The West Wing

I find politics fascinating in large part because it reveals so much about human nature. Our expression of our political beliefs betray how we view the world. To be clear, I’m not talking about political party allegiances, but actual politics. Meaning the struggle for power, and how it’s used (and abused), and how we acquiesce to those with power and those institutions and systems built to protect us from the worse excesses of it.

I also relish well-written, acted, and delivered drama. Best with a healthy dose of clever humour.

It’s obvious, but I adore the West Wing because it delivers on both.

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The White House, September 2013 © Sarah J Groenewegen

I had wanted to re-watch the West Wing a few times since my first visit to Washington DC in September 2013. Other TV shows demanded my attention more, and I had a tonne of work to do in both my day job and writing. Anyway, I promised myself I would watch it on my second – longer – visit to DC last year. Both times I was there was for work, by the way. Usually a rare opportunity so I feel doubly blessed for the experience. I smiled at the familiar sites that I had gotten to know through my visits.

I am always blown away by how fast out of the box the West Wing was – the first episode sets the pace, the style, the characters and situations deftly. No, brilliantly. It really is a masterclass in how to do it. I had to remind myself of when it first went out; the real-world events of Syria that is driving so much world politics now features, woven seamlessly into the fictional narrative of a fiercely intelligent (geeky) yet clumsy (okay, a nerd) President. Oh, referred to as POTUS when only a handful of people knew what that term meant.

I skipped the special episode that they made in commemoration of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. I watched it at the time of first broadcast when it fit in the political zeitgeist; now it interfered with the story arc.

The fifth year of the show dips in quality. Creator Aaron Sorkin’s gift at writing sparkling wit is what’s missing. The characters, situations, and delivery are all still high-class, but the particular type of humour. It recovers a bit in the last two years of the show, which gains a bit of confidence again – hey, we can deliver what Sorkin did.

Real-world politics is the lens through which I watched it over the last few months. Particularly pertinent for the last year when we are now in the throes of what must be one of the most peculiar US Presidential elections in history. I like the world of the West Wing because the Tea Party never made an appearance. The GOP have reasonable, intelligent, gifted people in it and working for it. They are a credible balance, even with its extreme edge (who are centrists when you compare them with almost the entire crop of the real-world ones).

On a far more positive note, I enjoyed the Santos-Obama feel. When talking about it with a friend last weekend, he mentioned that Jimmy Smits (who played Democratic nominee Matthew Santos) had modelled his performance on the young senator from Illinois.

If you’ve not seen it and you like well-written drama, do give it a go.  I was astonished as to how little it had aged, although – thankfully – we have advanced a bit in terms of combatting sexism as sometimes appears when characters interact and aren’t called out for it.