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The West Wing: when you wish TV was reality.


“The West Wing” ran for seven seasons back in the late nineties to the early 2000’s, and for the time it was on the air it revolutionized the meaning of television. Viewers get a fictionalized but accurate look into the inner workings of the executive branch. “The West Wing” makes working in the government look like a cake walk, but in reality the walk is over hot coals and corrupt lobbyists. What is remarkable about the show is the informal and blunt performances from the actors that capture fed up but dedicated federal government employees. The remarkable thing is that the show can paint an ideal government that we wish was reality. The first four seasons are of perfect television, but like any show that is stretched too thin, the administration did all they could do and it was time for a change.

Directors Thomas Schlamme and John Wells created a certain style of filmography that captures the fast paced nature of the White House. The show has consultants from former white house employees to help with the accuracy of the show. Everything is moving at a fast speed and happening all at once. Characters talk fast, effortlessly and poetically in a way that everything they say can be retained. “The West Wing” is known for the use of  “walk and talks” where characters are practically sprinting through the white house while talking to someone. It is an intriguing use of cinematography that puts the perspective into the intensity of politics.

Likewise what makes the show easy to watch is that the political jargon tossed around manages to be clarified so the viewers are not lost, but it is not in an outright “Dora the Explorer” kind of way. The show does a phenomenal job of stretching out the audience’s anticipation and curiosity of worldly events that occur in the fictional White House. The show also parallels real life events and some plot points are commented on as similar to actual white house events. For example, the first episode of season three “Isaac and Ishmael” is the show’s response to the 9/11 attacks. An episode in season five “No Exit” parallels the anthrax exposure during the Bush administration.

Writer Aaron Sorkin is credited for the clever and witty dialogue that fueled our love for the members of the cabinet. Sorkin left the show after season four and the quality of the episodes were noticeable. We dont get quotes like “My friend is about to get fired for saying something right” after season four. Sorkin is the genius behind some of the most phenomenal television episodes. Season two episode “Noel” tackles the trauma that character Josh Lyman faced a few episodes prior. The performance that Bradley Whitford gave for the episode was incredible and gave him his well deserved Emmy. 

One of the on-going gags in the show that is inadvertently picked up upon by fans is the introduction of a main character that just disappears a few episodes later with no explanation. Often claimed to have run off to “Mandyland,” the fictional place named after season one  character Mandy, the first to fall victim to the write-off. This and other controversies such as the morally correct characters that are somehow uncorrupted by politics and the show’s depiction of a liberal government have reminded viewers that the show is still fictional. A government like this cannot exist, but it is incredibly entertaining to watch and many viewers wish it was real. 

Currently available on HBO Max, “The West Wing” remains one of the greatest TV dramas to air on NBC.


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