By Raymond Nava
HBO Max’s “A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote” is a nice trip down memory lane, but leaves a feeling of wanting more.
The one-hour special aims to inform viewers about voting as well as encouraging everyone to vote.The special features appearances by former first lady Michelle Obama, former president Bill Clinton and many more.
The special also hopes to dispel misinformation surrounding voting.The special is an onstage performance of the season 3 episode “Hartsfield’s Landing.”
All the main cast members who appeared in the original episode return as their characters except for John Spencer, who died during the seventh season in 2005.
His character, Leo McGarry, is played by Sterling K. Brown in the special.
The episode revolves around three separate stories.
The first involves President Bartlett playing two separate games of chess with Sam Seaborn and Toby Ziegler, played by Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff respectively.
The second story revolves around CJ Cregg and Charlie Young, played by Allison Janney and Dulé Hill respectively, getting into a prank war.
The third story revolves around the New Hampshire Primary, specifically the fictional small town of Hartsfield’s Landing, and Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and Donna Moss’ (Janel Moloney), attempts to convince a married couple to vote for President Bartlett.
The town is based off of the real life town in New Hampshire, Dixville Notch, which has a tradition of voting at midnight and reporting its results.
Just like the real life Dixville Notch, Hartsfield’s Landing is said to have accurately predicted the winner in the presidential election.
For any fan of “The West Wing,” the special will bring the joy of seeing the cast reunited.
However, it leaves a feeling of wanting more from it.
The production is excellent and it is impressive to see the cast and crew recreate every scene from the original episode.
However, the actual plot doesn’t feel like it entirely meshes with the subjects that the special itself is trying to convey.
In between scenes, the cast and special guests inform viewers about voting and other facts related to the election.
While informative, these segments don’t match the overall theme, especially since only a third of the special has plot relating to an election and voting.
The special could have worked a little better if a different episode was chosen to recreate, specifically one of the election-themed episodes that the show has had throughout its run.
Alternatively, the special could have done an entirely new election-related story.
That route would have not only fit in with the style of a reunion special, but the voting-related segments would have felt more connected rather than feeling as if they were just tagged on, even though that clearly was not the intention.
Despite the issues the special has, it is produced and acted very well. Audiences that are engaged in voting will not be invested in this special. If the viewer is a West Wing fan it will still be enjoyable.