<EM>The West Wing</EM> The West Wing

Is it just me, or does it still seem weird to see Alan Alda as the first credit in the opening of The West Wing? Maybe it's because he's practically  been invisible this season. Well, tonight the focus shifts to the Vinick camp. After two weeks of watching the learning curve of young Matt Santos, we get to see behind the curtain of a seasoned pro. Granted, the professionalism of "multitasking" is questionable. (Another reason to be glad I work at TV Guide: no meetings at the urinals.) Alda is ideal at playing the compromise inherent to big-time politics. You can see the wheels turning as he decides not to go negative or to court the Latino vote. He's a guy struggling between the need to do the right thing and his overwhelming desire to win, and it's this kind of tension that has always been at the heart of the show. It would be easy to portray the Republicans just as treacherous enemies. However, Vinick's staffers come off as thinking people of conviction (even if one of them is the dad from Boy Meets World). Leon, the Latino on Vinick's team, quitting rather than attacking him is one example. Would that ever happen in the real world? Holy Karl Rove, no! But if I wanted the real world, I'd watch C-SPAN until my eyes glazed over. Vinick's only big misstep tonight is lying to the creepy pro-life guy, which blows up in his face when he tries the "litmus test" trick on Hardball. (Yet another reason to be glad I work at TV Guide: no Chris Matthews.) By the way, isn't it nice that there's still a place, however fictional, where a politician getting caught in a lie could surprise anyone? Jon McDaid

(To watch our exclusive interview with West Wing star Richard Schiff, click here. )