I just finished watching all 7 seasons of The West Wing. Yes, for someone who loves great television I am way behind the curve on this one. In my defense I was in college and then in grad school working two jobs during the majority of the show’s run, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to watch television let alone get invested in a show that I knew was a serial drama. Plus, this was way back in the dark ages before DVRs existed or at least existed in such a way that anyone but early adopters actually owned them. I think TiVo actually existed by this point.
I’ve had The West Wing on my to-watch list for quite some time now, but kept delaying it in favor of other old show for a number of reasons including the fact that I don’t get much into politics so I wasn’t sure if I really would like it despite the hype and also the fact that picking up a show that is 7 seasons long is quite an investment of time if you wind up liking it and watching the whole thing.
The answer to the question of whether or not I would like the show is assuredly yes. In fact it’s one of the strongest 7 season runs of a series that I can think of. Being tuned into what people are talking about in regards to television, I already knew certain things about the show going in including the fact that Aaron Sorkin, who was one of the executive producers and the main writer, left the show after the fourth season. Everything I ever heard about this transition had me expecting a significant drop off in quality and enjoyableness of the show in the last three seasons. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this was not in fact the case. Yes, there was definitely a change of tone after Sorkin’s departure. He does have a distinctive writing voice. The show did lose some of its quickness with the loss of his jazzy, fast-paced dialogue which was noticeable, but it also noticeably lost Sorkin’s heavyhanded writing about his pet topics. If you’ve watched more than one Sorkin show you’ll see they crop up over and over again, and he really beats you over the head with them. That I can say I was not sorry to see go.
The fifth season, the first after Sorkin’s departure was definitely the weakest of the 7 seasons, but ultimately I thought the show came back very strong in the last two seasons and finished out it’s run on a high note which is not something you can say for most long running television shows because writers run out of ideas and the initial creative people behind the show have often moved on to other projects by that point. I’m specifically thinking of two other 7 season series (hi I’m looking at you Gilmore Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) whose initial run pretty much coincided with The West Wing, but were pale shadows of their former selves in their last few seasons, which I don’t think was the case with The West Wing.
My one major complaint with the show is the way it treated almost every romantic relationship. One episode some sort of relationship would develop and then all of a sudden be dropped only to pop up again half a season later in a really bizarre place based on where it was last left off or just dropped all together (see Zoe and Charlie, Toby and Andie, Sam and Mallory, Donna and the photojournalist). I pretty much came to expect it after awhile so tried not to think too much about it for the most part. Though I am glad they wrapped up a couple of long running potential relationships with C.J. and Danny and Josh and Donna in the final season.
If you’ve never watched The West Wing I would highly suggest it. That is unless you’re super-conservative or will get really annoyed by a decidedly liberal bias in the show, in which case you should probably refrain for your own sanity.