Binge Watchin' TV Review: The West Wing
Welcome to Binge Watchin,’ where we take a look at some of the best TV shows available on streaming or disc that have a great catalogue of seasons to jump into and get sucked into the beautiful bliss of binge watching! From crime, action, comedy, drama, animation, etc., we’ll be evaluating an assortment of shows that will hopefully serve as a gateway to your next binge experience.
Series: The West Wing
Number of Seasons: 7 (156 episodes to date)
What’s the show about?
The West Wing follows the exploits of the two term presidency of Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) as seen through the eyes of his confidants and cabinet staff. The days and nights of White House staffers are examined as everyone from assistants and secretaries to speech writers and Chiefs of Staff give their lives to help foster the platform and doctrines of their Commander in Chief. Over the series' seven years, we see characters come and go as the adminstration readies to pass the torch to the next leader of the Free World.
Why should I watch it?
Before Aaron Sorkin became known for screenplays like JOBS and THE SOCIAL NETWORK, he was a renowned script doctor and the creator of the short-lived series SPORTS NIGHT. After that comedy-drama was cancelled, Sorkin came up with the idea for The West Wing, a drama focused on the staff of a Democratic presidency. While the plot elements of The West Wing were predominantly liberal in nature, The West Wing is more representative of a well-rounded and idealistic Commander in Chief rather than a divisive and stereotypical two-party candidate. Sorkin's biting, rat-a-tat dialogue is often on display here and works far better than it did in his later series like The Newsroom and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
What makes The West Wing worth your time to watch is that dialogue. Delivered by a top notch cast that includes Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe, Joshua Malina, Dule Hill, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, and the late John Spencer, The West Wing is a show that is so positive that it is hard to dislike it. Critically lauded during it's initial run, the show holds up surprisingly well a decade after it has gone off the air. While recently watching the new ABC series Designated Survivor, I noticed how negative and dark that show is despite being about the perseverence of the United States. The West Wing exudes that positive message and yearning to be more as a people, a society, and culture.
While the show's quality lagged a bit in later seasons (Sorkin left the series after the fourth year), it still remained relevant and timely as it aired during the Bush administration. Martin Sheen's President Bartlett could not have been more different than George W. Bush, but the show never took pot shots at our actual leader and instead presented a fictional POTUS that many viewers likely hoped could have been a real person. The West Wing may like action sequences or superheroes but it delivers thrilling and dramatic television that was lacking on television for a long time. The quality of this show's writing and acting helped pave the way for the Golden Age of TV drama we are all enjoying today.
The third season is the most critically acclaimed of the series' entire run and for good reason. Sorkin, who penned 85 of the show's first 88 episodes, wrote a special episode that aired in the wake of 9/11. The season premiere was delayed due to the attacks and the special hour, titled "Isaac and Ishmael" is a stirring entry that is very different than any other hour of the show. The rest of the season centers on President Bartlett's re-election campaign and paved the way for the show to carry on without Aaron Sorkin. By far one of the most exciting political seasons of television that also featured the widest leading cast the show would ever have.
In recent years, political shows like Veep and House of Cards have given us very different and very depressing views of the American political system. The West Wing represents an almost Capra-esque look at the United States highest leadership but doesn't replace the dramatic and dark side of politics for sacchrine and formulaic television. Even if you are someone who doesn't have any interest in politics or if you are a staunch member of the far left or right, I guarantee you will find enjoyment in this show. Hell, you may even learn something thanks to the countless brilliant subplots (my favorite is from the season two episode "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail" about why our maps are all wrong). This is a great show that will likely never be replicated.