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‘The West Wing:’ a retrospective

“The West Wing” is an oldie but goodie in simple terms but is far more complex than this adage attributes. 

The series, created and produced by Aaron Sorkin, was created in the late years of the 90s as a look into the day-to-day activities of the personal staff of a fictional President of the United States. The fictional President being Josiah “Jed” Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen, taking the place in history of George W. Bush in a fictionalized version of the 2000 election cycle. Among his senior staff are chief of staff Leo McGarry, portrayed by the late John Spencer, deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford, communications director Toby Ziegler, played Richard Schiff, deputy communications director Sam Seaborn, played by Rob Lowe, and press secretary Claudia Jean “C.J.” Cregg 

The show was groundbreaking in a number of ways. Firstly, it took many production changes to even develop it, meaning that it wasn’t a rushed product in any sense. The show’s conception had a rocky start though. Network executives were unsure of the projected success, citing that Americans might not be so keen to watch a show centered on politics. The 20th century was rife with political scandal and upheaval, so their fears and concerns were definitely founded. However, these fears and concerns were completely wrong, because “the West Wing” took off like Air Force One.  

The show became much like the popular “Law and Order” in the sense that Americans could not get enough of this show. It provided a version of reality that Americans became comforted by. The fantastical scenario of “healthy bipartisanship” seemed insane in the current political climate. Citizens were still rocked from both the controversial 2000 election featuring the Gore-Bush recount, and during the series’ run, the nation was rocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The show provided cultural chicken soup, so to speak. However, the show’s seven seasons are also known for the tackling of real-world issues and not all episodes are for the faint of heart. 

Another facet of the show’s impact is related directly to its characters. Sorkin took these almost mythical yet ultimately mundane political positions and made brilliant and diverse characters out of them. Like many TV shows of the era, the writers give the main characters the issues to deal with such as McGarry being a recovering alcoholic, or Cregg having a parent with rapidly developing Alzheimer’s disease. The acting is stellar in “The West Wing” to the point where it almost feels like live theatre. The energy and rhetoric utilized by the characters harkens back to a time of great poetry in everyday language. The show and cast won a total of 26 Emmy awards over the course of its seven seasons. 

They truly don’t make TV like “The West Wing” anymore. “The West Wing” wasn’t concerned if people were going to find their show controversial or if they were going to agree with the staffers and president. They were concerned with a making a moving artistic product. Currently, the show can be found on Netflix and this critic encourages each and every person to give the show a try. It will certainly win the vote in trying political times. 

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