I have had my fair share of free time the past month: no work plus no school equals a ridiculous obsession with Netflix. Add on top of that moving out of the belly of the beast, better known as Washington, D.C. So to cope with my withdrawal in not being in one of the most powerful cities in the world, I turned to the best television-depiction of it: The West Wing. The show has been in my queue for months, and I was resisting seeing that I knew once I began it, I would have a great difficulty in resisting watching. Now, I have no excuse (and in saying that, I did do the math and watching the whole series is quite a dedication).
The West Wing begins with the first few months of President Bartlet’s first year in office and takes the viewer through all eight years of his presidency. From shootings to keeping the President’s MS a secret to kidnapped daughter to close nuclear wars, the show traversed these crises alongside United States-only crises such as legislation and how the White House approaches legislative bodies (and a glimpse into Supreme Court justices, too). The show wouldn’t be the great show it was without its cast of President Bartlet, Leo McGarry, Josh Lyman, Toby Ziegler, or CJ Cregg. It’s very interesting to think of the show as focused on the depiction of a setting and not of a main character or group of characters. I think its one of the most unique parts of the West Wing for it’s the only place that I could think of that has a constant evolution of characters in real life.
Anyway, you don’t need me to tell you that the show is historic and a great piece of television to watch. The best part has to be the writing; the dialogue between characters is fast-paced and incredibly detailed that you have to stay focused on the subject matter otherwise you will be lost. I really also love President Bartlet as the professor in most episodes that discusses the historic premise behind most of the overarching themes of the episode. I don’t even want to begin to think how much research and consulting was put into the writing. Moreover, for me, the sets were also some of the most intriguing. The oval office and residence were true renditions of the real rooms. The cast also often filmed on-site at the White House or Kennedy Center. This took a lot of coordination and really added a tremendous amount to the show. This is probably the biggest contributor to the show’s success: it’s reality. As a viewer, you felt like you were a fly on the wall in the Oval Office or on Air Force One. Not many shows make the audience feel like that, and I think that’s a definite contributor to the shows historic success.
In my opinion, the West Wing’s pros surely outweigh its cons, but noting them are important. Characters seemed to come and go relatively easy, and without any explanation. All of a sudden a character would be gone and there would be no explanation as to where they went. They’d also be mentioned in future episodes, sometimes, but not often. This detracted from the show for I would be watching and think: “Wait, where did Ainsley go?” I felt a little unfulfilled, as if I missed something (and when you watch 4 episodes at a time, it’s hard to miss something like that, so I don’t even want to know how watching the show traditionally would have felt like). Another item that detracted from the show was the complexity of the arguments. I understand that this is perhaps how highly qualified, intellectuals speak to one another in government, but to be understood by the average American, I’m sure made the show hard for them to digest. This goes hand in hand with how the show lost its momentum in the final two seasons. The dialogue got tired, the acting was tremendous, but the plots were a bit unbelievable. Everything that could go wrong during an election did, which is preposterous. I must have thought to myself: “stop being over-dramatic now.”
Obviously, I enjoyed watching all of the main cast, even those that had crazy eccentricities that I thought were over the top. However, my favorite cast member had to be Dr./Mrs. Abbey Bartlet: Stockard Channing. Every scene Abbey is in, she steals. From my perspective as an audience member, it really was a joy to watch that every single character that encountered Mrs. Bartlet was afraid of her. She was a force of nature: intelligent, shrewd, and driven. No one wanted to go against her for they didn’t stand a chance. Some of my favorite scenes are between Stockard and Martin Sheen for while they spared (and oh boy, they did) they also respected and loved one another. Apart from the political dialogue, those were my favorites (especially when Abbey calls Jed a Jackass, in reality, the only person who could get away with it). If anything watch for her.
My last comments are on the reality that a select few in the West Wing hold much of the power of the United States, which surprises me. It almost seems like the main characters (less CJ Cregg as press secretary) did much of the policy-making and sifted through what were important aspects/events of the Bartlet Administration. These individuals were not elected, but hand selected by President Bartlet, and while the onus falls on him for their work, it still is a bit uncomfortable to me to think these select few make many decisions for the country. With how much research went into the show, this premise probably is fact.
I’m not quite sure how much longer The West Wing will be on Netflix, but I hope many of you will watch it (at leas the first 5 seasons). The characters are upstanding American citizens who left high paying jobs to pursue a few years in the service of their country. This really is something to admire in them and appreciate as Americans.