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 Post subject: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 4:11 pm 
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So I guess the honor falls to me. Which makes sense, for my views are controversial!

After much deliberation, I've chosen to rank the seasons 2716534. Deliberations as follows, from worst to best.

Season Four mostly coasts along with no stakes and no real high points after the season opener. The Abdul Shareef plot becomes a joke, Ritchie is a joke, Sam randomly disappears, Hoynes's character gets thrown off a cliff, and Jon Robin Baitz writes an episode. This is a perfectly serviceable season of television I suppose but it's pretty forgettable. I shudder to think at what would have happened had Sorkin not left the show at this point. Will Bailey's addition to the main cast is pretty great (even if he doesn't get used right until Wells totally retools his presence).

Season Three is significantly better. There's real darkness throughout the first half of the season, culminating in "Bartlet for America" (an honest-to-god classic). Unfortunately, the season suffers massively from being written by Aaron Sorkin in its entirety, as it's filled to the brim with all his weaknesses as a writer. Look at the ill-advised subplots in "Night Five" which compete with its actually good Keysworth material. Look at "The US Poet Laureate," which I'm pretty sure the first draft of was just the words "LEAVE ME ALONE INTERNET!!!!" written over and over again. Worst of all, though, is "The Women of Qumar," which introduces both the nation of Qumar and Amy Gardner to the show. Qumar exists as an ersatz Saudi Arabia until it just becomes a Generistan for Bartlet to poop on (as I've written about at length in "Shareef Don't Like It," maybe my best writing for all of CT). And Amy Gardner is kind of defined as feminist interests lady, and Aaron Sorkin is kind of bad at writing about feminism. Her relationship with Josh is awkward too; Mary Louise Parker is just kind of... there? Like she doesn't have the needed chemistry there that Moloney or Matlin had with Whitford. Anyway, point is, this is seriously marred by Sorkin's involvement.

Season Five is the exact opposite in that while it's far from the best season of the show, it gets a massive shot in the arm from the new creative team in that the tokenism and misogyny endemic to Sorkin scripts magically disappears! The Wells years take a little while to find their footing but they're able to introduce characters very much outside Sorkin's wheelhouse and make them work. This is much clearer when we get to the Santos/Vinick campaign but it's on display here too in the sense that Sorkin would be very unlikely to write a character like Liz Westin or Angela Blake or even Ryan Pierce. (Also, it's the only season with Marina in it. QED, motherfucker.)

Season Six is curious because it has probably the two single worst episodes of WW's entire run one after the other at the start of the season, remains kinda poopy, but suddenly has an uptick with "365 Days" and doesn't let go, until "Ninety Miles Away" which is the third-worst episode of WW's entire run. Being actively bad for a third of the season, passable for the middle third, and fantastic for almost all of the home stretch puts this in a curious middle ground.

Season One is almost comically buoyant, which makes the show feel like a sitcom at times but also gives us some genuinely touching material. The major flaw is that every episode basically comes down to "Bartlet needs to take action and stop playing it safe" until "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet" which is too late in the season to successfully shake things up. Mandy is kind of weird in that her cynicism doesn't gel with the rest of the show (although Moira Kelly gives it her all, bless her poor heart) but her presence is mostly a minor flaw, and she's actually put to good use in the season's best episodes. Laurie is probably more frustrating in terms of being one-dimensional. This is still fantastic though.

Season Seven has probably the single most solid structure of any season of the show with the general election giving a recognizable backbone to the first two-thirds of the plot and 6.5 seasons worth of ancillary plot threads to wrap up in a satisfactory matter during the last bit. Santos and Vinick are actually hugely compelling, and the show actually gives them distinct but understandable political backgrounds (albeit in a hugely didactic manner-- thanks "The Debate") which adds actual stakes to the race. The main problem is that the ensemble is fragmented, which I know was a budgetary thing but still blows. Toby not being in the finale made me :0( for instance. But this is a minor niggle, because this is an awesome season.

Season Two is Season Two. I was tempted to put it behind S7 but then I was like "Can I say with a straight face that the season with "Noel," "Somebody's Going to Emergency," "17 People," and "Two Cathedrals" isn't the best of the show?? Anyway, you all know this season kicks ass.

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 5:01 pm 
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I think the reason no one's made this thread yet is that the majority of forumers here have not watched the last five seasons.

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 5:03 pm 
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Hey, Jeremy, would your list look like this? 2>3>1>4>7>6>5? or is 7 ahead of 4?

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 5:12 pm 
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S7 and S6 are both ahead of S4. S7 might even be ahead of S1, if my opinion of it improves during the review treatment.

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 5:27 pm 
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Jeremy wrote:
I think the reason no one's made this thread yet is that the majority of forumers here have not watched the last five seasons.

Zarnium, Alex... um... uh. Hm.

Although I think they would disagree with my rankings since nearly everyone agrees 5 is the show's nadir. They wrongly agree on that but ok.

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 6:53 pm 
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I went over my season ranking in "MY West Wing Experience." I said 2>3>1>4>7>6>5 at the time, but on reflection, I might now go with 2>3>1>7>4>6>5. A lot of things from season 4 really bug me; Charlie comes off as sort of a creeper, the re-election arc kind of sucks because Ritchie is such a hollow, non-threatening shell, Hoynes has an out-of-nowhere monkey wrench thrown into his arc, and Sam's House bid story ends in the middle of nowhere with no resolution whatsoever. Season 7, on the other hand, pulls off a riveting Presidential campaign story where both sides are complex and sympathetic without it feeling forced, and deftly tackles the issue of political secularism in a way that Sorkin very awkwardly tried to avoid.

Season 6 is really awkward to place because the first half sucks but the second half is great. Season 5 still pulls in last, but it's not bad and shows a marked improvement in certain areas that Sorkin was terrible at, namely his cloying tokenism.


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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 6:59 pm 
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I've only seen the first four seasons, but among those I'd have to agree with what seems to be the general consensus: 2, 1, 3, 4. I have an irrelevant personal history issue with season two, which keeps me from enjoying it as much as I otherwise would, but I love the episodes Bosc rightly mentioned and that Jeremy rightly lauded in his reviews, and I recognize that overall it is very well done.


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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 8:29 pm 
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An opportunity to disagree and argue about season rankings - Hooray! :D

I'm going to walk out on a couple of limbs with this, and suggest the following:

Season 2 > Season 3 > Season 1 > Season 6 > Season 7 > Season 5 > Season 4.

Boscalyn is underrating Season 3. It's not that I don't agree with most of the specific things she points out are wrong with it, but at the end of the day those flaws are secondary to the fact that S3 is (at its best) by far and away the most thoughtful of all the seven seasons. It's the one that comes closest to genuine profundity in reckoning with the awful responsibilities of power, even if it does get a little ham-fisted or drops the issues on its foot from time to time. And even though Amy Gardner is a long way from being my favorite West Wing character, she is still heaps better than Mandy, which is why I rank this season above Season 1.

Some will probably say that putting Season 6 above Season 7 is blasphemy, but I'm nothing if not an enthusiastic blasphemer, so there it is. The beauty of The West Wing is that it's basically a fantasy show about US politics, and Season 6 rides some really great political unicorns. Admittedly the opening stretch is (not mincing words) quite shit, but once it takes off it never looks back, and I actually don't mind "Ninety Miles Away" - even if it does feel more like an episode of Lost at times than TWW. Season 7 has the virtue of consistency, but it still feels like a letdown because the show is back to mining (solid, but not spectacular) character drama out of fairly mundane scenarios. Also, I have never forgiven that season for what the writers did with Toby - my favorite character. So on that basis alone, S7 is getting marked down severely.

I was originally going to put Season 5 at the bottom, but here I will actually agree with Boscalyn - it really does introduce some great side characters. And "The Supremes" is a bona fide classic episode, even if it does put me in the camp that thinks Bartlet ought to have been impeached. So Season Four is the weakest link.

As an off-topic bonus, I rank the movies written by Aaron Sorkin thusly:

The Social Network > A Few Good Men > Charlie Wilson's War > Steve Jobs > Moneyball > The American President.


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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2016 4:40 am 
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Quote:
I was originally going to put Season 5 at the bottom, but here I will actually agree with Boscalyn - it really does introduce some great side characters. And "The Supremes" is a bona fide classic episode, even if it does put me in the camp that thinks Bartlet ought to have been impeached.

I'm afraid I don't see it, Alex.

Say what you will about Ainsley or Amy or even Laurie, but they had an engaging screen presence, even when Sorkin was fumbling with his attempts at feminism. They're developed in ways that feel relevant to the show's themes. I could quote at least half a dozen great lines from each of them off the top of my head.

Can you really say the same about any of the newbies in Season Five? For the life of me, I can't recall a single interesting line from Angela or Liz, and none of them enhance the themes of the show until Ryan in "Talking Points." The women may be better written from a feminist perspective, but that doesn't necessarily make them more memorable.

I also don't think "The Supremes" is as great as people say, but that's a story for another time.

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2016 4:47 am 
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I mean, I'm not sure S3 really embraces the difficulty of having that much power. "Posse Comitatus" kind of goes on a wild goose chase to avoid the real ugliness of Bartlet's situation.

Alex C. wrote:
As an off-topic bonus, I rank the movies written by Aaron Sorkin thusly:

The Social Network > A Few Good Men > Charlie Wilson's War > Steve Jobs > Moneyball > The American President.

That seems uncontroversial. Surprised The American President isn't higher, I mean, but still.

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2016 4:53 am 
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Boscalyn wrote:
I mean, I'm not sure S3 really embraces the difficulty of having that much power. "Posse Comitatus" kind of goes on a wild goose chase to avoid the real ugliness of Bartlet's situation.

You read my review of "Posse Comitatus," right? I mean, I also wrote one. I think it explains the thematic closure of the episode pretty decently.

(Of course, it doesn't make any mention of Wes Mendell, so it probably wasn't that insightful.)

Boscalyn wrote:
Alex C. wrote:
As an off-topic bonus, I rank the movies written by Aaron Sorkin thusly:

The Social Network > A Few Good Men > Charlie Wilson's War > Steve Jobs > Moneyball > The American President.

That seems uncontroversial. Surprised The American President isn't higher, I mean, but still.

The American President is not Sorkin's best work, though I'd still put it above Moneyball.

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2016 5:33 am 
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Boscalyn wrote:
That seems uncontroversial. Surprised The American President isn't higher, I mean, but still.

Perhaps it's because Aaron Sorkin's movie oeuvre is a lot more consistent overall than his TV work?

I've seen six movies that were written by him, and all of them were at least good, and three were genuinely great films imo.

Perhaps there's an interesting contrast to be drawn here with the other perennial storyteller of Critically Touched - Joss Whedon, who has managed to infuse (at minimum) splashes of greatness into every TV project he's been involved in, but to date has never managed to pull off a great movie.

Jeremy wrote:
I'm afraid I don't see it, Alex.

Say what you will about Ainsley or Amy or even Laurie, but they had an engaging screen presence, even when Sorkin was fumbling with his attempts at feminism. They're developed in ways that feel relevant to the show's themes. I could quote at least half a dozen great lines from each of them off the top of my head.

Can you really say the same about any of the newbies in Season Five? For the life of me, I can't recall a single interesting line from Angela or Liz, and none of them enhance the themes of the show until Ryan in "Talking Points." The women may be better written from a feminist perspective, but that doesn't necessarily make them more memorable.

Help me out with this one, would you Bosc? I think you've got a more passionate argument to make here than I do.


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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2016 5:50 am 
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I'm in a rush right now (probably will respond in depth tonight), but I will note that Jeremy seems to confuse "memorable" with "deep."

To use a hyperbolic example: I can quote plenty of lines from WW, but I can quote like 50% of Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff verbatim. SBAHJ is not the superior work of fiction.

To use a less hyperbolic example: Stanley Keysworth would rank well below Larry & Ed in terms of memorability among WW characters. Who's the deeper character(s)?

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2016 6:57 am 
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I make no such confusion, Bosc. I'm just saying that, in this instance, "memorable" is more important than "deep."

The characters introduced in Season Five generally inhabit a specific plane of importance - they're not total background players like Ed and Larry, nor are they starkly dramatic components like Keyworth. They effectively exist to play off the main characters and take on minor roles in the main stories.

None of the Sorkin-era characters I mentioned earlier are especially deep, because The West Wing rarely gives depth to its supporting characters. (Which probably merits a whole discussion on its own.) But in terms of importance, they're about the same level as the characters introduced in Season Five - who, as aforementioned, are not especially deep on their own.

Wells- and Sorkin-era supporting players are about the same level in terms of character depth. But Sorkin wins in terms of memorability, which gives him the edge.

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 Post subject: Re: I Can't Believe No One's Made A Rank The Seasons Thread Yet
PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2016 2:43 pm 
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Ok, maybe deep isn't the right word. How about this: during the Sorkin years, ancillary characters would maybe have backgrounds but mostly existed to make points. During the Wells years, characters might make points, but they would distinctly feel like they existed beyond being emissaries of their political ideologies. It's kind of an extension of Wells caring more about the characters' personal lives, except Sorkin didn't give his ancillary characters any semblance of a personal life.

I think the clearest point of distinction here is with Joe Quincy. During "Evidence of Things Not Seen" he's more or less entirely defined by being a Republican and is explicitly compared to Ainsley Hayes, who was more or less entirely defined by being a hot blonde Republican. During "Separation of Powers" though, he's given an actual background that informs his decisions beyond being a Republican.

The show does a much better world convincing me that the ancillary characters have a life outside of the White House once Wells takes over. (Ronna excepted, ha ha.)

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