Flashback review – The West Wing 2×11-2×12: ‘The Leadership Breakfast’ and ‘The Drop-In’

Courtesy of leavemethewhite.com

Anyone with any internet or television connection can attest to the fact that elections tend to bring out the worst in people. And now that Toby has felt the tremors of the upcoming presidential election earthquake, the ‘Wing is quickly becoming a less than pleasant place to work.

“What’s next?” Find out after the jump…

This second season of The West Wing is probably one of my favorite seasons of any television series. Not only does it have great stand-alone episodes like “Shibboleth” and “Galileo” that find the right balance between comedy and substance, but it also gives some interesting story arcs, particularly the upcoming election shake-up. The season isn’t perfect however, and the biggest weakness for this season is how the campaign arc starts, particularly in these two episodes.

For a series that’s determined to portray government in a positive light, it sure starts its re-election campaign on the wrong foot. Toby (Richard Schiff) and Leo (John Spencer) get a nice moment in the Oval Office at the end of “The Leadership Breakfast” when they shake hands and decide that they’ve just now formed the Committee to Re-elect the President. But the set-up for that moment isn’t an issue that unites the staff together, something that they hope to accomplish in the second term that they haven’t yet been able to achieve. All it is is Toby’s realization that the Republican majority leader, under the guidance of his new chief of staff Ann Stark (Felicity Huffman, who’s vastly underutilized in this cameo), is getting ready to announce his campaign. They simply determine that since Republicans have begun to fight, they should too, which is a weak way for any story line to begin.

And this lack of motivation makes for a rough start to their campaign, and one that isn’t all that enjoyable for the audience to watch. Toby determines that a good way to start campaigning is to smack around environmentalists, some of his big supporters, in the name of “being his own man.” Not only that, but asks the President (Martin Sheen) to sandbag his own speech to the GDC by dropping in the admonishment without telling the speech’s writer, Sam (Rob Lowe), before the event. So now the campaign is causing the staffers to turn on each other and the issues they care about in the name of winning even before a campaign has even been announced. The drop-in could’ve been an interesting source of tension for a campaign in full swing, but not before there’s even a team or an issue in place to hope for despite such underhanded tactics. It just makes Toby look mean-spirited and ruthless.

Other Considerations:

  • Despite these major problems, I still enjoy parts of these episodes. In particular, both of these have awesome cold opens. And there’s nothing I love more than seeing the side-eye that Charlie (Dule Hill) gives Sam after the mural room starts to fill up with smoke as he now has to wake up the president.
  • I used to think that the escalations of embarrassment in front of Karen Cahill was pretty funny, from Leo’s shoe insult to Sam’s Kirgizstan/Kazakhstan blunder to Donna’s (Janel Moloney) inadvertent panty drop. But after seeing how unfairly unprofessional the female characters are being written on The Newsroom, now it particularly chafes to see that the woman is the one who commits the most ridiculous blunder of the three.

Your turn! Do these first campaign-themed episodes get you excited for the new storyline or do they leave you cold? Does watching Sorkin’s other series color your view of The West Wing? Sound off below!

And join me next Wednesday for the always welcome return of Abbey Bartlet as I review “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union” and “The War at Home.”

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