Inauguration Day seems like the perfect day to talk about The West Wing. After all the show has an episode called Inauguration Day. Political leaders have arguably never been more scrutinized thanks to rolling news coverage and social media. Their active participation on social platforms only increases the attention on them. So, 1999, when The West Wing first aired was a simpler time.
Everybody has that list of classic shows that they want to watch but so far haven’t got around to. New stuff keeps getting in the way, or maybe you’re put off by the size and therefore the time that will be needed. The West Wing has seven seasons and more than 150 episodes. But it is magnificent and totally worth your time. If you’ve never seen the show, here are four reasons you should watch (or rewatch!) The West Wing.
The first reason why you should watch The West Wing is for the outstanding cast. The West Wing is very much an ensemble. 80s brat pack star Rob Lowe was perhaps the biggest name initially and got top billing, with the other stars listed alphabetically. Movie legend Martin Sheen is the shows President, Josiah Bartlet. Legend has it that Sheen was only going to appear sporadically. The show would concentrate on the President’s staff, but Sheen was so good in the pilot that he immediately became a series regular. The pair are joined by well-known faces, if not well-known names, like Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Stockard Channing and John Spencer. In later seasons, Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits joined the cast.
Part of the fun of a first watch or rewatch is seeing what has become of these actors. For example, Whitford regularly pops up in great supporting roles (The Cabin In The Woods, Get Out) and Janney has gone on to win an Oscar (I, Tonya).
The West Wing also provided a platform for young talent. Elisabeth Moss plays the President’s youngest daughter and went onto leading roles in Mad Men and The Handmaids Tale. Jorja Fox and Emily Proctor had guest roles in the early seasons and were snapped up for main parts in CSI franchises.
The West Wing also featured guest appearances by actors normally more associated with movies such as Laura Dern and John Goodman.
Not A Boring Political Drama
The second reason why you should watch The West Wing is because it is so entertaining. It would be easy to think that a show set in the White House would be a boring watch. Meetings, taxes, lawmaking might be important stuff but doesn’t sound like compelling television but The West Wing makes it so, and it is so much more than that.
The show gets drama out of politics. Will the administration be able to introduce the laws it wants? How much are they willing to compromise? What are the motivations of these staffers? What’s the role of the media? What do the public need to know?
It’s as much about the characters as politics. There are personality clashes and there is plenty of workplace tension. At times there is violence and action, made more impactful by its infrequent use throughout the run. Life and death decisions happen.
Though primarily a drama, The West Wing is much funnier than you might think. Banter flys between the staff, who are not averse to finding themselves in ridiculous situations. Show creator and main writer Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Steve Jobs) writes sizzling dialogue which is a joy to listen to.
The show cleverly uses flashbacks to show life before the Bartlet administration came to office. How the staff were formed and how the election was won.
And if you love Christmas, every season features a festive episode. And they are all brilliant!
The third reason why you should watch The West Wing is because you will learn a lot. If you have an interest in politics, or even if you don’t, you will learn so much from The West Wing. You’ll learn about the census (2021 is a census year in the UK). Why and how it’s done. There’s insight into how into the political games behind bills being made and passed into law. How political pardons are made, how someone gets appointed to the Supreme court and what the White House does with hate-mail.
To varying degrees The West Wing features three different elections. You’ll see what life is like on the campaign trail and how the electoral college works. It will also teach about the 25th Amendment and the chain of succession.
The West Wing White House involves itself in international matters, giving an insight into peace talks between rival nations and a look at how tensions are diffused.
Perhaps most interesting is the insight into the hierarchy within the White House. How much power and influence does the Vice President have and how important is the Chief Of Staff Who is advising the President in making national security decisions in the White House Situation Room.
The fourth reason why you should watch The West Wing is that the acclaim for the show should assure you of how good it is!
The West Wing won a staggering 26 Emmy Awards (from 95 nominations) during its seven years, including winning Outstanding Drama Series for each of its first four seasons.
The cast were well rewarded, combining for 9 acting wins. Allison Janney won 4 of those, with awards also going to Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, John Spencer, Stockard Channing and Alan Alda.
If you try The West Wing for the first time let us know what you think. If you already love it, tell us all about that too. Then check out more of our TV content!
Shaun is FinalBoss’ most prolific cinephile. If he hasn’t seen it, it ain’t worth watching. You’ll find him writing about everything from blowout blockbusters to small-screen splendours as he waits impatiently for Lord of the Rings to be released by Amazon. Catch up with Shaun and see what he’s been watching on www.letterboxd.com/shaun_1982.