Friday, November 6, 2020

Green Phoenix - Let's Talk...The West Wing

Hey everybody!

I hope that you have managed to keep yourselves in high spirits and good health given all the anxiety and stress that this last week has likely given quite a few of you. I know that I personally had some serious anxiety attacks as thoughts of the election have continued to pervade the back of my mind. Thankfully, some R&R and loved ones has ensured that I am in decent mental form for you all and enabled me to focus on providing you all with a different kind of article this time around.

Up until now, my style of articles have been of four general varieties: Reviews, Countdowns, Editorials, and Literary Recommendations. Today's article is going to be a variation of Editorials that I'm calling "Let's Talks". Whereas my editorial articles are usually me trying to discuss a specific point or debate a topic that I'm focusing on in that article, Let's Talks will be much lighter in tone and more free-form. Let's Talks have no objective or point beyond me talking about some topic on my mind, be it a review or a rant, etc.

And for my very first Let's Talk, the recent election drama has brought my mind to one of television's greatest Presidents. So we are going to talk about just how great of a show The West Wing was and what I liked and missed about it.


Airing from September 22, 1999 to May 14, 2006, I didn't have a chance to watch The West Wing until I was in college, given my family's political affiliations. But when I finally got a chance to watch the show on Netflix, I was instantly spell-bound by Aaron Sorkin's magnum opus and quickly became a fan. The show is an absolutely stunning exploration of the background work in American politics and how it relates not only to American ideological divides but the often messy meeting ground between right and wrong and political necessity.
The show is set in the White House during the tenure of the fictional United States President Josiah Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen. The show mainly follows an ensemble cast, though the President and his family do end up playing a significantly larger role as the series progresses. Most of the main cast star as members of President Bartlett's Communication department at the White House, with special mention going to Richard Schiff and Bradley Whitford as Toby Zeigler and Josh Lyman, respectively. Zeigler and Lyman act as the liberal heart of the show, and it is no secret to state that Sorkin's work tends to hold a very clear liberal tinge to it, with Zeigler acting as the more ideologically minded of the two. While the overall story generally focused on Rob Lowe's character of Sam Seaborn in the first few seasons, the story would eventually shift to focusing on Lyman and Zeigler, though The West Wing never fully forgets that it is an ensemble cast.

The series has numerous moments that are just amazing to reminisce about. The assassination attempt at the end of the first season was just jaw-dropping and even though I could just move straight on to the second season, my mind was still a whirl at the thought of someone having to wait a year to find out what happened. And of course who could forget about the kidnapping plot storyline. While the series was largely episodic, every so often the major elements would rear their heads and even have moments from earlier seasons return with a vengeance. And while it is a bit controversial, even after Sorkin left after the fourth season, I still think the show had several truly inspired moments within it.

I think that perhaps the element that always made me the most excited about The West Wing is how proud it made you to be American without villainizing another side. While the show could and did often make a set political stance on an issue, it very rarely villainized the people who held those opinions, the Season 7 election is perhaps the best example of that, when Alan Alda's Republican presidential candidate is seen as just as morally grounded as his Democratic challenger. The show truly holds the opinion that differing positions are valuable, but not at the expense of the livelihoods of others.

Of course, when we think of a Sorkin show, the dialog is usually a mainstay of the style. Sorkin's style of witty repartee along long hallways was mastered in The West Wing and it left an indelible impact on my own writing and speaking style. The show was just so smart and funny and good-natured, even in the darkest of times.

What The West Wing accomplished is something that I think has sort of been missing from the American media landscape, a show that made you happy to be American not through jingoistic exceptionalism, but through the genuine belief in the goodness of people. The West Wing was a show that gave a President worthy of the idea of America, not what America actually is. And through Bartlett and his staff, our world was graced with a vision of what a Presidency ought to truly look like.

I guess we can only hope that one day we might see such a Presidency. Until then, we still have The West Wing.

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