More than just a political drama, this whip-smart onslaught of clever dialogue and rich characters boasts an impressive roster of stars including Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe and the late John Spencer. The story follows President Bartlet’s administration as they begin the second year of their first term, and quickly evolves to envelop much more beyond the White House senior staff.
The Washington D.C. portrayed throughout the series’ run is as endearing as it is massive, which is of course no small feat on its own. A show centered on party politics sounds, on paper, like it should be a dry, witless chore. But through a revolving door of guest actors ranging from Friends’ Matthew Perry to Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, The West Wing paints each side of the aisle with a fine brush, creating characters who feel authentic and part of a wholly realized world existing beyond Capitol Hill.
Hidden cleverly behind the charming cast and witty dialogue, The West Wing manages to tackle topics ranging from budget surpluses and cartography all the way to filibusters and the sinking of a Navy tender ship. This may sound less-than-enthralling, but trust me when I say you’ll find yourself interested in topics you previously knew nothing about and would typically gloss over in a real-life news cycle.
It would be simple for The West Wing to fall into the trap of partisan characterization, with one side playing a cartoonish villain to the protagonists’ unwavering moral compass. And while it’s often clear where the producers land on the political spectrum, the writers take great care to show each side’s argument as well-rounded and grounded in reality. Instead of having a clear good guy/bad buy dichotomy, it’s very easy as a viewer to find yourself siding with the perceived opposition, as you can see they’re acting with optimism and in good faith to find a solution they earnestly believe is right (a refreshing change of pace from our current political climate regardless of where you stand).
The trials and successes of the Bartlet administration are what tie The West Wing together, but what holds it head and shoulders above most other dramatic television of the time (and indeed even now) is the charm and care shown in their journey. Having the climactic moment of a season finale be a monologue delivered entirely in Latin, without subtitles, lets you know you’re watching something different. The fact that you’ll find yourself hanging on every word without even knowing what is being said let’s you know you’re watching something special.
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Binge It! is IGN’s recommendation series. Movies, TV shows, books, comics, music… if you can binge it, we’re here to talk about it. In each installment of Binge It!, we’ll discuss a piece of content we’re passionate about — and why you should check it out.