Would it surprise you to know that if I was asked what my favourite television series was I would actually say it’s “The West Wing”.
So why “The West Wing”? For those who don’t know about the series it is set in the West Wing of the White House set during the fictional Democratic administration of President Josiah Bartlet. I first saw an episode of the show on Channel 4 one Sunday many, many years ago. It was a second season episode called “17 People” and was almost a play. This show was almost entirely set in the Oval Office for this story where one of the senior staff uncovers the Presidents M.S. (Multiple Sclerosis). I was intrigued; I wanted to know more about these characters & story lines. Little did I know Becky took notice of my desires?
That Christmas Becky completely surprised me by getting me the first season in a box set. What an amazing gift although for Becky it was quite nice for her not to buy me something non Star Trek related. Sometime after Christmas I became quite ill and had to take a couple of weeks off which gave me a great opportunity to watch the entire book set. I watched every episode, in fact I actually watched a few of them twice.
The first season began in the year of the new administration. There seemed to be no course for the Bartlet Administration, they were drifting from one crisis to another not knowing what the overall vision was & as time went on the Senior Staff became quite disillusioned and finally so did the President. This was a reflection on the Clinton Administration back in 1992 when they were in free-fall. In fact some of the Clinton advisers would consult on the series over the seven years.
Finally in the episode “Let Bartlet be Bartlet” Leo, the Chief of Staff has to give the President the much needed kick up the arse to get him to make the big decisions instead of worrying about his re-election in three years. We see the administration move in the right direction finally and the end of the series ends with an assassination attempt on the President with the screen fading to black with no one knowing who lives or dies.
At this point I was hooked on the series, the stories were dramatic, characters had depth and were not one dimensional but I couldn’t say it was my favourite television show. That moment came at the beginning of season two. In the series opener we find that the President has been shot but so has Josh Lyman the Deputy Chief of Staff (played wonderfully by Bradford Whitford). Josh is rushed to hospital, as he arrives his colleague Sam (Rob Lowe) runs in and shouts his name and I clearly remember at this point watching the story unfold that the tears started. I could not believe it; here I was crying for a character that I had only watched for twenty four episodes. That is the moment The West Wing became more than just another series to me.
For a story to make you feel so strongly about the characters you have to give credit to the writing. The West Wing was written by Aaron Sorkin who had previously written “A Few Good Men”, “The American President” (which the West Wing was based on) and now writes another great show “The Newsroom”. During the first four years of the show Sorkin wrote some amazing stories including the Presidents Impeachment over his M.S., terror attacks and the kidnapping of the President’s daughter.
At this point I would be remiss if I did not mention the great acting talents in the series. This was an ensemble cast led by Marin Sheen, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Rob Lowe, Bradley Whitford, Alison Janney, Janel Moloney and Dule Hill. This cast have all added great stories based around their characters and every time they rose to the challenge with stunning performances. Although Rob Lowe left in season four and it was never the same again.
For seven years The West Wing was a joy to watch and when the series ended in 2006 I was saddened. Apart from being great television the show also encouraged me to learn more about the political system in the United States. I went on to read the autobiographies of Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush and have read books on Presidents Obama and of course J.F.K. This led me to read the “Bush at War” series which was quite amazing and frankly shocking written by Bob Woodward. The more I read the more I wanted to learn about American politics and to this day I enjoy watching what is going on across the “Pond”. As I write this President Obama has been re-elected in one of the most fiercely contested elections in American history. From an outsiders point of view this election was thrilling.
As well as American politics The West Wing also reignited my interest in UK politics as well. I often tweet every Wednesday during Prime Ministers questions discussing the issues that are mentioned and looking to debate them. I also try to read as many political books as possible especially those around Tony Blair who I consider to be a great Prime Minister. One of the things I liked about President Bartlet was the fact that he was not afraid to show that he had a good education, that he was intelligent and that as a leader it is important to be able to use your education to make the big decisions. Here in the UK we are currently having the same old arguments between the two main parties about social classes and often the Labour Party attack the Prime Minister David Cameron about his education. I don’t know about you but I am glad that the leader of my country has had a good education; I want someone who can understand what is going on and make informed choices. Why do we in politics always have to hide the fact that people are intelligent and instead of trying to raise the bar we dumb everything down?
The West Wing showed that no matter your political position politics is important to all. Politics can be and should be a force of good in our society and I strongly believe that The West Wing tried to get this simple but important message across to us. I will always love the show and in the words of President Bartlet: “What’s next”.