I’ve made a long list of shows that I want to watch from beginning to end (some that I have seen before, some that I have heard are excellent but have missed for some reason) and the first on this long list is The West Wing. Somehow, I completely missed this show while it was on. To be fair, I wasn’t even in high school when it started. but now that I’ve finally gotten the chance, I know what I was missing out on.
The West Wing follows President Jed Bartlet and his staff as they navigate the politics, drama, and disasters that happen when you run a country. Though the politics plays an enormous part of the show, the characters are what truly makes it great.
- Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen)- The principled, ever hopeful and all but unstoppable president. Most of the time the president is astounding us by his unshakeable faith in mankind and America, but meanwhile, he was keeping an enormous secret from the American people: he had remitting relapsing multiple sclerosis. His illness adds another layer to an already inspiring and complex person. His wife, Abigail, who helped him cover up his illness thanks to her doctor credentials, is an essential part of his character. She is strong and opinionated (played by Stockard Channing).
- Leo McGarry (Josh Spencer)- the chief of staff (and later democratic nominee for vice president) and the moral center of the show when the president could not be. One of McGarry’s struggles throughout the show was his alcoholism and later, his health issues. [Spoiler: Spencer died in the middle of the final season and the show did an excellent job of handling his death tastefully and emotionally.]
- CJ Cregg (Allison Janney)- originally press secretary and later chief of staff, Cregg was easily one of my favorite characters on the show. Maybe it was her quick wit or her unshakability despite everything she had to deal with (being kept in the dark before briefing the press, the president’s illness, multiple security leaks, etc). Her biggest personal trials included her father’s alzheimer’s and her romantic life.
- Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff)- Communications director and perhaps one of my least favorite characters on the show. I think I disliked him for the same reason his ex-wife did: he was too sad all the time. He was very sweet with his twins and seeing him coached by Kristin Chenowith to be the new press secretary when Cregg becomes chief of staff was pretty funny, but that’s about it.
- Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford)- Deputy Chief of Staff for Bartlet and later Campaign Manager and Chief of staff for the next president, Josh was the cocky sort of ladies man. I say sort of because he didn’t really seem to quite know what to do with the women who were attracted to him. (One particularly fun relationship was between him and Mary Louise Parker’s character, Amy Gardner, though we always knew he would end up with longtime secretary Donna Moss.) despite his arrogance, he’s a fighter and does not easily give up. He fought an uphill battle to secure Matthew Santos the next presidency.
- Donna Moss (Janel Maloney)- originally senior assistant to Josh, she later becomes a spokesperson and then chief of staff to the first lady. Donna is another enjoyable character on the show. Donna’s main story lines revolve around her interactions with Josh but she’s always been able to hold her own against his craziness.
- Charlie Young (Dule Hill)- he starts off as the personal aide to the president but ultimately becomes deputy special assistant to CJ when she is chief of staff. Charlie’s mother was a police officer killed in the line of duty and gets a job to help care for his sister. One of his biggest plots revolves around his relationship with the president’s youngest daughter Zoe which leads to hate mail and an assassination attempt. he is another one of my favorites.
Some other excellent actors, who were not in the show for the full duration, include Rob Lowe, Joshua Malina, Mary McCormack, Kristin Chenoweth, Jimmy Smits, Alan Alda, Emily Procter, Janeanne Garofolo, Matthew Perry, Lisa Edelstein, Marlee Maitlin, and Mark Fuerstein. The list is long and the amount of people we must deal with and remember is even longer. Where this normally bothers me in any other show, I didn’t mind the large cast here. It made it more believable because these were real positions that would be filled in a real White House, rather than combining people for simplicity’s sake. Plus, anyone who has every become anyone seems to have been on the show at one point or another.
As the show tried to transition out of the Bartlet presidency and into the next president, the show seemed to lose some steam. It was split between the current president and the presidential campaign, which meant dividing our attention between the cast we had come to love and all the candidates for president plus their campaign staffs. But though at first this was annoying, the new characters grew on me and eventually I found myself really liking Matt Santos and his wife Helen and truly caring about the outcome of the election that had originally felt like a distraction.
The West Wing ended up being one of my favorite shows that I have seen in a long time. I can only hope they make another show like this sometime soon.