The West Wing: A Show For Then, A Show For Now, A Show For Forever

I promised myself I would sleep on my flight from Chicago to New York for Thanksgiving break. It had been a rough couple of days, and I carved out the two and a half hours as a nice rest. However, when I walked on the plane, I saw the little TV screens on the back of the seats; and (because I am weak) I just had to scroll through the new movies and see if there was anything to watch. None of the movies looked exciting, so I decided I would just look at the TV shows real quick before closing my eyes. I was flicking through them all, indifferently, when I saw it and realized I would be up for the rest of the flight. 

Thank you American Airlines for having the first five episodes of NBC’s greatest show: The West Wing. I was in 10th grade when I discovered this gem of a program for the first time; and although it’s been a while since I’ve tuned into the wise words of Jed Bartlet, once I heard the opening notes of the theme song, the goosebumps once again prickled on my arms. I was ready to be inspired, engaged, challenged and filled with hope. I was reminded of a conclusion I came to two years ago: the world needs The West Wing. 

For those who may not know, The West Wing is a fictional political drama that ran for seven seasons from 1999 to 2006 on NBC. The show covered the presidency of Josiah Bartlet, an idealistic and morally grounded leader, along with the lives of his cabinet members. The first time you binge the episodes, don’t view while multitasking. It’s not a show to have on in the background while making food or folding laundry, because The West Wing is not something to gloss over or take for granted. It demands your full attention.

It’s the first television show I can remember watching that portrays intelligent politicians having meaningful discourse. It shows people with different views respectfully working through their issues and compromising. Although a carefully scripted TV show in a make-believe world, The West Wing also covers its fair share of fumbles and mistakes. Even in scenes of scandal or bad judgment, there are qualities of redemption and morality that teach viewers that we can stumble, but still land on our feet. 

At a time where I find the news exhausting and our political climate disheartening, The West Wing brings comfort and hope. I sometimes like to pretend that things could be as inspiring and functional in our real life West Wing as they are in Aaron Sorkin’s world of Joshua Lyman, Sam Seaborn and C.J. Cregg.

The show is smart. I never felt like it was talking down to me. The dialogue expected me to pay attention—it expected me to devote 42 minutes of my life to being with these characters. It’s not easy to binge-watch while weaving in and out of focus, trying to follow the conflicts in the Middle East or the re-election campaign. I find this quality of purposeful interaction too often underrated in our binge-watching culture in which we are constantly consuming. If you’re not paying attention to The West Wing, you’re missing much you can learn from. 

Additionally, what a shame it would be to miss a program that challenges your perception. It would be foolish and unfair of me not to acknowledge the blatant truth that the show airs on the side of liberalism far more often than conservatism. It’s up front with its democratic leader, but continues to show both sides of the spectrum and furthermore demonstrates that civil bipartisanship is possible.

I met a friend working over the summer—a fellow “Winger” he called himself. “WWBD,” or “What Would Bartlet Do?” he would ask. It can be refreshing to escape into a political landscape where one would actually want to use the president as some sort of moral compass. 

Watch the pilot episode when you get the chance—it’s easily one of the best ones. Whether you’ve seen it before or it’s your first time, I guarantee you’ll walk away with a smile on your face and a spark in your mind. Maybe in this era of reboots, we just might get lucky and Aaron Sorkin will once again bring thought-provoking television to our screens. Perhaps his genius could even come in the form of President Seaborn.

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