Television audiences certainly didn't shy away from the terrorist themed The West Wing episode Wednesday night. Quite the contrary. Written by creator Aaron Sorkin in the days following the Sept. 11th attack and hurriedly produced in order to air as the series' season premiere, the episode, titled "Isaac and Ishmael," was the most-watched show of the night, drawing an 18.0 rating and a 26 share and leading NBC to a primetime win for the night and probably for the week.
It was the highest rating ever for the drama, surpassing the highpoint 16.3/25 a year ago when it became the first non-Thursday night NBC show to place first in the weekly Nielsens in 11 years. Law & Order, which followed at 10:00, also pulled terrific numbers, a 16.3/25.
The episode has drawn mixed reviews from critics, though. Below a headline reading: "West Wing Wimps Out on Terror," the New York Post's TV writer Adam Buckman, commented that the episode contained little but "pompous speeches."
TV writer Ed Bark in the Dallas Morning News called it "too self-important and/or redundant to anyone who's been paying any attention at all to the raging issues of the past three weeks."
But Noel Holston of Newsday commented that the utterances of the principal characters about the terrorist threat were "more articulate and succinct than what passes for discussion on cable's news channels most nights." Eric Mink in the New York Daily News concluded that the show's production team "provided a service similar to the one David Letterman did for his fellow comics and late-night TV hosts: They demonstrated that it is possible to deal with terrorism in a fictional drama, possible to do so in a sensitive, sensible and intelligent way and possible to do it now."
The mixed reviews extended even into Canada, where Toronto Star TV writer Antonia Zerbisias wrote that it "contained more insight into 'America's New War' than the windstorm of opinion on U.S. TV since the catastrophe." But Bill Brioux in the Toronto Sun said that the episode went "straight to preachville." (Both writers carped about the premise: a suspected terrorist entering the U.S. at the Ontario-Vermont border. Vermont abuts Quebec, not Ontario.]