I have blogged about The West Wing before, and how much I love it. It’s one of my main go-to shows to watch, both actively and as background filler. I love the characters, the writing, the politics, almost everything about it. There are the occasional problematic bits, too, but overall I love it. I’ve been thinking for a long time about starting a new regular feature here. I want to do a(nother) complete rewatch of West Wing so I can write about it on an episode-by-episode basis. I’ll be focusing on two things, the political and social issues the plot of the show raises and the narrative tricks the writers employed. I’ll do this by giving a recap of the show, then providing some analysis and thoughts. This will make for some rather long posts as each episode is 45-47 minutes long, and they’re often complicated with several plot-threads developing in each episode. I’ll do my best to be succinct, but expect a couple thousand words on each episode! I’m going to start with Season 1 (naturally) and we’ll see how it goes from there. I may get bored after a full season, and I may not.
The West Wing is very important to me for a few reasons, but most especially because I discovered an interest in politics from it. I voted in my very first election in 2004, dutifully casting a party-line vote in line with my family’s politics. I wasn’t interested in politics of any stripe, having a prematurely jaded view of the political process in this country and most especially those who participated in it, I.e. politicians. I certainly wasn’t going to vote for a Republican of all people, but I didn’t particularly care for any of the Democrats either. I wasn’t engaged, and I believed it didn’t much matter. Shortly after that first election, I began to watch the odd episode of West Wing (it was still running at this point) because people I knew were fans. I saw enough to intrigue me, but it wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I finally had the chance to sit down and watch the show in order, from beginning to end, as it was meant to be seen. It was a revelation to me. The show has been lauded by former White House employees, cabinet ministers, and even one or two former presidents, as a fairly accurate (if necessarily limited) portrayal of life in the White House and how the top tiers of our Federal Government work behind closed doors and how that translates into the public sphere. So I feel no shame in admitting that I learned a lot from the show about our political process. But it did more than that, it also helped to remind me that there were real people, many of whom pursued politics out of a profound sense of duty to help their fellow citizens (even if their ideas on how that should happen weren’t always very good). It reminded me that Republicans, even conservative ones, can be good people attempting to do good things too, and that I could even like a few conservative politicians now and again. In short, it engaged my interest in real politics, an interest that hasn’t waned and has made me a better citizen and a more engaged voter.
Beyond its political lessons, West Wing also gave me an example of some truly excellent writing. Not every episode is brilliant, but many of them are, and the entire story-arc over the course of the 7 seasons is pretty compelling. There are sympathetic, dynamic, multi-faceted characters; thought-provoking questions and issues to grapple with embedded in the narrative; and snappy dialogue. It may be a television show, but it still taught me a lot about writing good stories with complex and interesting plots.
So, I’ll be starting this new feature Saturday and running it once a week. Hopefully I’ll manage to post on the same day every time, but it’s possible I may be off a day or so either direction sometimes, so if you can, follow me on Twitter or Tumblr because I’ll be sure to announce updates (or late updates) there. You can also subscribe to the blog and just have it emailed directly to you or use the RSS feed to put it in your blog-reader (those still exist right?). I’m doing this primarily for my own satisfaction and out of a deep love of the show, but I’m always delighted to have comments and feedback from readers so please do be sure to engage me in discussions if you so choose! The West Wing is an older show, but a lot of the themes and issues it discusses are absolutely still relevant in today’s political arena.
As always, thank you all for reading. I appreciate all of you, from the casual drive-bys to the one or two regulars.