Entertainment » Jim Harris

‘West Wing’ calls it a day



If only the U.S.A. could be governed as greatly as the fictional one has been by Jed Bartlet for the past eight years on the “The West Wing.” If only we had the kind of hope offered by the fictional president-elect Matthew Santos and his Republican Secretary of State Arnold Vinick.

Heck, how about we just elect Martin Sheen, or Jimmy Smits, or Alan Alda and be done with all this real-life bungling going on inside the Beltway.

“The West Wing,” the brain-child of playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin — apparently you can be quite creative surrounded by drugs and hookers — hit television like the proverbial breath of fresh air in 1999 and gave us TV government like we wanted to see from the real-life one. Wise government. Government for the people, all of the people — not the richest 1 percent.

As with most TV series, though, the originator, Sorkin, moved on to other projects and the stories for a while lacked the zip of the early seasons. Always a smart series, “The West Wing” storylines started resembling civic lessons for the average viewer. Then, ABC began to snatch viewers by putting “Lost” and “Alias” on Wednesdays, and NBC this season moved “The West Wing” to a forgettable Sunday time slot.

Where some popular series have resorted to “jumping the shark” (the saying derived from “Happy Days” having the Fonz jump a shark in its later days and now meaning adding John Stamos, Heather Locklear or some other actor to kick up fading ratings), “The West Wing” jumped the monster from “Jaws,” bringing aboard Smits, Alda, Kristen Chenowith and assorted big-name players for the past two seasons. Original cast member Rob Lowe has even returned. Long-festering love chemistry between key players has finally resulted in bedding and such. C.J. and Josh may have finally found their soul mates, who were there all along. The series even worked actor John Spencer’s actual death by heart attack into the script, as the crew said good-bye to would-be VP Leo McGarry.

What “The West Wing” cast didn’t seemed to fall into, however, was that all-too-familiar feel you got in later years from long-running series such as “M*A*S*H” or “Friends,” where you felt you were missing some inside joke among the actors. In “The West Wing,” it was always inside, the real inside of a White House as seen by a top-flight TV team and former White House “insiders,” and you always felt a part of it, if you could keep up with Sorkin-style of fast-tempo dialog (thank goodness for TIVO when I couldn’t).

“The West Wing” concludes its eight-year run Sunday (on KARK, Channel 4 locally) with the series’ first episode at 6 p.m., followed by the series finale at 7 p.m., covering all the aspects of President Bartlet passing his torch to his successor. Who picks up the torch of “The West Wing” in terms of great TV remains to be seen.

If ever a concert in this market was underpromoted, it had to be Saturday’s stopover by New Orleans-based rap star Juvenile, who showed up at the Clear Channel Metroplex along with hip-hop group UTP and some opening acts. One of those was a group of teen-age female rappers from North Little Rock going by the name of Mizunderstood.

Look for more from Mizunderstood, says our rap guru Shawn Brown, who, besides judging in the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase every year, also works at Alltel Arena and does his own rapping in his spare time.

“They did a pretty good job of getting the crowd hyped and keeping them hyped,” Brown tells us. He estimated the crowd at 1,000, made up mostly of fans of the young group of girl rappers.

Juvenile took the stage late (the first act didn’t go on until 10:30) and offered up some older hits and new songs, then gave way to UTP for a short closing set. “It was more of a Juvenile party than a Juvenile concert,” Brown says. Apparently, Juvy spent more time talking early Saturday night on radio station Hot 96 than he did on stage.

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