives” introduces a new member of the administration, who will become an important member of the cast. I have come to appreciate “Han” more as I learn about just how messed up North Korea is.
“The Stormy Present” has a great guest appearance by James Cromwell as one of the Presidents before Bartlett. “Separation of Powers” features the return of Matthew Perry in a role that got him an Emmy under Sorkin, and sets up “The Supremes” as the Bartlett administration, and a few guest-stars try to come up with a satisfactory resolution for a Supreme Court vacancy.
Season 6: “Liftoff” features the first appearance of Jimmy Smit’s Matt Santos. “The Dover Test” kicks off the campaign to succeed Bartlett. And at that point, every episode of the West Wing becomes interesting again, as the next presidential campaign provides a lot of story fodder. My guess is that it meant that there would no longer be any padding in the plots that focused on the the Bartlett administration.
Season 7: Alan Alda VS Jimmy Smits. It’s good stuff. The best episodes are on par with above-average Sorkin. And not just because of the superficial similarities with the 2008 presidential election.