TV is the answer

Beth Carpenter

Two columns ago, I talked about “Sports Night,” the sitcom created by Aaron Sorkin. He is more well known for his work on the television show “The West Wing,” the political drama following the presidency of Josiah “Jed” Bartlet from September 1999 to May 2006.
The show ran for seven seasons, and it dealt with real-world political issues. For the first four seasons, Aaron Sorkin was at the helm, and was thus responsible for four great years. The dialogue is witty and fast paced, a Sorkin trademark; the drama is sometimes heart pounding, sometimes tear inducing, and the acting is superb.
Although Sorkin left the show after four seasons, “The West Wing” maintained most of its original vim and verve for the remainder of the series. The show used former White House staff members as consultants, attempting to keep “The West Wing” as realistic and true to life in the White House as possible.
If you’ve never seen Allison Janney in anything, “The West Wing” is perhaps the best introduction to her. Her character, Claudia Jean “C.J.” Cregg, is the White House press secretary, and through her charm and humor, she has a strong rapport with the press corps in the White House.
Richard Schiff and Bradley Whitford play communications director Toby Ziegler and deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman, respectively, and Martin Sheen plays President Jed Bartlet. Stockard Channing – of “Grease” fame – plays his wife. The ensemble cast is rounded out with many other excellent supporting actors, but it truly is an ensemble – no one character is focused on more than any other, mirroring the mostly cohesive nature of the Bartlet administration.
It has often been my wish that Jed Bartlet was a real person, and a real president. His slogan, “Barlet for America,” is one that is emblazoned on t-shirts and bumper stickers of fans of “The West Wing” across America.
Many of the characteristics that he displays throughout the show are qualities to be admired in a presidential candidate. In later seasons, the character Matthew Santos, a senator from Texas appears, and he is supposedly based off of Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator.
The events in the show are sometimes analogous to real-world events. President Bartlet suffers a cover-up scandal of similar caliber to that of Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky affair; there are fictional countries in the Middle East and Africa that have tragedies and problems similar to those in real-world Middle East and Africa.
The show also deals with fictional events that address real-life problems, such as school bombings or the war on drugs, even if they don’t have a specific real-world counterpart.
Perhaps the best thing – and also, maybe the worst – is that the show broadened my political knowledge. I understand more about what it means to be the Senate majority Leader, what the DOD and the NEA are, along with many other abbreviations.
I know more about the Constitution than I learned in my AP U.S. History class, and I actually understand the electoral college now. For better or for worse, “The West Wing” has taught me about politics. So if sitcoms or science-fiction don’t capture your fancy, I suggest you check out “The West Wing” and call it an educational experience.