Should I Watch The Post-Sorkin West Wing?
April 6, 2009 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Should I watch The West Wing after Season 4? (Spoilers)

I watched seasons 1-4 of The West Wing when they originally ran. I stopped watching when Aaron Sorkin left the show, but I also thought season 4 was a little spottier than the previous ones. I've been rewatching the Sorkin-era seasons on DVD, and I'm thinking about watching seasons 5-7.

I already know some of the things that happen during those seasons, and some of them (Leo as Vice President, CJ as Chief of Staff) seem pretty improbable. I also know there are some happy endings to romantic pairings I don't care about. Are the later seasons worth watching?
posted by kirkaracha to Media & Arts (24 answers total)
Yes, definitely. Even though the earlier seasons are better.
posted by Perplexity at 2:07 PM on April 6, 2009

Yeah, they are. I found that season 7 got a little dull when it focused on the race for the presidency--the Republican candidate for President is so left-wing that I didn't really care who won, there didn't seem to be much difference between him and the Democratic candidate--but other than that I didn't find season 5-7 to be any worse than 1-4.
posted by phoenixy at 2:09 PM on April 6, 2009

Absolutely. The writing, even without Sorkin, was still better than any of the show's contemporaries, and the characters continue to develop in complex and interesting ways.
posted by elmer benson at 2:15 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to lie: Season five hurt a little. Seasons six and seven made me a believer again. They're not as good as seasons 1-4, but by any other measure, they're solid. Watch them.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:18 PM on April 6, 2009

Yeah. IIRC, S5 was okay, S6 was meh, but S7 was great -- I loved the presidential campaign and Santos! Still, even at its John Wellsiest, TWW was among the better TV out there. At least Wells didn't blow up the Oval Office every sweeps like he did on ER. :)
posted by sldownard at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2009

I recently re-watched seasons 5 6 & 7, and yes, they hold up. Early in season 4 things are a little shaky, and it's not quite as good overall as when Sorkin was writing, but the characters are what you come back for, and they are so clearly defined that they still feel like the same people.
posted by crickets at 2:24 PM on April 6, 2009

That depends.

Season 5 is clunky, but then the show seemed to find a groove that was good. It wasn't Sorkin but it was still good.

But. Some of the plot jumps were just stupid, such as what happened between Toby and Josh and Toby's falling out with the rest of the staff and CJ's promotion and various other things. It was still good tv at times, but it wasn't Sorkin and sometimes that was painfully obvious.

If you have nothing else in queue, sure, why not, but if there's something else you've been aching to see on DVD, then skip'em.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:28 PM on April 6, 2009

Yes, yes, oh gods, yes. Matt Santos' candidacy in season 7 makes the payoff all worth it. FWIW, I thought Season 4 was the weakest season and it definitely gained more ground after that.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:09 PM on April 6, 2009

Yes, I loved the first four seasons religiously, dropped out for 5 and 6 (watching sporadically) and came back for a lot of 7. Watching 5 and 6 now in reruns on Bravo, I can see why I dropped them when my life got too crazy for TV -- it wasn't as strong as it had been but it's still pretty good and at times great. And season 7, though totally different in spots because of the characters they focus on and the politics involved is still great -- and prescient with the whole Obama-as-Santos thing...though since Santos was sort of based on Obama I guess it's

So short answer: yes.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:21 PM on April 6, 2009

BTW: The last season (and the in-show campaign for the presidency) has sometimes-bizarre paralells with the recent elections here in the US.
posted by crickets at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2009

posted by Abbril at 3:47 PM on April 6, 2009

has sometimes-bizarre paralells with the recent elections here in the US.

The character Matt Santos was based on Obama.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:47 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

The actors have developed together so well that it's worth following. It's being rebroadcast on cable, and the Sorkin dialogue often just blows me away. I wish he'd start a new show.
posted by theora55 at 3:49 PM on April 6, 2009

Brandon Blatcher's NYTimes link contains plot spoilers. MCMike's "pretty good and at times great" is about right. (What would you watch instead? Many movies are better. I suspect that not much current TV is better.) The presidential election episodes bored me, but the Santos-was-Obama point will probably be more fun in hindsight. As that Times article says, "[V]iewers can see allusions to Mr. Obama in almost every facet of Matthew Santos, the Hispanic Democratic candidate played by Jimmy Smits.... But is is the unintentional similarities that make the DVDs of the sixth and seventh seasons, which at the time received mixed reviews, so rewarding to watch now."
posted by Dave 9 at 3:57 PM on April 6, 2009

Meh. For what it's worth, after having seen them all a few times, I pretty much don't watch S4-7 anymore. There's a few episodes here and there ("The Supremes" in season 5 is one of my favorites ever, Sorkin or not), but other than that I don't find much to be excited about in Seasons 5 and 6. The Middle Eastern peace stuff in particular just gets unbelievably tedious.

Season 7, as mentioned above, is pretty good... but it doesn't really feel like TWW anymore; if you like election stuff, go ahead, but it's not the show you know and love. And I agree with Brandon that some of the plotlines are weird and forced... in particular Toby's fall from grace is just bizarre. The last few episodes do a nice job of wrapping things up, though - worth a viewing even if you didn't see any of the preceding stuff.

So I guess my vote is: if you're a completist, sure, and either way you probably won't regret it. But it's nowhere near the level of the Sorkin years. You can safely pass without feeling like you've missed much.
posted by captainawesome at 3:57 PM on April 6, 2009

The jump from season 4 to 5 is like jumping off a cliff- I just watched both recently, and like others said, it hurt a little.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:00 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Definitely worth watching. It sounds like your expectations are appropriately lowered, so it shouldn't hurt too much. It's like when I watched LOST the first time through, I knew which parts of which seasons were considered a disappointment by most people, so I was able to just kind of enjoy even the boring-er parts for what they were.

There aren't that many series that are as good as The West Wing, even taking into account its lesser seasons. You could do worse with your viewing hours.
posted by lampoil at 4:30 PM on April 6, 2009

I thought the Season 4 finale was terrible, the episodes spent wrapping that up are pretty lame, but once all that is done and dusted and goes back to being about "regular stuff", it's much better, and I will say that (having watched the whole series for the first time earlier this year) I didn't find the later seasons weaker than the previous ones.
posted by so_necessary at 5:01 PM on April 6, 2009

He did, and it was sort of lame and got cancelled. It turns out that Sorkin-style screenwriting works a lot better with political topics than with a portrayal of the entertainment industry.

I don't know, somehow it worked on "Sports Night". But of course it was cancelled too...
posted by mmoncur at 6:39 PM on April 6, 2009

He did, and it was sort of lame and got cancelled. It turns out that Sorkin-style screenwriting works a lot better with political topics than with a portrayal of the entertainment industry.

I don't know, somehow it worked on "Sports Night". But of course it was cancelled too...

A little of his style goes a long way. That "Night Wing" show or whatever it was was just simply terrible. Sorkin was phoning it in, or someone was seriously messing with his vision of the show. It didn't help that it had all the actors from his previous shows playing basically the same characters.

Yes, watch the whole thing. One of the meta-themes of the later seasons (possibly not intentional) seemed to be how presidencies can go off the rails so easily. How all the good you want to do gets sidelined by the crazy stuff that happens. And maybe even how presidents get a little disconnected after that many years.
posted by gjc at 7:36 PM on April 6, 2009

Yes, for the love of god, yes.

As others have said, season five hurts (there are episodes in there that are insulting and I will never watch again) but there is a handful of really strong episodes in season five.

Season six and seven the writers are finally comfortable with the idea they are not Sorkin and leap headlong into the two campaign arcs that make the last two seasons sings.

And for me, 6 & 7 are actually better than Season Three - which I think is quite weak.
posted by crossoverman at 9:17 PM on April 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments, everyone. I have to say I'm torn. I'm leaning towards not watching seasons 5-7 because I have a basic understanding of what's going to happen and I'm not that interested. For example, I like Obama, I like Jimmy Smits, but I haven't enjoyed what I've seen of the campaign episodes. I like Joshua Malina, but I don't like his character on The West Wing.

However, I agree that a mediocre or even a bad West Wing episode is better than almost anything else on TV, and I love the actors and characters. I've been buying the DVDs for seasons 1-4. Maybe I'll get 5-7 on Netflix so it'll be less of a commitment and watch them with lowered expectations.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:57 AM on April 8, 2009

Best answer: Season 7 is WAY BETTER than any of the previous campaign episodes. WAY. BETTER. Totally, totally worth it. By the end of it, I wanted Jimmy Smits to be President of my pants.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:19 PM on April 8, 2009

Response by poster: Sold! *updates Netflix queue*
posted by kirkaracha at 5:03 PM on April 8, 2009

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