As a died-in the-wool Aaron Sorkin-ite, it's hard to watch beloved characters on The West Wing become dramatic lame ducks to make way for the Aldas and Smitses of the world. It's like breaking up with a girl you still hang around with: It's awkward and weird, but there's always a chance you might end up friends. If not, well, maybe you can still get lucky occasionally. That end-of-an-era feeling pervaded tonight's season premiere, starting with the cheap theatrics of that flash-forward opening where we learn Danny and C.J. are married and Will's a congressman. Are you kidding me? Then to see Toby and C.J. cut the Santos campaign off at the knees on the education initiative and dismiss Josh out of hand. Ouch. And don't get me started on Josh giving Donna the beat-down in a job interview. Heartbreaking.
Still, I'm beginning to believe that this new-look, campaign-driven version of the show can work. Watching Santos give my boy Leo the business for 45 minutes is tough, but when he explains he needs to set the tone as his own man well, I kinda buy it. Joey's polling data on Santos is right on the money: I do want to go get a beer with this guy. Besides, is it just me, or does the show drag now when we're actually in the West Wing? The military-shuttle investigation just doesn't have the oomph of a good old-fashioned MS scandal. And there's no way C.J. leaked it. No way.
At the end of the day, the question remains: Is The West Wing as good as it used to be? As Annabeth tells Leo: If you don't like a question, reject the premise. So here's my answer: I think this girl and I can still be friends, and there's a good chance I just might get lucky this season.