There’s lots of advise floating around these days about how those of us in the “popular vote” portion of the nation might weather the storm of the next few years, support each other, get involved, etc. Since I can think of no better source for inspiration and contemplation on all matters political than “The West Wing”, here is a selection of episodes to help ease the pain, grease the wheels, or (re-)light the fire under… whatever it is you need lit in order to not let this travesty of democracy be, well, the end of Democracy.
A note: while The West Wing is a fine show through and through, I’ve always considered the first four seasons – the episodes that were principally written by Aaron Sorkin and over-seen by Thomas Schlamme – to be the definitive story arc of the show, so I’ve limited my scope to just those seasons.
The Pilot (S1 E1)
If for some reason you’ve never watched The West Wing (for shame!) you might as well start at the beginning. Like any series, the pilot is a bit rough – a broad sketch of what the show would eventually become (though, Sorkin is no slouch – even at this early stage, his pilot script is dense, tight, and smarter than most of anything else on television). Besides a good intro, this episode is worth watching for its take on some of the tactics used by those who power broker for the religious right.
The Crackpots and These Women (S1 E5)
How can you not like “big block of cheese day”? A funny episode, but at its core a refreshing reminder that governing is also about access – for all. Also, “man, I can’t get over these women”…
The Short List (S1 E9)
No, we won’t be seeing a Supreme Court nomination process like this anytime soon, so at least we can enjoy this dramatic depiction in which the topics of race, class, and privacy get some much needed air time.
The Midterms (S2 E3)
Let this serve as a warning for us all; we have two years, people…
Isaac and Ishmael (S3 E1)
First of all, this is an amazing episode, especially when you consider that Sorkin got NBC to forgo their scheduled season opener, and in the wake of 9/11, in twelve days, wrote, shot, edited, and aired this episode in its place. Second, in these days of terrorism frenzy, how about a little levity and analysis?
The U.S. Poet Laureate (S3, E17)
How ironic that tRump wastes so much time attacking the Press; here’s some lessons in how you can actually work them, if you’re smart enough. Also, Laura Dern…
20 Hours in America (S4, E1&2)
In this extended episode that opens season four, Toby, Josh, and Donna are marooned in the midwest when they miss the motorcade while campaigning for Bartlet’s re-election. The examination of farmland realities vs. the politics of D.C. could have been (should have been?) a primer on election 2016; but pay special attention to the way Toby and Josh banter about President Bartlet’s opponent – it echoes eerily the tone of the tRump campaign.
The Red Mass (S4, E4)
Josh sends Donna to a seminar held by one of their opponent’s advisors; there’s a scene in there about “fortune cookie candidacy” and who/how the President receives advice and makes decisions that gives me chills in our current context.
25 (S4, E23)
Spoiler alert – John Goodman’s performance (as always) is enjoyable, and the contrast of his character and Bartlet seems eerily evocative of what it feels like to have an intelligent, left-leaning leader replaced with a “straight-shootin’” right-wing one. Also, the more we all can learn about the 25th Amendment at this point, the better…
BONUS: Bartlet for America (S3, E10)
This may or may not belong on this list, but it’s simply the best episode of the best T.V. show ever. To watch any West Wing and not watch this episode seems a sin…