Why I Love The West Wing (and Why You Should Watch It)

4 Apr

I’ve been wanting to write this post for about a month now, but I haven’t really known how to do it.

You know that feeling when you love something so much you want to shout about it from the rooftops? But then, when you get around to it, this shouting turns out to be starry-eyed gibberish? This might not be a very coherent post, is what I’m saying. It’s what happens when one goes full-blown fangirl.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed me talking a lot lately about a show called The West Wing.

Y’all, I’m obsessed.

Rob Lowe as Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn

Is this post cheesy? Is this show cheesy? Is it some sort of overly idealistic, liberal-leaning love letter to a political world that doesn’t — nay, couldn’t — exist? Maybe.

But it’s also one of the smartest, most well-written shows I’ve ever seen, full of some of the most complex, compelling, endearing characters with whom I’ve ever fallen in love.

Dulé Hill as Personal Aide to the President Charlie Young

I’d always been vaguely interested in watching The West Wing. There was that throwaway moment in Love Actually when Andrew Lincoln‘s character says, “Everything has episodes of West Wing on it by now” or something like that. Also, I love The American President, a romantic comedy set in the White House and written by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin. People always said, “If you loved The American President, you’d love The West Wing.”

Boy, were they right. And then some.

Allison Janney as White House Press Secretary C. J. Cregg (aka, the love of my life)

Ellen the Roomie was the one to finally kick my butt into gear. We watched the first couple of episodes together, and I was hooked. The rapid-fire dialogue. The chemistry between the actors. The intelligence. It was that thing we so often deride in fiction: insta-love.

In the space of a 45-minute episode, The West Wing can make me cry, laugh, laugh till I cry, and feel more inspired about living in this country than I probably ever have.

Richard Schiff as Communications Director Toby Ziegler

There are times when, as much as I love writing, and as lucky as I feel to be able to write full-time, I start to feel discouraged. I get bogged down in the ins and outs and logistics of navigating the publishing world, and promoting my work, and revisions, and I forget about the joy of writing.

Then I watch something like The West Wing. I hear dialogue that has rhythm so seductive I feel like I need a cigarette after every episode. I watch characters who love and hate and would do anything for each other. I see a world maybe a little better than the one I live in, one that inspires me to make the world I live in a little better.

John Spencer as White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry

I watch this, and I’m reminded why I write. It’s to make people feel and think and experience things like I do when watching shows like The West Wing. It’s to get people so obsessed about a story that they forsake laundry, sleep, revisions, homework, and other responsibilities (not that I would ever, ever do such a thing, not that I am doing that at this exact moment . . . ) just to read a little more, watch a little more, grasp a little more of that rare exhilaration that accompanies a truly sublime work of art.

Again, is this cheesy? Quite possibly. Am I hyperbolizing my love? Not in the slightest.

Janel Maloney as assistant Donna Moss

It isn’t a perfect show, no. There does exist the rare moment that makes me cringe, although they are few and far between. There is also a left-leaning political bias, sure (although in my opinion the show’s writers do a fabulous job of addressing all sides of whatever issue is at hand). There are episodes that seem smug and there are even the occasional eyeroll-inducing lines of dialogue.

But there is wit, and richness, and heart.

Bradley Whitford as Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman

Also, I just have to mention how amused I am by the films in which I’ve previously seen some of these actors. Remember Ms. Perky, the guidance counselor from 10 Things I Hate About You, who spends all her time writing erotica? That was Allison Janney. And J.J., the skeezy advertising executive in Kate & Leopold? Bradley Whitford! And that random guy Eddie who gets eaten by a T. rex in Lost World: Jurassic Park? The ever grumpy, ever mumbly Richard Schiff!

Just had to point that out.

Gratuitous adorable picture of Josh & Donna because, I mean, come on.

Anyway, back to my point. There are few television shows that I truly love. Out of those, there are even fewer shows where all the elements — the casting, the direction, the writing, the production values — come together with near flawless precision. These are the shows that are special, that feel timeless even when they start to feel dated. These are the shows that, when you pop in a DVD or watch clips on YouTube, feel like coming home.

The West Wing is one of those shows.

Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet

What’s more, I feel like it’s an important show. Not artistically, no. But ideologically. No matter what your political leanings may be, I feel like this show champions a love of what’s right, the power of admitting and learning from mistakes, and the beauty of living in a flawed, complicated, messy, wonderful place.The West Wing is about love, really — friendship and family, and love of country.

And, quite frankly, I can’t think of a more perfect time to start watching this show. Yeah, I’m kind of bummed that I couldn’t experience the rush of first-run episodes and be a part of the fandom when it was in its prime and thriving. But with the state of political discourse (and courtesy, and general respect) in this country being what it is, what better way to get a morale boost and dare to think that things will be okay, even if they suck for a while first, than to watch a show that tells us exactly that?

With witty dialogue and perfectly staged walk-and-talks, of course.

You know, just writing this post almost made me cry. Damn it, I’m in love, forever.


10 Responses to “Why I Love The West Wing (and Why You Should Watch It)”

  1. M. Andrew Patterson (@DyadicEchoes) April 4, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    My mom and sister LOVED this show as well. Everything you have said, I have heard from them. It’s sad, but I’ve never watched this show. *bad Andrew, no biscuit* I keep meaning to, but I rarely watch regular TV these days. I’ve been to obsessed with writing. :D

    Glad you enjoyed it. I’ve watched your twitter feed (no, I’m not stalking!) and chuckled at the strength of emotion that you’ve experienced watching the show. Not a, she’s a crazy person and we’re going to back away slowly chuckle, but a chuckle of understanding as I have been drawn into shows like that.

    When the characters become so real that you forget they are actors, that’s an awesome feeling. There is a LOT to be learned from watching shows with good writing. Definitely inspirational.

    Thanks for sharing! :D

  2. Tobi Summers April 4, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    This is, without question, my favorite show that ever was, is, or likely will be on television. Every time I see your posts on Twitter, I want to go watch it again (I think I’ve seen the whole series three times, and many episodes more than that). I love it for all the reasons you mentioned. It’s actually the reason I started paying attention to politics at all, and I’m always disappointed when I realize that most politicians aren’t like President Bartlet. And it inspires me to want to make the world better, whether it’s through my writing or maybe getting involved in the community someday. There were so many episodes that just gave me chills or stopped my heart a little, and those feelings never go away, no matter how many times I see them (the speech Andrew Shepherd gives at the end of the American President is the same way actually).

    Did you know the show actually started as part of the American President? Apparently, Aaron Sorkin wrote something like an hour more footage than they needed for the movie, and the show was born from that (shh, I may have watched all the commentaries and behind the scenes clips).

    Also, I think people like you and me who didn’t watch the show when it aired are kind of lucky. Can you imagine having to wait all summer to find out what happened after the season one finale? O_O

  3. Penrefe April 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Have you ever seen “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”? That’s another of Sorkin’s creations (basically “The West Wing” but set in a “Saturday Night Live”-esque studio) and I can’t recommend it enough. All of his work is incredible. He captures the complexity of human interaction in ways I haven’t seen in any other TV show(s).

  4. mindy April 5, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Martin Sheen. ‘nough said. (btw, ever thought about writing reviews?)

  5. Ali May 13, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    Hey Claire – I came across your page after googling “how many times have you watched The West Wing” – and wow – you have perfectly described my exact thoughts about this incredible show! I just spent this past weekend watching the last few episodes of Season 7 for the 2nd time…. And I’m experiencing some serious withdrawals!! I was googling my above-mentioned sentence in the hope I would find someone who has watched the entire series more than twice, in the hopes it would give me permission to start again from the beginning for a third time! I started with the show about 2 years ago, after never having seen an episode before (it was originally on air when I was at college and I was more interested in Dawson’s Creek at the time… Hmm…) but enough friends had told me how great it was so I decided to give it a try. I have nothing more to add on top of what you’ve already said about the show – perfection on every level. Although I’m happy to admit my main obsession lies with the Josh-Donna relationship. Does it make me wish I lived in Washington DC, and worked in The White House? Umm.. yep!! :)

  6. The Tina Sparkles Experience March 20, 2013 at 7:02 am #

    Claire- I just finished watching the West Wing for the first time (there will be many) and I confess I cried through all the episodes where Leo dies and sobbed through the last. I feel likeIi just had a breakup or something, and cant settle to watch anything else!
    Sure, I’m a little late jumping on the band wagon- but I’ve never seen a better show, and doubt I ever will. I’m left feeling like I want to be part of something amazing, to have a taste of the bond that was clear between the fictitious characters and their real life counterparts. Oddly, I’m inspired to write scripts or act…. or to undertake an endeavour to do great things. I worked with a minister here in Australia (he was the Treasurer and Deputy Premier) and his office was not unlike the West Wing (the Minister was a mix of Sam Seabourn charismatic and Josh Lyman dedications and Toby smarts).
    Great to know I’m not alone in this obsession!

    • Claire March 20, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      This comment made me so happy, Tina! I love connecting with people who, like me, have only recently discovered this wonderful show. I feel exactly the same way about those last episodes. I think I used up an entire box of Kleenexes!


  7. Daniel June 13, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    It was so nice to see that someone else feels the same way I do about this show. I started watching when I was in high school and it was still airing on NBC. I am now a high school history teacher and I feel even more strongly about it. I used to come home every day and watch reruns on Bravo. I was heartbroken when they stopped airing episodes. When I found that Netflix had the series for instant streaming I was thrilled. My wife thinks that I have some type of problem because I am constantly watching the show over and over and over. There is nothing on tv that comes close to giving me the high that I get from watching The West Wing. I find it to be smart, funny, intriguing, but most of all inspiring. I explained to my wife that I watch it so much because I like to think that this is the way that the U.S. government actually operates, although I know that it could never be so romantic as it is portrayed on the show. I have always had a strong interest in government and have recently been so inspired that I have decided to take the LSATs and pursue a career in that field. I want to do some good in this world and I would be kidding myself if I said that my motivation was not partially due to being inspired by The West Wing.

    • Claire July 3, 2013 at 8:58 am #

      This made me so happy! Thank you for reading/commenting.

      I know what you mean about watching it over and over again. I’m constantly watching YouTube clips while I’m doing laundry or washing dishes, and my boyfriend thinks I’m a bit silly for that, but I just can’t get enough of this show! Trying to convince him to watch it with me from the beginning (he’s never seen it, except for bits and pieces overheard when I’m watching it).

      How awesome that The West Wing inspired you to pursue a political career! I think only the best shows are capable of inspiring us to be better people. Good luck to you. :)

  8. Fighting Reality January 28, 2014 at 1:40 am #

    One of the best shows ever. I haven’t completed the series (I’m on season 4), but it’s just genius and inspiring.

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