Over the last 2 months, I have been watching The West Wing. This is easily one of the best shows I’ve ever watched (yes, I know it’s “old” since it ran from 1999 – 2006). It’s an American political drama about the President and the Senior Staff in the White House and the kinds of things they have to deal with while running the country. Everything about this show is so well done. It’s a beautifully written show (written by Aaron Sorkin), the characters are so likeable, and the cinematography for an early 2000s TV show is really well done.
The first character I fell in love with was Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), Deputy Communications Director. Sam is optimistic, idealistic, smart, honest, always up for challenge, and my god can he write. He is a speech writer for the President and he has written some damn good speeches. My life goal is to be able to write as eloquently as Sam Seaborn. While Sam may seem disconnected with the other Senior Staff, his heart and his unwavering loyalty to the government and his friends are what make him work so well with the others. It took me a little while to warm up to Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), Deputy Chief of Staff, but by the end of season 1 he was one of my faves. Josh is arguably the most brilliant political mind on the show. But he’s so much more than politics. Josh is also charming, witty, extremely loyal to his friends, and a little bit arrogant. He does some crazy things and some stupid things but at the end of the day, he smiles and you can’t help but love him. Admittedly, this show is mainly focused on CIS, white men in politics (which is exactly what real life USA politics tends to be…) but then you have CJ Cregg (Allison Janney). CJ is the White House Press Secretary and she is very aware that she is “a woman in a man’s job.” CJ is such a strong female character, which is one of the reasons I love her so much. She is confident and poised, she can hold her own, she’s not afraid to tell others how she feels, and she is damn good at her job. I mean, who else could feed a room of hungry reporters? She’s also not afraid to be a little bit feminine now and again. She also has some of the best one-liners in the show that just make you go “ooh damn.” There are so many other characters on the show that I adore, actually there’s not many I don’t like, but Sam, Josh, and CJ are by far my favourites.
This show also deals with real government issues. During President Jed Bartlet’s (Martin Sheen) administration, they constantly brought up how education was a top priority. This really made me see how messed up the USA education system is. The public school system is not like the public school system in the USA. In the USA, I think around 20% of students go to public school and 80% go to private school. This may not seem like a big deal but the sad thing about this is that the students who go to public school are typically lower income and the schools aren’t as good, which puts the students at a disadvantage. And not all public schools are equal in the USA, which is why parents spend so much time trying to get their kids into a “good” school. It’s easy to see and understand why President Bartlet cares so much about education and why it’s something that all the characters on the show are so invested in. One of the things that Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) works on and fights for a lot, especially in the early seasons, is the National Endowment for the Arts (the NEA). The NEA essentially provides funding for the arts and arts education. I for one, cannot understand why when money is short, cutting funding for the arts is always the first answer, even in the real world. The arts are important. Art can teach you so much about creativity, it breaks barriers between groups of people, and it is a means of self expression. Unfortunately, art doesn’t really pay so yes, it requires some government funding. While all the conservatives and Republicans in the White House (both in the show and in real life) seem intent on cutting funding for the arts, I really appreciate the fact that The West Wing shows how important the NEA is and by extension how important art is, as there were multiple episodes with NEA plot points and President Bartlet and the Senior Staff don’t want to cut funding for the NEA. Military issues and intervention in conflicts in other countries are also explored and are often major plots that run through several episodes. President Bartlet always carefully deliberates and consults with his national security and military advisors BEFORE using military force to solve conflicts. In later seasons, we see that the President is committed to using a peace process rather than using force to solve problems. However, much like the USA does today, sometimes the President likes to send troops in to solve other countries’ problems that aren’t theirs to solve. Of course, there are several other issues that are addressed throughout the series, especially during campaign and election years/seasons but it’s still interesting to see how the US government maybe should be handling some of the issues.
The West Wing is also just damn good television. Aaron Sorkin was the head writer and producer for the show for the first 6 seasons. The writing of this show was something else. Everything was so eloquently written, the sarcastic one-liners were amazing, and the plots kept you interested in the politics (unlike real life government). Sorkin made me care so deeply about all of the characters and the actual goings on in the White House it was really good. When I watched this show, I actually didn’t want to turn on my phone (other than to Google other info about the show/episode). I was enthralled. The cinematography of the show was also so pretty considering it was a late 90s-early 2000s show. Everything was so clean and crisp. This show is known for its “walk and talk” scenes where it’s just characters walking though the halls of the White House talking pretty fast to each other. I think these shots are super effective because it shows just how busy the White House is on a daily basis. This show also does a great job with keeping the cast fresh and interesting. This show is 7 seasons (which I think is the ideal length of a TV series) but not all the characters stick around for all 7 seasons. Old cast members go and new cast members come in but the transitions in and out are seamless and it becomes like they were always there or they had a good reason (in the story) to leave. The only problem with this is that it causes me to get emotionally invested in a whole new bunch of characters on top of the ones I’m already emotionally invested in!
I think the main takeaways from watching this show are: a) if the actual United States government functioned like it does in The West Wing, the world would be a better place and b) I appreciate the 6 week election campaign limits in Canada. I hope I’ve adequately convinced you to watch this show because I really need someone other than my family to discuss this show with!
Have you seen The West Wing? What’s your favourite part about it? Let me know in the comments!