Every time we have a Presidential election, I find myself drawn back to a favorite show: The West Wing. I’ve found that it’s a nice reprieve from the ongoing presidential primaries, debates and mud-slinging, but I also find that I’ve been approaching the show in different ways each time.
The first time I really sat down to watch was shortly before the 2008 presidential election, and again in the 2012 general: it certainly informed how I look at politics and the general political process, understanding that there’s a whole shadow world in which the country is run through a continual stream of negotiation, bargaining and trading, all in the name of getting things done.
Since I last tuned in, things have changed. Washington is gridlocked, but so too are each side of the political spectrum: everyone is unwilling to engage with one another, which makes the show a quaint fantasy of when things were better.
Watching this time around, the notion that this show is a quaint fantasy is even more apparent. You could easily tell when there wasn’t a woman present in the writer’s room, something that’s even more painfully apparent when you look at the relationship between Josh Lyman and Donna Moss. The first two times I watched the show, I felt like their story was a fun romantic one. This time, I could see how painful it was for Donna, and found myself rooting for her all the more when she walked out of the offices at the end of Season 5. I was angry when she decided to go back.
This is a show for men, about men doing the important things men should be doing -that seems to be the mode that it was stuck in throughout the time Aaron Sorkin was running the show; it wasn’t until he left that we see women appearing more prominently in the sidelines and forefront. Toby Zeigler indignantly shouting (which is always fun to watch) gave way to C.J. Craig getting things done. The show became better for that, I think.
One thing that did impress me was at how the show managed to completely miss the ramifications of race in Santos’ presidential run. It missed the run to the right that the Republican Party has taken in the last eight years as Vinick portrayed a classical Eisenhower-style candidate (God, I would love to see someone like him run. Sadly, Jon Huntsman isn’t running). It did prefigure some things: the Healthcare debate, and a couple of other things, which are still dead on almost a decade off the air.
I can’t help but think that NBC should reboot the show, picking up as the
Obama Santos administration leaves office. It would be interesting to see the show deal with the modern political environment, from women to race to climate change to terrorism to the media, trying to make sense of it all. It would be a bit more interesting than watching CNN.