Over Christmas I started what must be at least my sixth re-watch of The West Wing.
I’ve since been trying to put some thoughts down about the show in general to somehow convey why this is a tv show I watch over and over; to convey why it’s a show I cry at and laugh at; to convey the brilliance of the writing, the characters and the stories. Because there isn’t a single bad episode, there aren’t moments I want to fast forward, Even when I know some of the pain and joy and difficulty and challenge and cleverness and wisdom and affection that’s coming I still want to drink in every moment. This is indeed storytelling at its best.
Why at its best? To some extent, I can’t actually say. On my first couple of viewings it was a simple and visceral reaction to characters that were as real to me as parents, co-workers and friends I saw everyday. It was something deep inside me that connected with this little community of people who were honestly working for the best for others (“Not might IS right, but might FOR right” Josh). It’s just got something I can’t quite put my finger on but which ellicits an emotional response that often makes me say Wow!
It’s the modern Iliad, Odyssey and Aenid. It’s the Oresteia, the Canterbury Tales and Morte d’Arthur. It’s The Ring cycle, it’s Shakespeare, it’s the Pilgrim’s Progress. And all in 7 years of 22 slices of 45 minutes (yes, these comparisons are rather melodramatic – hello have you met me?).
It’s about Fathers and children, about legacy and inheritance. It’s about responsibility and rights. It shows us how marriage can and does work and how it can go terribly wrong. It’s about Power, leadership and corruption. It encapsulates joy, honour and passion. It explores disappointment, fear, death and terror. It shows us the everyday and the extraordinary. And if you want to understand public speaking, get better at writing and preaching – watching back to back West Wings is a great place to start. (Toby, Sam & Will are my virtual speech writing mentors – Bartlett and Santos are my virtual Speaking mentors – yes, I really am that sad 😉 )
But most of all it’s a community. A Family. A radically diverse group who have come together for one shining moment to make the world a little better, or at least try to. And see how they fall out and fight and band together and support and sing and play and bicker. It’s clear (well to me anyway) that the actors had a genuine affection for one another and the chemistry on screen at some points is electric. The web of interactions, the alliances and brotherhoods formed within the “family”, they’re what keep me coming back, they’re what I find attractive and comforting.
And so I continue with my current pass through (I’m at Season 4 – revving up to what I know will be an emotional season finale and one of the best cliffhangers around – only season 2 of this show and season 2 of Buffy could potentially better it) and the storytellers will continue to make me think, laugh, cry and just enjoy being with a family that doesn’t quit. If I could I’d buy you each a boxset for your birthday – I have in fact recently bought it for someone I love very much – because it’s a story that blesses and actually makes you feel good afterwards, and that’s one of the best gifts a friend can give. Get your own copy, or just watch it on netflix – but make sure you don’t miss out on what is one of the most significant stories of the current age.
And did I mention it’s funny? 🙂 Enjoy