The West Wing is everyone’s favourite ensemble drama about what would happen if the president didn’t suck

The West Wing is everyone’s favourite ensemble drama about what would happen if the president didn’t suck. Created by Aaron Sorkin, King of the Smug Fast Talkers, the series debuted in 1999 and aired until 2006. It follows the madcap adventures of Commander-In-Chief Jed Bartlett and his political aides. In addition to being prez, Bartlett is also a professional smart person (he has a freaking Nobel Prize in economics). When the series premieres, he and his band of almost-as-smart employees are on a mission to improve America. As an added bonus, The West Wing was also my grandma’s favourite show!

The series won several Emmys and inspired countless nerdy kids to become political staffers. But does this idealistic/sanctimonious show about a Nobel-prize winning philosopher king-style president hold up in 2020? Here’s what we think…

Arguments In Favour:

 

Jed Barlett

Old White Man With Basic Decency Becomes President is a surprisingly relevant storyline today. While I wish we lived in a world where women and BIPOC folks of all genders had an equal shot at securing America’s top job, that’s not the case. The Dems still chose a milktoast white dude to save The US from its bellicose boss, Donald Trump. I wish an elderly white male president who isn’t evil didn’t feel revolutionary anymore, but it sort of does…

 

Rob Lowe

Okay, so he’s only in the first few seasons, but he’s still a BABE. I would watch him watch paint dry. I’d also pay $1000 to run my hands through his luscious locks. He’s so handsome, I can’t look directly at him; he shines too brightly, like the sun…

 

The Entire Cast

It’s not just Rob Lowe who’s worth watching! The West Wing was Oscar-winning actress Allison Janney’s big break. And who could forget the gravitas John Spencer brought to Leo, the brave and dependable chief-of-staff? And then there’s Stockard Channing as The First Lady. That’s right, Rizzo herself played the president’s wife! It would be illegal to assemble a group of such talented people on Network TV today.

 

They Sort of Predicted President Obama

After Jed Bartlett’s second term, he’s succeeded by a charismatic politician named Matt

Santos. Santos is young, whip smart, and part of the Latinx community. In the fictional universe of The West Wing, he becomes America’s first BIPOC president. And guess what? Santos was (loosely) based on young Barack Obama. The West Wing created a fictional world where a racialized person became commander-in-chief, and only two years later, it really happened! It’s as if the show were written by Nostradamus!

 

Arguments Against:

 

Sexual harassment As Romance

The central love story of The West Wing centers around Josh Lineman, the deputy Chief of Staff, and his secretary Donna. While Donna is bright, likeable, and hypercompetent, Josh sabotages her career at every turn, refusing to promote her. Why? Because he’s secretly in love with Donna and cannot endure the idea of another person bringing him coffee and answering his phone.

What’s even more infuriating than watching a powerful man prevent a talented woman from propelling her career forward is this: Josh and Donna end up together. Clearly, the writers think this gross power imbalance is endearing. Forgive me, but I fail to see the romance in a middle-aged man keeping a hardworking woman in a starter job for half a decade because he wants to bone her…

 

Why Is Everyone White?

Why does Jed Barlett hire so few people of color? There’s his personal aide, Charlie, and basically no one else. And it’s not even like Charlie has a good job. Charlie is basically tasked with carrying a briefcase full of the president’s personal items, while said president lectures him on American history and speaks Latin. Ew!

 

The Verdict

While I’d prefer less sexual harassment and more diversity, The West Wing’s faith in democracy is infections. The show truly believes in the power of government to solve our problems. Writing this in the middle of a pandemic as the polar ice caps are melting,  that’s a vision I’d like to believe in. Ultimately, The West Wing holds up medium well.

 

Sarah Sahagian

Sarah Sahagian

Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as Elle Canada, Flare, Bitch Media, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-host of You Do You: A Dating Podcast. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about politics and live-tweets The Bachelor

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