Watching the West Wing makes you a better person and the right to be snobbish towards non-subscribers to its cult beliefs, writes Dermot O’Rourke
At this time of year there is nothing worse than politicians calling to your door. It’s evening time and you’ve just settled down to watch that DVD box set, you know THAT one, the one your friend is, unsurprisingly, “addicted” to and won’t shut up about it until he has everybody within a ten mile radius of him not shutting up about it, when suddenly your door bell rings.
You get up to answer it and before you realise your schoolboy error, the local politician has spotted you through the glass. You are now politely obliged to open your door listen to him bore your face off with politics, and hand you leaflets you don’t want. If this sounds like an unwelcoming scenario, how does a recommendation on a thoroughly addictive DVD box set about politicians talking about politics sound?
The West Wing Season 1, however, is very far from the minding-numbing politics we’re used to and is definitely better than the box set your friend has recommended. Despite its realism (for which it has been applauded by former White House staff) and storylines dealing with potentially dull political issues, the show manages to be very engaging and completely enthralling whilst avoiding high drama cliches of terrorist attacks and President daughter kidnappings.
The show focuses on the President of the United States, Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen), and his White House senior staff as they try to introduce legislation, handle delicate political issues and avoid media catastrophes. Creator Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) has drawn incredibly witty and insightful characters who manage to carry more charisma than any local politician, despite less than two hours sleep a night.
This a very dialogue-heavy show but this is where the real ingenuity of The West Wing lies. The lines are rhythmic and have a rapid fire delivery, but do not leave the viewer behind. The dialogue scenes are usually accompanied by a long tracking shot in which the characters walk the corridors of the White House while talking, adding dynamism and energy to what could be visually uninteresting conversations.
Each episode is extremely satisfying. Long story arcs over the entire series intertwine smaller arcs within each episode, which are usually connected by a single idea or theme. The narrative is combined with a cinematic visual style, which makes each episode feel like a small feature film.
The West Wing manages to humanise politics, and Sorkin makes an intriguing moral conflict out of each important decision the Oval Office makes. With likeable characters and intriguing plotlines, The West Wing, ultimately, offers a welcome escape from the grim reality of monotonous Irish politicians on the canvas trail.