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Starring: Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Stockard Channing
Director: Producer: John Wells
Intelligence, integrity, and loyalty are the primary virtues portrayed on this award-winning series. Yes, it is about politicians. Yes, the good guys are liberals. Judging the show on that basis is like trying to decide if The Scarlet Pimpernel is a better book than Ninety-three based on your sympathies for the French revolution. Unless you know of a drama about heroic engineers rationally raking in the loot with bold new inventions, West Wing is about as good as it gets when you need to watch someone else being efficacious.
This is the White House. What happens here is important -- not just right now, but for all time. The key people routinely work long days in long weeks because there is no second chance to get it right. Yet, mistakes happen. To err is human (especially in the liberal universe). What counts is how people handle the consequences of error.
President Josiah (usually "Jed') Barlett is loyal to his staff and they are pledged to him. They are dedicated to each other, as well. Errors in judgment can be corrected. Flawed integrity cannot be patched up. The best defense is to tell the truth. The hard moral choices involve knowing that this might be impossible for wider considerations. That might mean maintaining the national security. It might mean maintaining the dignity of an otherwise uninvolved and therefore innocent person.
The show is easy to pick at. Martin Sheen's portrayal of Jed Bartlet is often a painfully obvious caricature of John Kennedy. (See here: http://www.nbc.com/The_West_Wing/bios/index.html) We are to believe that this direct descendant of the colonial Josiah Bartlet(t), a Ph.D., in economics and a Nobel Laureate, is a practicing Roman Catholic, who prays the rosary.
Nothing becomes so dated as drama (or humor) tied to the headline news. Watching the entire first season on DVD, I had to laugh at the apparently "liberal" message from 1999 that social security will be bankrupt by 2013. For that level of discussion, both left and right, there are many blogs out there.
Above all of that detail, the characters are the kind of people I would like to work with every day. They are fully in focus. They maintain the widest contexts for their judgments. They know that their actions (and words) have consequences.