If you’ve never seen the NBC political drama The West Wing, I have only one question for you: WHY NOT?! This long-running show was one of the most successful series of the early 2000s. Its perfect balance of serious storylines and refreshing humor made it a sure-fire hit. Its characters are well-crafted and (mostly) likable. The show’s President, Jeb Bartlet, is a total badass. There are a ton of incredible female characters. A young Rob Lowe features in the first few seasons. What’s not to love?!
Luckily for all of you West Wing newbies out there, you’ve got a whole seven seasons of the show to enjoy. If you don’t get totally hooked after just a couple of episodes, you’re doing it wrong. The show isn’t just totally bingeable – it’s rewatchable too. It never gets old! Just in case you need some more convincing, here are just some of the reasons why The West Wing is still one of the best TV dramas ever made.
18. The theme music is just too emotional
As opening titles go, The West Wing’s have to be some of the most emotionally stirring ever made. There’s something about that sweeping, dramatic music that makes a patriot of even the most cynical viewer. I mean, it even makes ME feel patriotic towards the US, and I’m British. It’s no wonder the music won composer W.G. Snuffy Walden an Emmy! The titles themselves are pretty iconic: the fluttering American flag superimposed onto footage of the cast is basically art. All in all, the titles mean that the show starts as it means to go on: with drama, emotion, and high-quality visuals.
17. President Bartlet was the best fictional President EVER
Question: can Martin Sheen please run for President in 2020 as his character from The West Wing? Jeb Bartlet may have had his ups and downs, but he was overall a pretty darn good President. He listened to his advisors, admitted when he was in the wrong and tried to act for the good of the American people. He wasn’t overly self-serving or arrogant. Jeb truly valued the opinions of his wife, family, and friends, and although his emotions often got the better of him, he recognized when he’d let them impair his judgment. Basically, he’s the President that the American people both need and deserve. Let’s get the Bartlet 2020 campaign rolling!
16. His First Lady, aka Rizzo from Grease, was awesome too
Behind every good President is a badass First Lady, and Jeb Bartlett was no exception. His wife Abigail – played to perfection by Stockard Channing, aka Rizzo from Grease – is basically a feminist icon for us all. As well as being the First Lady, she’s a qualified doctor who still values her own career alongside that of her husband. Abbey constantly challenged her husband when he was being untrue to himself and wasn’t afraid to tell him he was wrong. She fiercely protected her children and reminded her husband Jeb of the importance of his physical and emotional wellbeing. Basically, she’s the First Lady we should all aim to be in life. She doesn’t sit back and let the men control everything!
15. The female characters were all total badasses
Abbey Bartlet wasn’t The West Wing’s only strong female character. In fact, pretty much every woman on the show was a total badass. Just look at C.J. Cregg, President Bartlet’s press secretary. She constantly fought back when men tried to demean her because of her gender – no sexism was allowed on her watch! C.J. was also about ten times more competent than any of the guys around her. She was smart, sassy, and totally true to herself. While she did have various romantic interests throughout the show’s run, she didn’t let her relationships impact on her work. While she’s not the only strong woman in The White House, C.J. is still the biggest feminist inspiration in the show.
14. It didn’t shy away from tricky subjects
Just as real-life politicians often have to deal with difficult and sensitive subjects, The West Wing didn’t try to gloss over the tricky aspects of leading the country. Over the years, it tackled topics like abortion, gun control, and gay rights. The latter of these issues produced one of the show’s most memorable and satisfying moments. When a homophobic radio host tries to claim that the Bible justifies the oppression of LGBT individuals, President Bartlet totally destroys her argument by bringing up some of the more questionable ‘rules’ that the book advocates. Pretty much every viewer punched the air when the President won that particular debate.
13. Toby’s hatred of humans is super relatable
While Toby Ziegler did turn into a bit of a snake towards the end of The West Wing’s run, he’s still one of the show’s most popular characters. If you’ve ever had one of those days (or years) where you end up hating all of humanity, you’ll relate to Toby. He’s pretty much always 100% done with everyone and everything. His sharp wit and constant sarcasm provided a lot of the show’s comedy. However, Toby wasn’t entirely miserable. He was surprisingly optimistic when it came to politics and was often more idealistic than his colleagues. While Toby was let down by the writers a bit in the final season, he’s still a loveable miserable man who knows what it’s like to be all of us on a bad day.
12. It’s more educational about the US political system than any documentary could be
If you ever want to learn a bit more about the inner workings of U.S. politics, don’t bother watching a documentary: just watch The West Wing. You’ll learn all about legal processes, how Congress operates, how new Supreme Court judges are chosen… The list goes on. If anything, the show makes you realize just how many hoops our politicians have to jump through before they can even think about passing new legislation. Frankly, it’s a wonder they get anything done! While, of course, the show is still ultimately fiction, it’s not too far from the truth when it comes to the workings of a typical White House administration.
11. Literally nobody in that show takes crap
As well as educating you about American politics, The West Wing will also teach you about the importance of standing up for yourself. Pretty much every character has to defend themselves in some way throughout the show’s run, and none of them suffer fools gladly. They challenge others when they think they’ve been treated badly. While they accept criticism for things they’ve actually messed up, they don’t let anyone talk down their achievements. Having that kind of attitude is the only way to get anywhere in politics, and it’s a pretty good one for us regular folk to have too.
10. The walks-and-talks were pretty cool to watch
The West Wing is famous for its pretty unique style of filming: the frequent use of the ‘walk-and-talk.’ It’s very rare that characters have important conversations in their offices or seated down anywhere. Nope – they all like to keep active and do their talking while they’re walking. It’s a technique that hammers home just how busy a White House employee’s life really is. They don’t have time for sit-down chats – they’re always on their way to the next place to complete their next task. This dynamic filming style can’t have been easy to shoot, but the show’s production team totally nailed it.
9. It’s surprisingly funny for a serious drama
As you’d imagine, a TV drama about the highest office in the land has quite a few serious – even tragic – moments. There are deaths, divorces, assassination attempts, and serious political challenges. There are risky elections, political scandals aplenty, and all manner of issues both big and small to overcome. However, The West Wing isn’t at all stressful to watch thanks to its innate sense of humor.
Even in the darkest of episodes, little humorous moments stop you from becoming totally miserable about the state of the world. All of the characters are so funny that it’s impossible not to chuckle at least once per episode. It’s a pretty impressive feat for a serious drama, and not something every show of its kind can pull off!
8. Josh and Donna were the cutest couple ever
Like any drama, The West Wing features its fair share of romantic entanglements. Who can forget the storyline where Sam falls for a high-class escort, or Charlie’s interracial relationship with the President’s daughter hitting the headlines? While a lot of the show’s pairings are pretty adorable, no couple hits the heights of Josh and Donna’s cuteness. It takes them SO LONG to actually get together, but the chemistry between them is always incredible. It was always clear that the two would end up together, even if it took the writers a little while to realize it. Donna actress Janel Moloney was only supposed to appear for one scene in the pilot where she brings Josh some coffee! However, the connection between the two was so obvious that she became a series regular. We’re so glad she did!
7. Leo’s fatherly wisdom touched us all
Oh, man. President Bartlet’s right-hand-man Leo McGarry won all of our hearts from his very first sarcastic put-down. While he initially came off as gruff and unemotional, we quickly learned that Leo had a heart of gold. He was a father figure to pretty much every single young member of the White House staff and was basically like a brother to Jeb. The emotional revelation that he was a former addict only increased our respect for him. Leo’s support for Josh when the latter was suffering from PTSD warmed all of our hearts. He was an all-around good guy whose tragic death (and the death of his actor, John Spencer) hit us all hard.
6. “The Jackal”
If any West Wing fan had to pick an episode that proved just how light-hearted the show could be, they’d go with the one with “The Jackal.” Watching the straight-laced C.J. lip sync along to Ronny Jordan’s song “The Jackal” is a sight that everyone needs to see at least once in their lives. It’s apparently something that C.J. performs regularly, although we only get to see it once. We also got to see Sam Seaborn – aka Rob Lowe – dance along to the song like a total dork. To quote Sam himself, “If you haven’t seen CJ do The Jackal, then you haven’t seen Shakespeare the way it’s meant to be done.” Yep, it’s THAT good.
5. It dealt with actor and character deaths with a lot of sensitivity
As morbid as it sounds, The West Wing was always at its dramatic best when it had to deal with the topic of death. The first instance of this came in the critically-acclaimed episode “Two Cathedrals,” a tear-jerker that’s considered one of the best ever episodes of any TV show in history. When President Bartlet’s secretary and mentor Mrs. Landingham tragically dies in a car crash, he’s understandably distraught. The tragedy comes at a time when the President is deciding whether to seek a second term or not, a decision that he ultimately makes after a vision of his late friend advises him. It’s a sublime piece of television that even included the President cursing in Latin.
In its final season, The West Wing also had to deal with the death of Leo actor John Spencer. His character was killed off-screen, suffering a heart attack on the night of the Presidential election, and never finds out that he’s been elected Vice President. The episodes dealing with Leo’s death are as touching as “Two Cathedrals,” and were a fitting tribute to both the character and his actor.
4. It’s still hauntingly relevant politically despite its age
Even though it’s been nearly twenty years since The West Wing first aired, a lot of the issues it discusses are still alarmingly relevant today. It addresses gun control, an issue that’s still very much in the public eye, as well as the issue of LGBT people in the military. It touches on conflicts in the Middle East, a region still in turmoil today. The show also discusses issues that will probably always be relevant in American politics, such as the tension between religious and political bodies. Don’t even try to write it off as outdated. You’ll be surprised by just how many of the episodes could believably take place today.
3. The technology used definitely isn’t relevant now and it’s hilarious
While the issues that The West Wing covers might still be relevant, the ‘brand new technology’ it features definitely isn’t. If you want a hilarious look back at what was considered ‘cutting edge’ in the early 2000s, this is the show for you. We get a glimpse of some early Apple computers, objects so bulky that they probably need three people to lift them. The characters’ “cell phones” are often bigger than their faces. Most hilarious of all is their total fascination with that new thing called the Internet. In one particularly hilarious episode, Josh has to deal with the revelation that somebody has made a fan site dedicated to him, something that was apparently rare at the time. He’d be pretty shocked if he ever got to glance at modern-day Tumblr, let me tell you.
2. You end up feeling like you really know the characters
One of The West Wing‘s biggest strengths is just how relatable its characters are. Sure, they’re all very important government officials, but they go through similar issues to us normal folk. They deal with bereavements and breakups. They’re not immune to mental illness or major trauma. Over the course of the show’s seven seasons, you really get to know each character. You totally understand their strengths, weaknesses, and personal challenges. You watch them grow and learn as the years go by. Most of all, you really don’t want to say goodbye to them in the finale. Why do all good things have to come to an end? Hey, maybe it’s time for a reboot, NBC…
1. It’s refreshingly optimistic
It’s easy to assume that political dramas like The West Wing are only going to get you down. Admittedly, the show does deal with some difficult and at times upsetting issues. You do occasionally lose faith in humanity. However, an undercurrent of optimism runs through each episode. The writers leave us with a sense that while the world will always have conflicts and struggles, everything will work out in the end. Even if our leaders face major challenges, they’ll overcome them. I know it’s hard to believe given the current state of the world. Yes, there are a lot of major issues plaguing almost every country. However, The West Wing gives us hope that things will be okay. We won’t all die in a nuclear winter. Kanye West won’t end up becoming President. We’re going to be okay.