Where is President Jed Bartlet When We Need Him Most?

Over the past seven weeks of “lockdown,” I have been watching way, way too much TV – news in the morning, catch up news at noon over lunch, and then hours and hours of movies, episodic tv, and cooking shows till the wee hours of the night.

But one show that never disappoints is The West Wing on Netflix. If you haven’t watched it – or heaven forbid, have not heard of it – the show is a political series that takes place behind the scenes in the West Wing of the White House. Despite the nay-sayers predicting a short run because of the subject matter, it ran from 1999 – 2006, won two Peabody Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and 26 Primetime Emmy Awards, including the award for Outstanding Drama Series, which it won four consecutive times from 2000–2003. 

To me, this series is like a perfect companion; always there when you need him/her, funny, smart – so smart, you have to listen carefully to catch all of the rapid-fire dialogue as well as the nuances – politically astute, socially relevant, full of small memorable gems, entertaining, never boring, and best yet, doesn’t get insulted when you fall asleep in the middle of a show.   

It was created by the amazingly prolific Aaron Sorkin (The Newsroom, Studio 60,and Sports Night, among others), who was also the head writer for the first four seasons. Executive Producers included Thomas Schlamme – who also directed and pioneered the now-standard use of the “walk talk” – and John Wells, who took over as EP and Head Writer after Sorkin’s departure. The series also paved the way for other successful political shows like Scandal, House of Cards, and even VEEP

The cast of regulars and guest stars over the six seasons reads like a who’s who of stage, screen, and television: Alan Alda, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, Dule Hill, Lily Tomlin, Jimmy Smits, Kristin Chenowith, Anna Deavere Smith, Mary Louise Parker, Taye Diggs, Matthew Perry, Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet, Rob Lowe, Elisabeth Moss, and the late, great John Spencer. 

But the standout and the star is Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet. Yes, his character can be a pontificator and overly erudite. But hey, he is a Nobel Laureate in Economics. Of more importance, he is thoughtful, listens to all sides of an argument, and – best yet – admits to being fallible. Somehow, he also manages to find some sort of balance between work life and home life, even if his wife Abby (played with wry humor by Stockard Channing) would disagree. Yes, the President has a wife and three daughters – all of whom play a part in the series – and all of whom he loves, likes, and admires. He also treats them with an extraordinary amount of respect.

Surprisingly, most of the topics the show covers are still relevant today: gun control, poverty, the Middle East, race relations, sex scandals, problems with China and Russia, issues with Mexico, and even a “plague.” And some of the references still bring a smile: the way-back machine, Laverne and Shirley, Dr. Strangelove, To Sir with Love, and the scene when the president makes the “perfect” martini, olives at the ready; and then dabs a bit behind his ear. 

After watching 156 episodes, I can honestly say that I never tired of the story lines, the dialogue, the opening music or even the graphics; and there was only one show that I didn’t find riveting. Yes, I know this series is fiction and its characters sometimes beyond belief. But couldn’t life imitate art just a little bit more, especially now?

Top Bigstock photo: Windows of the Oval Office in the West Wing of the White House seen in spring colors on April 13, 2008, in Washington DC.

About Paula M. Levine (36 Articles)
Paula is an award-winning writer, producer, and storyteller who has spent over twenty years producing news, feature stories, documentaries, and web content. Since 2014, she has also taught Writing and Media Relations at NYU in their Masters Program in PR and Corporate Communication. In her "copious spare time", she runs, bikes, and swims; and has completed 7 NYC Marathons.