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Josh and Amy's offbeat romance sparks the series

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Bradley Whitford, The West Wing
The West Wing: David Rose

Josh and Amy’s offbeat romance sparks the series

Granted, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association isn’t necessarily their target audience, but the ”West Wing” gang must’ve been bummed that they didn’t win a single Golden Globe this year. And they can’t even blame ”The Sopranos” this time. Another HBO show, ”Six Feet Under,” beat ”Wing” for Best Drama, while Martin Sheen saw Best Actor go to Kiefer Sutherland of ”24,” and Bradley Whitford and Allison Janney lost out in the supporting categories to Staney Tucci (for HBO’s ”Conspiracy”) and ”Six Feet Under” costar Rachel Griffiths, respectively.

Clearly, there are some competitive new kids on the drama-series block, which also includes ABC’s ”Alias” (for which Jennifer Garner was named Best Actress). Can Aaron Sorkin and Co. keep up? Judging from the Jan. 30 episode, ”The Two Bartlets,” the show is taking a few steps in the right direction, and making a few missteps as well.

On the upside: The action took place in chronological order for a change — none of that confusing flashing forward and backward in time that Sorkin has overused lately. The entire hour took place on the day of the Iowa caucus, beginning at 5:14 a.m., when Josh (Whitford) received a surprise visit from flirtatious feminista Amy Gardner (Mary-Louise Parker), and ending after 9:25 p.m. when Toby (Richard Schiff) peeved the Prez by suggesting he sought public approval because his father beat him as a child. (Hillary Clinton posited a similar theory about her husband in the inaugural issue of Talk, and you saw what happened to that magazine.) The ticking clock didn’t exactly generate the nerve-wracking real-time tension of ”24,” but it was a start.

The Josh-Amy romance is the best thing ”Wing” has going right now. The friction between Whitford and Parker grows more fascinating to watch each week. Okay, it strained credulity for whipcracking Chief of Staff Leo (John Spencer) to encourage his deputy to take a vacation to Tahiti in the middle of a reelection campaign. But when Josh won over Amy by turning his Georgetown apartment into a mini-Tahiti and giving her a flower necklace, it was refreshing to see someone on the show finally getting lei’d.

Now if we could just work up some action for underused characters like Janel Moloney’s Donna (who was stuck with a dull jury-duty subplot) and Dule Hill’s Charlie (who spoke three lines in the whole show). As for First Lady Abby Bartlet (Stockard Channing), she appeared only in the bumpers before commercials, a blatantly digital addition to the cast shot.

Thus, ”The Two Bartlets” ironically featured only one Bartlet — the Chief Exec, who needs to mix it up on the campaign trail a bit more. Would a President weakened by a recent censure really be able to run unopposed for the Democratic nomination? I think not. At least let us see his Republican rivals. Heat up the election, and maybe you’ll win over a few more voters come next awards-show time.

Do you think ”The West Wing” is still one of TV’s best dramas?

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