The West Wing in hindsight

I was a big fan of The West Wing back in the day; for years, it was my standard comfort TV. I’ve seen it all enough times that I can recite the dialogue.

Lately, I’ve been listening to this podcast:

Josh Malina (AKA Will Bailey) and Hrishi Hirway are doing an episode-by-episode recap, with cast and crew interviews as well as the occasional politician. It’s a good show.

This morning I watched this:

These two things brought it together, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about since the start of this election season.

TWW was a very good show; it was smart and funny and worked very well as light drama. But as a piece of political culture…

TWW was basically a '90’s establishment Democrat fantasy of what they wished Clinton had actually been like. Remove the sex scandals and cronyism, replace the cheesy faux-populism with a restrained intellectual statesman.

But, as well as erasing Clinton’s most obvious flaws, the show also functioned as a heavily slanted argument in favour of the Clintonian centrist triangulation approach to politics.

The GOP were the honourable and loyal opposition, critiques of corporate corruption were brushed off with a “waddaya gonna do?”, anyone to the left of the main cast was a cartoon villain, and the right answer always lay in “pragmatic” compromise. The show included allegories for major Clintonian failings such as “don’t ask, don’t tell”, Ricky Ray Rector, Sister Soulja, NAFTA, pandering to theocracy, etc. In every case, the situation was framed so as to justify the sell-out of the left.

So…I don’t know if I really have a question or anything here. But I would be interested in hearing other folks’ take on it, either in critique or defence of the show.


Even House of Cards seems like an idealized version of Washington now. Frank Underwood might be a power-hungry murdering bastard but he’s a competent power-hungry murdering bastard.


I dunno if I agree with that. It seemed like he was teetering at the end of the last season.

I never really watched West Wing, so I just came to post HofC gifs (the BBS version, at that).


Honestly, The West Wing is not the political TV series that I am most reminded of at the moment.

The one most on my mind is Babylon 5. Specifically the “President Clark” story plot.


How about Absolute Power?


Never seen it. Came out when I was 12, and wasn’t sci-fi :slight_smile:


Or Wag the Dog?


I always found it a bit saccharine, but that could be because I’m half-Cynic on my mother’s side.


Nope. Sorry.



Turning up in California for his campaign extremely drunk, Bulworth freely begins speaking his mind at public events and in the presence of the C-SPAN film crew following his campaign…His frank, potentially offensive remarks make him an instant media darling and re-energize his campaign


I’ll put it this way: the first full-on political thriller movies that I saw were the Bourne movies and V For Vendetta.

1 Like

Those last two are satires. Worth a watch.


I wonder how many people who wear V style Guy Fawkes masks at protests voted for the real life Adam Susan/Sutler?


Thanks for an interesting topic.

Gotta say, I never watched The West Wing, but it’s always been on my wish/bucket list. However, your summary makes it sound pretty bad, dunno if I’ll bother now! In which case, thanks again, for shortening my list… :wink:


It reminds me most of The 100

It’s a very good show, with politics that seemed relatively progressive at the time but look increasingly questionable as it ages. Try an episode or two, see what you think.


And can I say, on the topic of TV shows coming out soon, (and because of Ricky Whittle/Lincoln/Shadow there) I’m excited about American Gods and feel its a good story for right now. At it’s heart, it’s about divisions in our society, and how a few people can exploit them for personal gain. I just re-read the book and I love how well Gaiman gets the various splits in our society as expressed through gods.

1 Like

My thoughts exactly. When I was watching it, I thought it was supposed to have taken place in an alternate universe where an equivalent to the Kennedy/Johnson administration was in office in the 1990s. Now when I watch it, I’m just reminded of 1) how irrelevant 90s politics are to today, 2) how we’ve whitewashed all the petty politicking we did in the 90s, and 3) how out-of-touch the political class is.


Been rewatching TWW lately as some political escapism. One thing that really struck me was this incredibly forward thinking line of dialog when the staff was discussing who should be nominated for an empty supreme court seat:

Also I like to imagine Toby Ziegler as a BBS regular.


@bibliophile20 and everyone else: Adding my recommendation for Wag the Dog and Bulworth. Absolute Power is good, but less essential viewing IMHO.