''West Wing'' is on its way to another Emmy winning season, says Bruce Fretts
Martin Sheen, The West Wing
Credit: The West Wing: Warner Bros.

Sorkin mixes an impressive number of subplots

Hey, did you know ”The West Wing” won 8 Emmys, including Best Drama Series? If you watched this week’s episode, you certainly do: NBC bragged about this bit of news by flashing it on the screen at the beginning of each act. Maybe this was meant for the nearly 40 million Americans who chose to watch game 7 of the World Series instead of the TV Academy’s awards ceremony this year.

In any event, I thought ”The Sopranos” should’ve won the big prize; HBO’s sensational (in every sense of the word) Mob serial had it all over the White House drama’s uneven second year on the air. Yet after the aberration of the all-talk-and-no-action season opener, ”West Wing” is off to a strong start this fall, building a case for its third Emmy win in as many years. The odds look even better when you consider that ”The Sopranos” won’t even be eligible for next year’s Emmys if its new episodes don’t begin airing until September, as planned. In that case, the biggest competition for ”West Wing” at the 2002 Emmys may come from another HBO drama, ”Six Feet Under,” which debuted too late for this year’s awards.

What made this week’s episode, ”War Crimes,” Emmy-worthy? Start with the amazing number of subplots creator Aaron Sorkin managed to juggle gracefully: Josh (Emmy winner Bradley Whitford) rushed to defend his assistant, Donna (Janel Moloney), after she got busted by ex-beau Cliff (Mark Feuerstein) for lying under oath to his Congressional committee investigating the President (Martin Sheen); the Prez stirred up the tension with VP Hoines (Tim Matheson, freed from ”Wolf Lake”) by asking him to make a politically suicidal pro-gun control speech in his home state of Texas; Toby (Richard Schiff) nearly got burned when a potentially embarrassing statement he made got leaked to a reporter (Michael O’Keefe); Sam (Rob Lowe) negotiated with a staffer for a congressman who wants to eliminate the penny; and Leo (John Spencer) was informed by a U.S. military muckety-muck (”Major Dad” vet Gerald McRaney,, back in uniform) that he committed an atrocity while in the service. Whew-and we didn’t even mention the White House staff’s football pool.

It’s the way Sorkin mixes dry data (did you know Illinois was the only state where you can use pennies at tollbooths?) with juicy soap opera (Cliff confronted Donna in a pouring rainstorm, no less) that makes ”West Wing” such a seductive entertainment. And it’s the boldness of his rhetoric that makes the show so bracing. Sorkin even got real-life Republican McRaney to deliver the line, ”All wars are crimes,” surely an unpopular sentiment in this country right now.

What did you think of this week’s ”West Wing”?

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