This article contains spoilers for “The West Wing.”
In order for a television show to be just perfect, it has to fit your mood. Sometimes, you really want a show that can make you think and capture your attention for a full episode. Other times, you may want a show that doesn’t require your complete attention, one that serves as background noise while you’re scrolling through your phone or flipping through your many open tabs.
Cue the patriotic music, because NBC’s “The West Wing” provides it all.
“The West Wing,” which ran from 1999 to 2006, follows the two-term presidency of fictional Democrat Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen). The show sets itself apart from other presidential dramas about the Oval Office, however, in that it focuses mostly on the people who work behind the scenes in the White House’s West Wing, most notably the press secretary, the chief of staff, the director of communications and the deputy chief of staff. Through the characters’ often-chaotic daily activities, politics nerds are given an exciting inside look into the executive branch, partisan politics, congressional votes, elections and so much more.
I know it may seem infeasible for a show to fulfill all of your wishes, but hear me out:
“The West Wing” will keep you at the edge of your seat because the craziest situations occur. In one instance, the president’s political enemies kidnap the first daughter, Zoey Bartlet (Elisabeth Moss), causing the president to invoke the 25th Amendment, temporarily leave office and hand power over to a Republican. From Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer) walking into a forest and having a heart attack, only to be left lying on the forest floor, to the president becoming temporarily paralyzed on a diplomatic trip to China, it’s a miracle that this country stays running if the actual West Wing is even half as dramatic as this show.
With that said, “The West Wing” is also dominated by small controversies, crises and questions — nuclear research conducted by other countries, lobbyists visiting the White House, congressional votes and so forth — which cause a low buzz and give the show an air of business without overwhelming viewers with suspense.
As a political science major, every part of “The West Wing” piques my interest. Some of my favorite aspects of the show are not the super dramatic parts, but rather the small political predicaments that are brought up.
Throughout the episodes, characters ask everyone, from high-up people like the press secretary to random aides and secretaries, what they think about various policies. This gives everyone watching the opportunity to think: Should the United States go to war with Iran? Should the president endorse a bill? What should the president be willing to give up to get what they want?
And if you follow politics, the show can be kind of funny, too: kids go to the White House to lobby for abolishing the voting age, a Democratic congressman argues in favor of abolishing marriage because gay marriage had yet to be legalized. Other ridiculous policy ideas also come out of the woodwork, breaking up the heavy politics and drama for a good laugh.
This kind of chaos prevails, yet at the close of each episode, everything ends up mostly the same: the president has had some wins and some losses, war or some other foreign affairs problem was narrowly avoided or dealt with, the Democrats and the Republicans continue to be at odds and, most importantly, the Bartlet administration stays in the White House.
The people who work in the West Wing return home at the end of the day, only to start the whole process over again just a few hours later. While every episode is chaotic and wild, they’re also predictable, consistent and reliable — something we all need in a show we can trust, no matter how closely you’re paying attention.
“The West Wing” is available to stream on Netflix.