I don’t normally write about anything except science fiction and fantasy on this site, but once in a while there is something that interests me enough to break that rule. The West Wing is one of those shows. I’m not sure why it does, because on paper I should probably hate it, but having went through the show for the second time recently I have to say that in many ways I enjoy it more than a lot of shows that I should like better.
For anyone who doesn’t know, The West Wing is a show by Aaron Sorkin about the people who work in the White House. By nature of that it is naturally a show about politics. I stopped watching shows about politic a while back because they tend to make me angry. But while I often disagree with the people on this show I am rarely angered by it. (There are a few exceptions).
This is also one of the reasons that I like the show. I have heard the show described as showing the people that we wish were in the office. There are two reasons I see for that. The first is that it is able to rise above politics. More often than not the problems that are central to the show are not really political, or the actual politics don’t matter for the drama. One excellent example is the shows in which they are nominating a Supreme Court judge. The politics of the judges are discussed and as it is a democratic administration they want judges that agree with them, but the show doesn’t devolve to that. Instead it discusses the difficulty in getting anyone who isn’t a moderate on the court, an issue which is true no matter which side of the issues you fall.
The second reason is that it is optimistic. Not in the absurd way that people seem to assume optimism has to be, but in a realistic way. It assumes that people who work in politics are, mostly, trying to do good. It doesn’t do this by making them perfect, having the right answers or even always agreeing, but it assumes they are decent people doing their best. With cynicism seeming to be everywhere it is nice to see a show that really does seem to believe that people are at least trying.
Beyond those points is a third which helps the show a lot. That is that it doesn’t have to manufacture drama. This is a major problem for me on a lot of shows that I like. Take a show like Grey’s Anatomy. It’s about surgeons trying to save lives while living their own. And yet it is constantly stretching my credulity by having people shot, in plane clashes, hit by a bus and many other things. I can live with this, but the West Wing rarely had to stretch because things that aren’t important, and therefore with drama, rarely make it to the President’s desk.
I would also like to point out that the show is, if you don’t mind stretching, science fiction and not just because it has a story in which the Republican’s nominate a pro choice candidate for president. This is a parallel reality. From the top of my head the most recent president mentioned on the show was Kennedy. I never heard a word of Nixon, Ford, Carter or Regan, though they did talk about Vietnam a lot.
You could assume this was because they didn’t want to talk about living presidents, but I prefer the more interesting answers. My best theory is that at some point in the near future time travel was invented. Seeing the damage caused by Watergate they traveled back and changed history after Kennedy’s assassination. Nixon was not elected, which changed who was elected to office but not changing the issues or the parties.
My main point in writing this was twofold, to point out that The West Wing is now available on Netflix Instant watch, and to say that if you’ve avoided the show because of the politics you might want to try it because if you can get past that it’s a good show with interesting ideas that should be discussed and thought about from as many sides as possible.