The West Wing (created by Aaron Sorkin and aired on NBC TV from 1999 to 2006) “deserves a high, high spot on the list of all-time best shows”, according to Bustle.com and you only have to look at the high level of activity on Google (11.1 million sites) and on Pinterest to see that it’s true. It was an inspired concept with incredible writing and exceptional talent in the acting, set design, and execution and is as popular on Netflix and in reruns today as it ever was. I couldn’t begin to list the more than 55 awards won by the show, its actors, cinematographers, and directors. (You can find them here.) I understand college and university students, especially in the US, were so engaged by it that they crowded around sets in dorms to watch together. There are many sites that love to point out errors made in the show but fans are quick to point out that while there were some errors, often the sites were wrong about what was wrong and should be more careful.
From the first episode, I was completely captivated and totally dumbfounded when it came to a close; I couldn’t believe I had sat there for an hour. It was incredibly fast-paced and witty; so much so, that I watched it a second time later that week when it was broadcast on an alternate network. (The first season it showed Monday night on either the US or Canadian station and then on the other on Wednesday night. Later on, the series was simulcast on one night per week only.) Each key member of the cast was introduced in that first episode (although some were added as the show progressed) and the probably common-place bustle of 18 things happening at once on any given day in the west wing of the White House was portrayed convincingly.
There were so many amazing episodes I couldn’t possibly pick one; I would be hard pressed to pick less than a dozen. Certainly, the pilot, where Jed Bartlett (played by Martin Sheen) made a brief appearance at the end has to be pretty much near the top of the list. (It came out later that his role was originally meant to be just that — the occasional cameo spot delivering a kicker.) The episode that ended season 1 with the shooting at Roslyn, as well as the 2-parter that began season 2, have to be on the list. Celestial Navigation where they were trying to rescue their outspoken Hispanic Supreme Court nominee who got arrested on his way back to DC from Canada and the first season episode where the youthful crew from the west wing took Charlie and Zoe out to a pub in Georgetown and the panic button had to be pressed, are also up there. There was the episode where Zoe Bartlett (Elisabeth Moss) graduated and is kidnapped and the surprising episode where the president’s secretary (played by Kathryn Joosten) died in an auto accident. The first Christmas episode where Toby got a call about a homeless vet found dead in the park and arranged a military funeral for him juxtaposes the singing around the White House Christmas tree with the rifle salute and The Little Drummer Boy played in the background. I could go on and on but instead will just mention the first show that was aired after 9/11 (Oct. 3, 2001) where the cast members (out of character) introduced the episode which didn’t fit into the chronology of the series but was meant to highlight and inform about Islamic extremism and was dedicated to and proceeds went to New York’s finest, many of whom were lost in the rescue operations after that dreadful day of infamy to replace all previous days of infamy. Called Isaac and Ishmael, it was written and produced in just 2 weeks and takes place during a secret service crash in the west wing.
Allison Janney (C.J. Craig) singing The Jackal was fabulous. I always hated it when Jed and Abby (President and First Lady, Stockard Channing) were on the outs. I loved that they used Marlee Matlin as a political operative from the west coast, bringing sign language front and center in the show. Lily Tomlin’s role as the president’s new secretary was inspired, as was Glen Close’s portrayal of an appointee to the Supreme Court. I thought it was perfect when Josh (Bradley Whitford) had the president walk up to the Hill during the gov’t shutdown and left when the leadership kept him cooling his heels. Strategy! I completely empathized with CJ falling for her Secret Service protector (played by Mark Harmon who had worked with Marlee Matlin on a TV series called Reasonable Doubts 1991-1993) and sat devastated when he was shot and killed during a corner store robbery in NYC. I bought the CD by Jeff Buckley, Grace, that has the song Hallelujah on it; that was what was playing in the background when CJ was sitting on a NYC bench crying and the crime scene was being taped off and examined at the corner store. I bought Snuffy Waldin’s CD West Wing Suite and learned to play the theme music on the recorder.
I have the complete set of DVDs. Not the one that came out at the end all together in a boxed set; I couldn’t wait till the end but at one point gave up taping the show and bought each season set as they appeared. Now, once every year or so, I watch the whole thing from beginning to end. Not in one sitting, you understand, but several episodes at a time pretty much daily over a period of several weeks. Right now, I’m about half-way through season 4, so about half-way through the entire series.
I’m a fan; no question about it. I always thought the show should do an episode in Ottawa, Canada, where President Bartlett would meet with Prime Minister Whoever and, in addition to solving some trade problem, would take in an evening at our National Arts Centre. I could imagine myself being downtown and passing Martin Sheen on the street, nodding, and smiling to say, “Good afternoon, Mr. President”. That would have been sweet.