Help me with the West Wing: Essential viewing or Party Political Broadcast?

Having somehow managed to avoid watching a single episode of the widely praised West Wing TV series I was delighted to discover the entire Box set in my Christmas stocking – and with enough spare time over the holidays to give it a good lash.

But with 10 episodes of the first series under my belt, my initial burst of viewing enthusiasm is on the wane. There seems, to be a distinct lack of edge to the plots, a fairly lacklustre script and an overwhelming sense of cosyness between the main characters. The only memorably good line that springs to mind so far is “economists are put on the planet to make astrologers look good”(sic).

Perhaps it ‘develops’ as winds its way through later episodes but – with the sanctimonious utterances (delivered with accompanying reverential music ) of a touchy-feely-cardboard-cut-out Democratic Party president, who alternately looks likely to burst into tears, quote the constitution in Latin, collapse from overwork or rassle one of his trusty aides – it does not augur well.

Now my question. Is it worth persevering with?

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  • wild turkey


    Yep. two reasons will suffice

    1. the episode(s) that develope the relationship between press sec’ty CJ and her secret service guardian

    2. the final series devoted to the Matt Santos

    happy trails

  • pippakin

    I did like WW at first its a polished, typical US production, then 9/11 happened and they made an extra, quickie episode. It could have been really interesting instead the episode was all about how poor Israel is so the only other country in danger of terrorist attack. I stopped watching.

  • Dewi

    Let me know when u r done Sammy…had a box set 2 Christmases ago…unopened!

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    mmm I have to say I do find CJ the most credible of the characters, although her ritual mating exchanges with the good-guy press chap are a little forced at times.


    re. ” polished, typical US production”.

    I dont realy agree with that – I was expecting it to be sharper given what is presumably a massive budget and therefore excellent scriptwriters. Perhaps excessive polishing developed itself into sandpapering and it lost its edge.


    re. “unopened!” – it used to cost £200 according to the (unremoved) price sticker and now (pre xmas) costs £59 (I think).

    Have you boxsetted any series?

    ps £10 on who qualifies between Munster and Ospreys in HC pool – if Toulon win we both lose (ie give to Slugger)?

  • Munsterview

    Sammy: “There seems, to be a distinct lack of edge to the plots, a fairly lackluster script and an overwhelming sense of cosyness between the main characters”

    One would have thought that on those characteristics alone it was a fairly close to US ‘beltway politics’ and indeed given the preoccupation with ‘image’. to the New Labour ‘ on message, on que and F all to say’ that is becoming the increasing all show and little substance, style of Western Politics !

  • Mark

    sammy ,

    The dangerous thing about a box set is watching 10 episodes in a row unless of course it the Sopranos or the Wire .

    If you are half way through the first season you’ll have come accross Donna Moss ( the most annoying character in television history ) Unfortunately she makes it to the very end of the last season . The great thing about a box set is that you don’t have to watch Donna Moss at all if you don’t want to . Regretfully I watch it on RTE and had to put up with her . Don’t worry , the girl in the white sports car at the start of ep 1 who get as job as an advisor / spin doctor gets the boot at the end of season one which ends in a bang . I don’t want to ruin it for you though Sammy ( well not really ) . Keep watching , a few good characters during the elections and I’m sure you’ll enjoy their take on the middle east .

    If you to decide not to continue and are stuck for something to keep that mind of yours sharp , I could send you Man United the glory years Volumes 1 – 20 . I got a present of the box set .

  • Dewi

    Bet on Sammy….

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Likewise I have never seen a whole episode of the West Wing..
    My problem is the discrepancy between what USA is “really” like and its self-image as produced by Hollywood.

    The Americans elected George Bush twice. Thats who they wanted in the White House. They would never have voted for Josh Bartlett. Nor would they have produced a TV show to be shown all round the world if the focus was a Bush-like President.

    If we look back over Hollywood produced movies we have seen Morgan Freeman (as a black President) and Joan Allen (as a woman President). Both liberals of course. And in the series “24” (never watched it either) the President was black.
    By extension…..the police and lawmakers in “CSI”, “Criminal Minds”, “Law and Order”, “Bones” are good decent liberal types (even if one of them was played by an actor who sought the Republican nomination).

    For me this discrepancy between USA as it really is and USA (Hollywoods version) is too wide to make any political show watchable.
    Its like Hollywood said…..”we have George Bush in the White House but les all pretend that he isnt”

  • Neville Bagnall

    Its a US drama, so schmaltz inevitably pokes its nose in, not that I always object.

    I’m a fan, have the box set and fairly regularly re-watch some of the episodes and story-arcs that appeal to me.

    There is a broad mix in it. It is informed by the US politics of its era of production, so events of the Clinton and Bush presidencies get addressed by analogy – subtle or not so subtle.

    Aaron Sorkin wrote or co-wrote most of the first 4 seasons, and his personality and political opinions do come through, but Democratic and Liberal politics doesn’t always have the best arguments despite that. (At least from my similarly aligned perspective) Later seasons have a more diverse authorship.

    It was originally conceived as a series focusing on the staff – how they dealt with the pressures of serving the President – developing, supporting and implementing policies they may or may not agree with.

    But as with the real world, the gravitational pull (and acting) of the presidential role brought it more into focus. Sheen is excellent, as are most of the supporting cast.

    IMHO, you should at least watch through the first 2 seasons before abandoning it, by that stage it gets into its stride and the characters have been rounded out nicely.

    The last two seasons, with the Santos vs Vinick campaign has a distinctly different tone and one I enjoy too. Some personal story arcs may be hard to appreciate without the full series back story.

  • Fitz

    24 had at least 3 presidents!

  • Devil Eire

    A few memorable clangers. ‘Lord John Marbury’ (introduced as ‘England’s ambassador to the United States’) confides (to Leo McGarry?) that ‘Ireland is our Vietnam’.

  • Skeg oneill


    You are in for a treat.Stay with it. I have just finished watching all 7 series and I thought it was fantastic.

    I liked all the main characters especially Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) and Toby Zeigler (Richard Schiff),

  • Mark

    There were no Kim Bauers in the West Wing ….

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    trying to keep a bunch of people ‘on message’ is a trickey business (as New Labour found out) even when they they largely agree on policy – the ‘substance’ can be expected from dealing well with these tensions in the show. The only sign of this is the relations between President and Vice President otherwise its all hugs and kisses so far.


    re. “Donna Moss”. I dont really find her annoying but rather faintly amusing as she tries to deliver what are arguably the worst lines of the show – I’m guessing we will get a glimse of her ‘personal’ life at some point which will be an attempt to flesh out her ‘quirky’ character.

    Talking of most annoying characters – that fecking tuzzer who played McNulty the Oirish policeman in the Wire by waving a bottle of Jamesons about his person and uttering occasional historical insights get that award in my book. But I’m most definitely with you on the Sopranos.

    re. supporitng United et al- this dreadfully sad behaviour, common in Asia, Africa and Ireland, as mentioned elsewhere MUST STOP.


    Excuse my ignorance but I’m not really sure where Hollywood starts and ends – if HBO (the Sorpanos) is included in your denunciation then you have either taken leave of your senses or you havent seen it as the horrible underbelly of the US of A is revealed in all its glory.


    Cant go with your praise of the presidential character (though I like Martin Sheen) for reasons given above and so far the supporting cast seem to be acting out an overly long group hug.

    But having said all that, drama aside, it seems a reasonable window into the American political infrastructure and I will probably stick with it.

  • CW

    I know this is off-topic but while we’re on the subject of drama and acting could we have a post on the late great actor Pete Postlethewaite who has just died of cancer at the relatively young age of 64?

    Folks from this neck of the woods will probably remember him best for his role as Giuseppe Conlon in In the Name of the Father, Jim Sheridan’s account of the Guildford 4 saga.

    But his roles in Brassed Off, The Usual Suspects and the Constant Gardener, among many other films and TV shows form the last 30 years are also worth noting.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Alas Ive been in USA often enough to appreciate the very divided nature of its society. Naturally I identify with people who would identify themselves as “liberals” and usually Democratic Party supporters. Most it has to be said I met thru common interest since I went online in 1998. They have spent time here. Ive spent time there. All very pleasant. But it would be a mistake to think of them as representative……even if they are the better angels.
    Last Easter, I spent an occasional scary three weeks with various Civil War re-enactors (yes I am THAT sad) in Virginia and North Carolina……which was like being on another planet.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Pete Postlethewaite……indeed. He will be much missed. His greatest attribute perhaps is that he did not “look” like an actor. ……he looked like an ordinary man in a way that Colin Firth or Hugh Grant could never do.
    Probably the best “jobbing actor” of his generation. Particuarly liked him as the recurring bad guy “Hawkeswell” (sp) in “Sharpe”

  • Mark


    Yes the Wire does come in a poor second to the Sopranos No Doubt however I like to keep it real with the brothers aswell . McNulty is a bit of a gobsti!e Sammy but what are you gonna do huh ? ( seem what I’m doing here ) .

    There is no accounting for taste though .

  • Munsterview

    ” Excuse my ignorance but I’m not really sure where Hollywood starts and ends…..” It was Sammy….

    Many would say that Ronald Regan typified the seamless unity of both Hollywood and Washington. Being the consummate actor that he was he came on stage, stepped up to the mark, said his lines and then exited, job well done.

    Incidently to all Bush was not elected twice : the Supreme Court Republican majority ruled in his favor in the excruciatingly shameful ‘hanging chads’ debacle ! What of his brother ‘fixing’ his own State ?

    Pete Postlethewaite RIP. A fine actor : posterity will be kind to memory and his characterizations will be remembered for a very long time indeed.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    re. the ‘brothers’ ie the street kids angle I thought that aspect was excellent it was just the whiteboys angle in the police department and particularly the Oirish whiteboys angle that had me reaching for my (foam) brick which I keep about my person for such occasions.


    My problem with the term ‘Hollywood’ is whether people just mean anything (TV, Film) produced in YankeeLand (much of which is excellent and edgy) or produced by a particular bunch of studios – I tend to assume the former and dont assume that because it is Yankee it is somehow worse that what is produced on this side of the pond.

  • Mark

    Sammy ,

    It’s funny how the two series portray the Po…lice . That ” degenerate cop gambler ” that T has in his pocket is a great storyline . And the FBI agents eating the cold meat platter that the lads send in at Xmas .

    Omar Little’s court appearance …. priceless .

  • I watched bits and bobs of the West Wing and whilst i enjoyed it i didn’t invest any time or money in starting at the beginning
    I watched the Sopranos and really enjoyed it but i do think it was superceded by The Wire so If i was looking for a box set to watch the Wire would be my choice followed closely by the under rated Deadwood. It is a great portrayal of a wild west town and how democracy (American style) comes about.
    The first series is deffo worth a watch.
    Don’t forget about Band of Brothers which is as fine a series as i’ve seen on the tv, I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve done as a follow up ‘Pacific’.

  • Best political drama box set for me last year was the updated version of Battlestar Galactica, oddly. Brilliant TV and unexpectedly gripping. HMV have it cheap in their current sale.

  • Bartlet for President.

    That is all.

  • Sammy – stick with West Wing – there are some fantastic episodes in there – it’ll grow on you.

  • Progressive Unionist

    Aye, stick with it Sammy – definitely one of my favourite TV series ever (and I’m not big into TV series in general).

    The first couple seasons are perhaps a little slow, but it certainly picks up – and as said about the Santos v Vinick storyline is well worth watching.

    PS surprised there’s a political hack in existence who hasn’t watched the whole thing in full at least twice!!

  • RepublicanStones

    Never watched the West Wing. The Wire is excellent. I lost patience with the Soprano’s tendency toward dream sequences. The final episode didn’t help either, talk about frustrating.

    Surprised nobody has mentioned the (i feel) underrated ‘Rescue Me’. An excellent drama about the lives and loves of a group of NYC firemen. It contains plenty of lighthearted relief as well as doom and gloom. Denis Leary is good (Bill Hicks fans i apologise) as a man with many demons in it.

    Gonzo mentions Battlestar – I keep meaning to have a look. Alot of allegorical stuff going on in it with the recent decades events I’m told.

    Anyone seen Scorsese’s most recent work….with HBO – ‘Boardwalk Empire’ with the excellent Steve Buscemi. I hear Omar from ‘The Wire’ has a small role.

    And just to mention two guilty pleasures – ‘Sons Of Anarchy’ about a biker gang…actually worked quite well. Better than the pitch i received from my mate who recommended it. And currently stuck into season 2 of the old Miami Vice series. I won’t try and defend myself….

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    RepublicanStones, Skeg oneill, Progressive Unionist,Alan in Belfast, Moochin Photoman

    Yes must give the West Wing another long blast – of the others I will check out Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood.

    In relation to the Sopranos v The Wire I thought the husband/wife dialogue (for example) between Tony and Carmela was way ahead of anything in the Wire. What perhaps put me off was the incessant politiking by the police (I think the author slept there to capture it all ) but whether realistic or not I simply found it tedious.

    An interesting twist about the Wire was the guy who played the mayor is from Dublin as is the actual mayor but he was cast as an American.

  • Mark

    Sammy ,

    I’m totally confused now . I was going to say the guy who plays the mayor is the same guy who plays the gay guy in queer as folk but they are all gay in queer as folk . Your man was also in Some mothers son ( quickly move on ) I can’t remember his name .

    But Sammy , are you saying that the real mayor of Baltimore is an actor and was cast in an episode of the Wire .

    Anyway I going to watch the Sopranos episode where Chrissy and Paulie chase the Russian through the snow .

  • gendjinn

    I love Sorkin’s fast paced dialogue. Initially the show was supposed to be solely focused on Rob Lowe and the president was a very minor character. Once they assembled the cast they realised it wasn’t going to work that way and turned into an excellent ensemble show. It did start to decline a little once Sorkin and Lowe left but as someone said above the final season with Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits is fantastic.

    If you enjoy the show you really should give Sportsnight and then Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip a lash. He’s just a fantastic writer.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    “I’m totally confused now”

    best to just ingnore that last sentence as it is not only confusing but wrong.


    “I love Sorkin’s fast paced dialogue”. The pace is good but too often for me the lines are predictabNo prdoubting the pace but the content – as mentioned above the

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    “I’m totally confused now”

    best to just ingnore that last sentence as it is not only confusing but wrong.


    “I love Sorkin’s fast paced dialogue”. The pace is good but too often for me the lines are predictabNo prdoubting the pace but the content – as mentioned above the

  • purpleclaire

    I couldn’t help jumping in as I am a huge fan of the West Wing. (I’ve blogged about why here, though I sound a little like a starstruck teenager on that list!)

    It is possible that you have watched them too fast – maybe pace yourself, and yes, I agree with Neville – give it to the end of season two. If by then you are not hooked then it probably isn’t the series for you. That said, I normally tell people that episodes 5 and 10 in the first season will usually hook them.

    I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing, but he leaves at the end of season 4, so maybe it will be more suited to you then. Also, seasons 6 and 7 have a very different flavour to the rest.

    I couldn’t agree less re Donna, though. She is my favourite.

    Let us know how you get on.


  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    when you are smitten you are smitten and perhaps temporarily suspend your critical faculties, perhaps I simply do that on other shows (e.g. the Sopranos) that I have fallen for.

    big BUT Donna your favourite( for exampe) is actually quite good considering her material and has to deliver a bunch of lame lines as she scurries around the corridors trying to make them sound convincing.

  • purpleclaire

    Her lines get better, and so do her storylines!

    I learned a lot about American politics from the show – I knew nothing before, and when I say nothing – I had trouble remembering which Party was left and which Party was right… So if you’re interested in that, then it’s definitely worth persevering!

    Thanks for your response!


  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Stick with it! The best bits are the election races; the one with Alan Alda as Arnie Vinick – a decent member of the GOP, would you believe – is just tv at its best. Loved the Santos race too though, uncannily foreshadowed Obama’s campaign.
    I kind of hated the American smugness (constant references to their academic achievements and brilliance) but if you can get past that, there is a lot in there.
    It is also a party political broadcast on behalf of the Democrats, but I don’t mind that so much!

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Mainland Ulsterman,

    Big fan of Alan Alda’s so will look forward to that.

    “I kind of hated the American smugness (constant references to their academic achievements and brilliance)”.

    I would not have a problem with that if evidence of such brilliance was in evidence.

    ps A Unionist democratic supporter? shurely shome mishtake?

  • EdgarDavids

    The love angle between Josh and his assistant Donna Moss was so lovely and sweet and made me want to cry occasionally!

    I also admired President Bartlett for how he ploughed on despite his disability.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally


    I have to say Donna appers to have been learning on the job – I thought she (or her script – can’t be sure )was very poor, but now I’m passed the first 10 – only on about 15 in the first series – she has the faint aura of plausability about her person.

  • billythekid

    Love the west wing, brilliant stuff. End of season two is at its peak, as Sorkin still very much involved. All hail Leo

  • ItwasSammyMcNally


    Yes, I have to admit, it is heating up (still only half way through 2nd series) really liked the episode with the psycholohgist and Josh, thought that was pretty convincing, if a little rough on poor Josh – what with his traumatic condiction – and I had been thinking they had made to little of the shooting – and then they rewound the clock.

    ..and yes Leo is the pick of the bunch.