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.
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.
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.
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.
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.