As a child of television from my adolescent days in the sixties and early seventies through my adulthood, there have been a number of television programs, which have defined what good television was meant to be.
In a few weeks, one of those programs and one of my favorites The West Wing will end its seven-year run. I am feeling a little sad because I am really going to miss this show a lot.
I didn’t have the chance to watch the first two seasons living here in Korea when they first were aired, but when it finally was shown on the Armed Forces Network here and later picked up by a Korean cable company, I was hooked from the very first episode. There have been a lot of damn good TV programs over the years, but The West Wing definitely raised the bar a few notches about what a good television show should be like in its first few seasons.
In the beginning the writing was good—damn good. It was the kind of writing which makes good TV possible. Forget all this reality crap you have polluting the airwaves these days. How many people are going to remember American Idol or even Survivor ten, twenty or thirty years from now? Every so often a good TV program comes along that cleans the pool and shakes everything up. Reminds viewers what good TV is all about whether it’s a show like The West Wing or CSI Las Vegas. These programs prove that TV can entertain as well as make us think.
Having a good ensemble cast didn’t hurt either. Martin Sheen was superb as President Bartlett as was his Chief of Staff the late John Spencer.
Watching The West Wing overseas in some ways made me feel good to be an American. Maybe that’s stretching things just a little when a TV program can make you feel that way, but when I started watching it not long after 9/11, I suppose I found some hope for my country in those episodes addressing issues relevant to the time. Most significantly was the first episode of the third season Isaac & Ishmael, a special show that was created, shot, and broadcast only 22 days after the 9/11 events. Although it might not have been one of my more memorable episodes, putting together an episode like this when the country was still grieving was indicative of the show’s creative power.
At the same time, when you are an American living and working overseas we tend to carry a lot of cultural baggage with us whether we like it or not. People don’t always see you as just an American abroad. Although I have never found myself in a situation where I had to explain some my government’s policies, one thing is for certain, when you are overseas for any length of time you tend to see things more clearly. Maybe the idealized Bartlett administration on TV offered a bit of political escapism for those of us who might not always agree with the current administration in Washington.
It might have just been a drama, but I suspect a lot people who were fans (and probably Democrats) of the show might have also felt the same way over the years.
While some might argue that in the last two seasons the writing was not as sharp and powerful as it was in the beginning, the presidential race between Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) and Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) was some good television. The show might have played out differently if John Spencer had not passed away last December. It’s too bad that poor ratings forced NBC to put the show on the chopping block. Would have been nice to have a few more seasons of The West Wing.