Television's most worthy series is back on form, with the added bonus of Alan Alda.
Hipper than thou US critics are forever announcing that a show has jumped the shark, a phrase that owes its origins to an infamous episode of Happy Days, wherein a water-skiing Fonz could be found literally jumping a shark. The West Wing, the most commanding network drama ever to become a primetime hit, hasnt jumped yet, but it has been precariously balanced on waterskis since Season 3.
Well, not anymore. This season sees new showrunner John Wells transform what could have been a tepid victory lap Martin Sheens President Bartlet is in the last year of his second term into a bold new era with every chance of re-election.
These 22 episodes represent a calculated gamble with plausibility forcing favourite characters out of well-worn grooves in order to create new cast dynamics and amp up the energy. A few elements get trampled as the show hits the primary trail, but there are more than enough fresh ideas and engaging new faces (Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits as Prez hopefuls are both terrific) to compensate. It will never be quite as Presidential as it was pre-9/11, but The West Wing is finally back on dry land.