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Monday 20 December 2010

Previously, On THE WEST WING

Because of Chandler Bing, we're all a bit better at delivering a funny line. Because of Frasier, we're able to say "that's your subconscious feelings" and have people believe we know what we're talking about, and because of Ally Mcbeal we're able to feel a bit more comfortable with the crazy inner-lives we lead. That's what our favorite shows do, they show us the way, they give us permission to be our deepest selves.

THE WEST WING represented an idea. It's about 5.30am wake-up calls. It's about dedicating who you are to something bigger than yourself. It's about loyalty and doing something that matters. It's about working weekends and having dinner at 11pm on a Thursday night in the office because you have to get things done, because if you don't the world isn't going to operate properly come the morning. 

We're inspired and in awe of who they are; not because they're the fictionalized leaders of the American government, but because they're us. They're all of us on January 1st when we make resolutions to get up earlier, to update our Resumes, to work so hard on our projects that we're almost going to explode. The West Wing is about people who had one rule: to stand up for the very best. They represent this incredible part of us that we're often too shy or conflicted or embarrassed to be. 

The Presidency of George W. Bush scared the hell out of all of us. Hundreds of thousands of people were dying in Iraq, New Orleans was under water --- but in The West Wing's President Bartlet; we had someone who kept us sane. It's not just escapism-- it's reminding ourselves that we're still human, that we still care, that there are still people in the world who offer hope. We were reminded of the hope within each of us, again and again and again. 

I recently finished watching the entire show, again; and found myself loving the final two seasons. Many people criticised everything that came after season four, because Aaron Sorkin  had jumped ship. At first, I agreed with that; but now, I don't feel the same way. Don't get me wrong, Aaron Sorkin is my favorite television writer, but I still love what came after. The final years of The West Wing had a real weight to them. We had been together for seven years. That's a long time. Some of my friends I've hardly looked at in the eye for years, some of my family I haven't spoke to in months; but for many hours every week I am present in the moment with Josh Lyman, CJ Cregg and co. That's what happens when you love a show; you're there with them. You clock in more hours with them than you do with almost everyone else in your life. 
It's not just a DVD you switch on and off. It becomes more. We watch characters mature over seven years (in the show's timeline). It's not just about the people running about on screen, and you sitting there in your pyjamas. It's about the space in between. You can't say that Friends was just a TV show. We all drink coffee differently now. We all find New York cooler than we did. We all do the Ross Geller hand movements. That's what happens. It's a big deal. 

The West Wing gave us Josh Lyman - the master strategist and campaigner. He'd do anything for you. It gave us Sam Seaborn; who at first glance was just a pretty-boy with some talent, but on closer inspection he was someone who would give you a verbal ass kicking if you dared betray him, his friends, or his country. Toby Ziegler was that cold, horrible old man that you hate to work for; but pretty soon you realize he's as dedicated and as ethical as they come and there are no barriers that will stand in the way of him doing what he perceives to be right. And then there's Leo McGarry, the one with the experience and the know-how and the mind and the heart to steer the ship exactly where it needs to go. These are all processes that we see and feel within ourselves, but sometimes it's hard to believe in them. But they showed us the way. 

I have absolutely no reservations in saying, without doubt, that I believe The West Wing to be the greatest television show of all time. It raised the bar. It invented a new bar. 

The final season was tough. We could see it was ending. President Josiah Bartlet, Leo McGarry and CJ Cregg were a lot older than when we began-- but they brought a gravitas; a weight, that you rarely see in television, or in life. We need them. They represent the type of leadership and eldership we all need, within our selves and from those around us. They're who we want to become. And people kept turning up who we hadn't seen in years, Amy Gardner, Sam Seaborn, Ainsley Hayes, Joey Lucas; they're people who we knew from earlier seasons. They felt like friends. We could feel life had changed and people had moved on, yet they still had such unique bonds between them. It makes you think about your own lives and how much things have changed, and leads you to question whether you've held on to those bonds as tightly as they did in the walls of the Bartlet White House. 

The West Wing was deadly serious. The West Wing was silly and hilarious. The West Wing was all about the work. The West Wing was all about relationships. The West Wing was all about us. 


  1. Fine fine post. I love your descriptions of the characters. I've just started four and I am so hooked. I'm a little bit in love with all of them, especially Sam. Will be interested to see what happens after this series based on what you've written.

  2. Love it. Have always loved it. I've analysed so much of it that it's good to just sit back and absorb it again. For about the sixth time. Watching the start of first season again is like coming back to an old friend. So much quality crammed into every episode. The Sorkin years are definitely the best, but it's all outstanding.

    This is a great take on it too. The West Wing is all the things you said it is.

    "We're gonna lose some of these battles. And we might even lose the White House. But we're not going to be threatened by issues: we're going to put 'em front and center. We're gonna raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy."

  3. Wow! Great post. So, I too just finished the West Wing (for the 11th time). And I have to say, I cam to the same revelation that you have on this viewing, seasons 6 and 7 were great and gave to the show something I didnt realize in my previous viewings. Also, it was sad that the viewer can really see the show coming to an end in season 7, people have aged and left, it became a good bye season.

    Great write up. I would have said the same thing if I write up an ode to the West Wing.

  4. Inspite of having so many other shows to either start watching (True Blood) or finish watching (Heroes) your blog has convinced me it is high time I revisited this show as you say it created a whole new bar. With laugh and cry out loud scripts. Three dimensional characters I'd gladly share a pint with. It was an amazing show. I've yet to be convinced that the post-Sorkin years are better but I'll hold judgement until re-viewing the show.

  5. Had to stop reading after the first paragraph - I'm still on season 3...

  6. We love The West Wing so much that we named our daughter Claudia Jean.

  7. Thanks for that Anonymous -- corrected :)

  8. This post made me cry. So unbelievably true and lovely. Thank you.

  9. Just watched all seven seasons again on Netflix. Your article is a perfect assessment of the show and how we, the audience, find ourselves woven into - and wishing that we were - part of their world. Well written!