when the west wing premiered in 1999, i was not interested enough in politics to pay much attention. i was sixteen, a senior in high school, and was busy with college applications and stealing glances at my crush whenever i spotted him on campus. not being old enough to vote and being more interested in spirit week and running around chattanooga, i was not bothered with elections or foreign policy or who stood for what. in truth i’m still not all that enthusiastic about it, but i do have a better understanding of things related to the government and a better idea of where i stand on various issues.
in college i remember hearing about the show and about how good it was, but i never got around to watching it. i was addicted to must-see tv on nbc, and other than that i mostly watched sports, but i always had friends who were discussing the most recent episode of the west wing.
somewhere along the way, those discussions must have stuck with me. when i discovered a few years ago that the full series is available on netflix, i began thinking that i needed to watch it and see if it lived up to the hype. it was one of those rare shows that was popular with both critics and fans alike — it consistently had a high viewership, and until this year it held the record for most emmy wins.
when i finished re-watching friends a few months ago, i decided i was ready to tackle the west wing. i knew it would take me a while to wade through seven seasons of an hour-long drama, but i was ready for the challenge. and i am really glad i finally made the time.
the west wing is a fast-paced drama set in west wing of the white house, and it focuses on the work and lives of the president’s senior staff. there are foreign and domestic crises, there are scandals and poor decisions, and there are funny as well as serious moments.
one of the things that struck me as i completed episodes was how progressive the show was. there was a government shutdown early in the series. there were peace talks between israel and palestine. there were discussions regarding gay marriage and nominating a woman as chief justice of the supreme court. and although there were many times where things went over my head, i was able to mostly keep up with the pace and the topics.
it was especially interesting to watch it now, as the us gears up for next year’s presidential election. every day i read at least five headlines about something a candidate has said, so the last two seasons were quite eye-opening for me. seasons 6 and 7 follow the primary and presidential elections as well as president bartlet’s final decisions while in office, and i learned a lot about how campaigns are structured and how candidates focus their time and attention while running.
but above all, it was the characters that had me continuing to tune in and see what was happening next. i loved the tension between josh and donna and seeing how it developed over the seasons. i enjoyed the father-daughter relationship that grew between leo and cj. i liked that the characters had layers that were pulled back and revealed as the series progressed. the only thing i didn’t like was when rob lowe left, because he was really pretty to look at.
there were a few points during seasons 4 and 5 where i felt things dragged a bit, but overall it kept me interested. and no matter what, i will say this: those writers really knew how to do a season finale. i don’t think there was a single season where i finished the last episode and didn’t go immediately into the next season to find out what would happen next. i miss the days of shows ending their seasons with a cliffhanger.
ultimately i’m glad i finally sat down and watched the series, and i do think i learned a lot from it. if you want to watch it, you can stream the entire series on netflix.
have you ever watched the west wing? what did you think of it? who was your favourite character?