Could ''The West Wing'' stoop any lower? Bruce Fretts doubts it -- unless C.J. falls for her hunky bodyguard
Dule Hill, The West Wing
Credit: The West Wing: David Rose

Could ”The West Wing” stoop any lower?

Doesn’t it seem like forever since there was a new episode of ”The West Wing”? And no, I’m not counting last week’s glorified clip show masquerading as a documentary, with ex-White House staffers — many of whom are paid consultants on the show — testifying to the drama’s verisimilitude. Sadly, Aaron Sorkin apparently didn’t spend his extended Spring Break shoring up his scripts’ sagging quality.

The May 1 episode, ”Enemies Foreign and Domestic,” turned out to be its own worst enemy. The opening scene, in which press secretary C.J. (Allison Janney) went off-policy-book to excoriate Saudi Arabia after 17 middle-school girls died in a fire because the religious police wouldn’t allow them to leave the building in non-traditional garb, could’ve been a powerful set-up. But in a stunning lapse of, yes, verisimilitude, no one in the Bartlet administration objected to an underling verbally ripping a new one for a key Middle Eastern ally. Instead, the incident was a red herring to hook viewers into a May Sweeps-alicious storyline about C.J. getting death threats from an unknown stalker.

”The West Wing” has already used an assassination attempt as a season-ending stunt. Does it need to repeat that gimmick in only its third season? Isn’t Sorkin ashamed that he’s stooping to the same level as ”Providence”? (A promo for its season finale revealed that Melina Kanakaredes’ character is also being stalked.) If C.J. falls for the Sexiest Secret Service Agent Alive (Mark Harmon) assigned to protect her, I’m gonna take a hostage.

Even more stupefying was the subplot about Charlie (Dule Hill) investigating the origins of an odd letter sent to the President by a nine-year-old boy. Turned out the missive had been written to FDR but was never sent — until the apartment building in Pittsburgh where the kid used to live was demolished and someone discovered it and dropped it in the mail. Charlie tracked down the now-elderly correspondent (Bill Cobbs) and set up a photo op with the Prez. Didn’t Charlie notice that the paper the letter was written on was, like, 70 YEARS OLD? And what a coincidence that the Chief Exec just happened to ask for a copy of the very FDR speech that provided the final piece of the postal puzzle. Deus ex machina, anyone?

Then there was the plotline about the high-tech company forced to recall 80 million computers due to a defective chip. Leo (John Spencer) urged the President to help bail out the company, but Bartlet refused, pointing out that the CEO (Peter Scolari) was a major campaign contributor. The message couldn’t have been more heavy-handed if Sorkin had flashed a card up on the screen that read, ”Here’s how Dubya should’ve handled the Enron mess!”

All these developments occurred against the backdrop of an impending summit in Helsinki with a newly-elected Russian leader. The meeting was nearly called off when Admiral Fitzwallace (John Amos) reported the Russkies were building a reactor in Iran that could produce nuclear weapons. Thank goodness smartypants Sam (Rob Lowe) figured out via linguistic clues passed along from the premier to his representatives that the ex-Commie actually wanted to put the long-desired U.S. goal of non-proliferation on the table. This became clear, if you can believe it, because the foreigners used English idioms like “stem the tide.” So President Bartlet is going to Helsinki — and ”The West Wing” is going to Hell in a handbasket.

Do you think ”The West Wing” is experiencing a quality crisis?

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