By the end of The West Wing‘s pilot, I knew I would love the show. Now that I’ve seen all of it, I can officially say it has a place in my top five favorite shows of all-time. There are hundreds of reasons why I love this show so much, but here are the ten reasons you need to watch (or rewatch) this four-time Emmy winner for Best Drama Series on Netflix or Amazon Prime right now!
10) The Theme Song
I love a good theme song. As I was binge-watching The West Wing during my winter break, my mom jokingly asked me if I got goose bumps every time the song started. I answered with a very serious “Yes.” In my head, President Obama gets ready every morning by playing that theme. It’s just such beautiful and powerful music. It really does give me chills. I have the theme song as my ringtone so whenever someone calls or texts me, I feel much more important than I actually am. Like the theme for Game of Thrones, I can never skip over it, even when I’m watching 5 episodes back-to-back.
9) Josh & Donna
This show is not about romance at all. The characters go in and out of a few relationships, and the President (Golden Globe winner Martin Sheen) and First Lady (Emmy winner Stockard Channing) are wonderful together. However, this show is first and foremost about a Democratic president and his staff in the White House. Honestly, the lack of constant relationship woes was one of the most refreshing parts of the show. That said, these two killed me. Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Emmy winner Bradley Whitford) and his assistant Donna Moss (Emmy nominee—should’ve been a winner—Janel Moloney) are the perfect duo. They’re not officially together but you can tell something is there from the start. Every character knows it too. She’s the one person he can let his guard down with—he’s actually very sweet under all the stress and sarcasm—and when Josh gets too cocky or rude, Donna isn’t afraid to put him in his place. In season one, it’s clear that Josh’s love interest was intended to be Mandy (Moira Kelly, who left after just one season). However, from the first episode, Whitford and Moloney have a very natural rapport that continues to grow stronger throughout the seven seasons. Their relationship was a joy to watch from start to finish, even if it was the most frustrated I’ve ever been as a “shipper.” I’ve always considered Monica & Chandler (Friends) and Leslie & Ben (Parks and Recreation) to be my favorite television couples, but now I don’t think there’s a better pair than Josh and Donna.
8) The Educational Value
If you watch this show and don’t learn something from it, you’re probably lying. From President Bartlet’s tangents about the history of the word filibuster to the handling of 9/11 and wars in the Middle East, The West Wing opened my eyes to issues I knew almost nothing about. I’m not saying that this show got every fact right. I’m not naïve enough to believe that. However, because of this show, I spent a lot of time reading about current events and how the issues on The West Wing related to those. I know this show will encourage me to stay even more informed in the upcoming election. (Also, the clip above will be played for anyone who tries to give me a biblical argument against same-sex marriage. Thanks, President Bartlet!)
7) The Politics
I’m not talking about Democrats vs. Republicans here. I’m talking about how ideal these politicians would actually be to have in office. Sure, the problems President Bartlet faced were all planned in a writer’s room weeks in advance, and the Bartlet Administration still dealt with a few scandals (most notably, at the end of season 2). However, I stopped watching Netflix’s House of Cards after five episodes because I couldn’t stand the dark and cynical look at the government. Even ABC’s Scandal is sometimes a little too corrupt for me, though it’s often humorous. The West Wing is different, and it’s actually been criticized for being too optimistic of an administration. That’s what I love about it, though. It’s exhilarating to see politicians who are doing things because they honestly believe in doing it for the betterment of the United States and its people. They still must consider reelection and other personal goals with their decisions, and President Bartlet certainly isn’t perfect. However, it makes me hopeful. I would vote for any of them in a heartbeat.
6) Toby Ziegler
Each character takes up a spot on my list of a hundred reasons to love this show because they are all inspiring in their own ways. Communications Director Toby Ziegler (Emmy winner Richard Schiff) is a special one, though. He’s incredibly sarcastic, and he and President Bartlet argue often. But he has a deep love and respect for all of his coworkers, including his boss. He’s unapologetically candid, and he’s charming, quirky, sweet, devoted, and a little mean when necessary. Basically, he’s everything you want to watch in a television character. Also, at Sundance, I met Richard Schiff. It was pretty cool.
5) The Directing and Editing
This show had a large budget of $6 million per episode, and it shows. Each episode feels more like watching a film than episodic television. The West Wing takes risks with its directing and editing, and every single one of them pays off. Since I took an editing course last fall, I have a new appreciation for people who can master the art of editing; this show has some of the finest editing I’ve ever seen, especially when using flashbacks to Governor Bartlet’s campaign for presidency. Each episode is beautifully pieced together, which makes the already strong cast and script seem even better.
4) The Walk-and-Talks
This kind of goes with the directing, but it’s such a special part of the show that I have to talk about it separately. This show made the walk-and-talk technique famous. It certainly didn’t invent it, but it’s a favorite of Emmy-winning director/producer Thomas Schlamme so it’s used all the time. Because the White House is a busy place, the characters often walk up and down the hallways together from meeting to meeting trying to accomplish their work. It’s how I always imagined the White House running. Everyone runs around the hallways trying to find a minute of time with their coworkers. One character leaves the long tracking shot at the end of a conversation, and another one jumps in to start talking about something else. The hustle and bustle of the White House seems extremely realistic, and it makes the scene much more interesting than it would be if they were just sitting in their offices all the time. It also leads to some truly hilarious moments—an intern falling down because Josh and Donna are walking too fast or the height difference between Allison Janney and Kristin Chenoweth.
3) The Cast
There’s a reason these actors were nominated for 36 individual acting Emmy Awards and won 9 of them as well as back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Achievement in Casting. It’s also why America voted it the Best Drama Cast of all-time in a 2011 TV Guide poll. The performances from this cast are beyond words. This show was originally meant to center around Rob Lowe’s Sam Seaborn. However, after realizing the beautiful ensemble they had created, the creative team made the decision to focus on the group instead. This is an ensemble at its finest. It’s a group that every showrunner dreams of for their show. The cast is extremely close (trust me on this one, I’ve watched way too many interviews and listened to quite a few episode commentaries), and that love is palpable in the chemistry, trust, and respect the characters have with each other. It never once feels forced. You’ll also get some fun recurring guest stars who work wonderfully with the main cast: Elisabeth Moss, Lily Tomlin, Marlee Matlin, John Amos, Teri Polo, Kathryn Joosten, Anna Deavere Smith, Mary-Louise Parker, and Timothy Busfield, just to name a few.
2) The Writing
The first four seasons were almost exclusively written (or co-written) by Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin. In true Sorkin fashion, the dialogue is fast and incredibly intelligent. The speeches are electrifying, and the characters are full of sass and wit. Each episode in those first four seasons is as close to perfect as anyone can get when writing for television. When Sorkin departed the show at the end of season four, there is a definite difference in the following episodes. It took John Wells (whose work I love on ER and Shameless) a bit to figure out where he wanted to take the show without Sorkin, and there were a few decisions that felt out of character for the staffers I spent four seasons getting to know. However, it doesn’t last forever, and the worst episodes of The West Wing are still far better than most shows’ best episodes. It never goes back to the Sorkin glory days, but it certainly wasn’t bad enough for me to lose interest or quit watching. All of the elements I love and mention on this list are still there in the last three seasons, even with the split in seasons 6 and 7 between those in the White House and those who leave to work on the next presidential campaign. And when episodes in those last three seasons feel as if Sorkin wrote them, you’ll probably find yourself simultaneously beaming and crying from joy.
1) Claudia Jean Cregg and Donnatella Moss
I’m bending the rules a little bit on this one, but these are my ladies! This is Donna’s second appearance on this list. However, she deserves it, and this appearance is strictly about how wonderful she is as a character. White House Press Secretary CJ Cregg (Janney) and Donna Moss are two of the most incredible ladies in any television show. I aspire to be like them in my everyday life. Donna, although “just an assistant,” has brilliant ideas and was quickly able to make herself an important part of the administration. She’s witty, intelligent, hardworking, empathetic, and just all around perfect. Allison Janney is responsible for four of those nine individual Emmy wins for playing CJ Cregg, and if I were deciding the Emmys, she would have won three more. CJ never falters on what she believes is right and works hard to bring issues to the administration that may be overlooked for political reasons (for just a glimpse at this, see one of the episodes for which Janney won an Emmy: Season 3’s “The Women of Qumar”). She also brings some joy and laughter into the press briefing room and the Oval Office. Janney and Moloney play these two women with finesse and a perfect balance of comedy and drama. I’m so happy Sorkin made Moloney a main cast member in season two, and I’m overjoyed that these two represent my gender well on The West Wing.
Three honorable mentions that just barely missed the top ten: Josh Lyman, Leo McGarry (the late Emmy winner John Spencer), and that time the First Lady got drunk with CJ, Donna, and Amy (Mary-Louise Parker) at her birthday party in the nearly-flawless season 3 episode “Dead Irish Writers.”
I never expected to fall this madly in love with this show, but I couldn’t help it. Do yourself a favor and start watching The West Wing now!
Happy Presidents’ Day!