THE WEST WING
My knowledge of the American political system far outstrips my understanding of UK politics. This is due to a number of things: the nature of how the respective systems have evolved, time spent studying them, my personal engagement with a number of different issues, but more than anything, it’s because I fucking love The West Wing, and following seven seasons of drama, intrigue and character growth is better than any political textbook.
I can still remember discovering The West Wing. The first episode I saw was “Evidence Of Things Not Seen”, which remains a favourite of mine, and from there, I was hooked. I watched the rest of Season 4 as it unfolded, finishing with that brutal cliffhanger of an ending, and then promptly went out and bought Seasons 1-6. Why not 7? ‘Cos it wasn’t out yet.
The West Wing combines many things I love – an appreciation of people doing their job really well, people in nice suits, an artful juxtaposition of the hilarious and the tragic, an often perfect deployment of soundtrack, Allison Janney – I could go on. But one thing towers above the rest – it is not ashamed to be idealistic. So much of modern culture is that of the snarky, sneering voice, dealing in the humour of discomfort or the tortured antihero who revels in violence and decadence. The West Wing is a counterpoint to all that. It shows people doing good because they feel a genuine drive to improve people’s lives, and doing it in an unglamourous, often harshly-criticized environment where their failures are public and their successes are often claimed by others. I realize that real politics is closer to the backstabbing, cuss-heavy world of The Thick Of It, which I also enjoy, but the idea that there are people out there like this (and I’m sure that there are, I hope I’m one of them) is more than just encouraging, it’s uplifting. Showing their battles, their bravery and determination, their wit and their passion, especially at the time, when the prevailing political attitude on both sides of the pond seemed to be one of willful ignorance and backhanded compromises, was essential.
Of course, as much as I loved the ideas behind the show, I loved the characters. From top to bottom, core cast to one-shot special guests, the acting was of the highest standard, and when the show wanted to break your heart or make you punch the air, it could with a power that surpassed any show on TV. Of particular note are CJ Cregg and Donna Moss, who, through the course of the show’s run, both have arcs that number among my favourite across any medium. The West Wing manages to stretch me intellectually, touch me emotionally and remain a comfortable old friend I return to again and again.