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To Binge or Not To Binge Episode 23: “The West Wing”

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Hannah Allred
(Graphic by Hannah Allred | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Warning: This article contains spoilers for “The West Wing.”

“The West Wing” first aired on Sept. 22, 1999, on NBC and ran for the next seven years, finishing its broadcast in May 2006.

Over those seven long years, we got seven seasons spanning over the fictional two-term presidency of Josiah Bartlet, played by the phenomenal Martin Sheen, and leading to the election of a new president in season seven.

The series also includes an ensemble of characters on the President’s senior staff, including Leo McGarry, the Chief of Staff played by John Spencer, Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), Communications Director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) and Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford, who recently appeared in “Get Out”).  The series also has a large cast of recurring characters who appear throughout the seven seasons.

This show is cast perfectly — I could not imagine anyone else in the roles of these characters. Everyone is a phenomenal fit for the part, and each actor deserves a lot more praise for “The West Wing.”  Martin Sheen won a Golden Globe Award for his performance as President Bartlet, and the series received nine Emmy Awards for performances from the main cast.

Season 1 Recap:

The pilot episode opens with the introduction of all of the recurring characters, in an episode that handles introductions perfectly. Each main staff member gets a few minutes of screen time, showing off their personality and what they do outside of work, as well as set up future plot developments down the line. Other important main characters are introduced over the next few episodes.

Events escalate from the pilot with minor attacks and military mishaps, a rocky friendship between Sam Seaborn and a call-girl putting herself through law school, and white supremacist death threats to the president’s personal aide, Charlie Young (Dulé Hill). This season’s final episode includes an attempted assassination of the President, ending in an intense cliffhanger.

To Binge or Not to Binge?

Here on TBoNTB, we usually tell you to binge the recommended show. You should definitely watch “The West Wing,” but take it in pieces. There is a through line following all of the seasons, but make sure to take a break from it here and there. 

Regardless, watch this show. Aaron Sorkin, the series’ creator, is one of the best directors I’ve seen. His choice of angles and transitions have most definitely influenced me as a filmmaker. As a writer, the series’ scripts are always so sharp and witty — nothing is out of place or unneeded.

I miss shows like this. There are very few programs I have seen with this level of wit and charm while they tell a coherent story, comment on current events and remain relevant in today’s world.

On top of all this, “The West Wing” contains a hopeful message. No matter how dark things can get, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The series portrays strong examples of everyone trying their best for the good of the world and all of its people, which is something I miss when it comes to our current administration.  

On that note, the show has been criticized for being overly leftist. As someone who associates with the Democratic party, I don’t really see it, but I would give a lot to replace Trump’s White House with the administration of “The West Wing.”

Not a lot of people my age know about this show, and that is really a shame. I feel like everyone should watch “The West Wing” not just for the acting, writing, camera work and award-winning production, but also for its lessons of tolerance and acceptance.

Best Episode: This is probably the hardest decision in all of the TBoNTB / Binge Bytes I’ve done since I wrote my My Brother My Brother and Me piece in April. To me, it’s a tie between “Noël” and  “Two Cathedrals.” Both in season two, “Noël” takes place just before Christmas, focusing mainly on Josh Lyman as he talks to a therapist about what happened after a Yo-Yo Ma concert, as well as dealing with the trauma of the shootout that took place at the end of season one. The use and juxtaposition of music in this episode is phenomenal and has bearing on the storyline, which is very clever.

The season two finale, “Two Cathedrals,” has a lot coming ahead. The Bartlett Administration tackles re-election, gender inequality in the workforce, the death of a loved one and features a fantastic monologue by Martin Sheen halfway through the episode. The questioning of God from a devout Catholic is an interesting concept that is played on a few times in the series, but is very heavy in this episode.

Similar Shows: “Star Trek (The Original Series),” “Newsroom” and “Criminal Minds”

Trigger Warnings: Where do I start? This really varies from episode to episode. There are no excessive amounts of swearing in the series, but the show does deal with real and often uncomfortable scenarios. There are some episodes that feature blood and violence. The pilot and a handful of episodes reference sex. There are drug and alcohol references.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“The West Wing”
Available to stream on Netflix.
156 Episodes, Approximately 104 Hours.

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@TheChrony

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