The Greatest Television Show in the History of the World Is . . . wait for it . . . The West Wing!
Yeah, I know—what about All in the Family, MASH, Breaking Bad, Friends, and of course we can't forget The Gong Show. But for my money, nothing and I mean nothing even comes close to Aaron Sorkin's greatest effort ever.
I have the entire series on DVD and Netflix, and I've watched every episode at least four times. Once a year I do a West Wing Marathon and watch all seven seasons over several days. The Lovely Louise is visiting family in England at the moment, and I'm getting the urge to stock up on bourbon, scallops wrapped in bacon, shrimp cocktail, and crackers with the stinkiest blue cheese I can find so I can curl up on the couch and press “Play” on the DVD player. I won't need to leave the house so I don't have to shower or change my sweats. I can just lock my door and shut out the world for 156 consecutive hours and lose myself in the world of Josiah Bartlet.
In the beginning I wanted to be President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), particularly in my favorite episode, Two Cathedrals (if you've never seen the show, watch just that episode and tell me it's not the greatest episode of all time). As time went on, I decided to be Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), the brilliant but quirky Deputy Chief of Staff. In my life I like to think I’m most like Leo McGarry (John Spencer), the Chief of Staff, but in reality I'm probably Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff).
Toby is brilliant but filled with angst. He can't see if the glass is half full or half empty. He wonders why there is a glass. He expects perfection from everyone around him … and most of all from himself. Everyone always comes up short, including Toby. He is quick to anger, and while he would probably disagree with me, he's not a very happy person. His ex-wife was right—Toby is just sad. They have these dumb tests on Facebook, like “Which Character on The West Wing Are You?” I always end up being Toby, and I've decided to stop fighting it. Toby is fiercely loyal and follows a moral compass only he can see, and I admire that. I can live with being Toby.
While the series has a decidedly liberal bent, Sorkin's brilliance is that he can write eloquently for the other side as well. If you don't believe me, watch the episode containing Ainsley Hayes' position on the Equal Rights Amendment. I think Ainsley—and Sorkin—are absolutely right, and they convinced me to abandon my support for an Equal Rights Amendment because it is redundant. As Sorkin says, we have the Fourteenth Amendment, and that's good enough.
I don't know if the White House really operates like it does on The West Wing or not but if it doesn't, it should. I think the Trump White House would do a lot better if Aaron Sorkin wrote their scripts for them. Some of the greatest speeches I've ever heard were given on The West Wing. After a bomb went off on a college campus, President Bartlet had this to say (Watch it here, because just reading it doesn't really convey its greatness):
“‘Joy cometh in the morning,’ scripture tells us. I hope so. I don't know if life would be worth living if it didn't. And I don't yet know who set off the bomb at Kennison State. I don't know if it's one person or ten, and I don't know what they want. All I know for sure, all I know for certain, is that they weren't born wanting to do this. There's evil in the world, there'll always be, and we can't do anything about that. But there's violence in our schools, too much mayhem in our culture, and we can do something about that. There's not enough character, discipline, and depth in our classrooms; there aren't enough teachers in our classrooms. There isn't nearly enough—not nearly enough, not nearly enough money in our classrooms, and we can do something about that. We're not doing nearly enough—not nearly enough—to teach our children well, and we can do better, and we must do better, and we will do better, and we will start this moment today! They weren't born wanting to do this.”
Yeah, The West Wing is the greatest show of all time, and today, more than ever, we need a leader like President Bartlet.